Arch-villains often have multiple disparate versions across their histories. This couldn’t be more true of the Hulk’s most iconic villain, the Leader. However, in Immortal Hulk #34 those threads are drawn together in one of the most fascinating villain profiles in years.
Told with the common trope of a character’s journals, this story is anything but common. This is the story of Samuel Sterns. This is the story of the Leader. It’s the story of a man who would become a god. And it’s exactly what we needed right now thanks to Al Ewing, Butch Guice, Tom Palmer, Paul Mounts and Cory Petit.
Samuel Sterns was once an ordinary man, a below average human being really. Until the first time he died and got a glimpse of the Green Door. From that point on, as the Leader, he dedicated himself to one thing and one thing alone. Godhood.
The issue is titled “The Apotheosis of Samuel Sterns” and I cannot think of a better way to describe this story. It’s not about his ascension. That word is too pedestrian, too ordinary for the Leader. Apotheosis isn’t ascension, it’s about what happens once you reach the top, something above mere mortals. Ewing gets the character on that level, and it shows.
I also love how Ewing uses the Green Door as a device to tie together everything the Leader has done. Every new design, every new scheme, every change in personality? In this retcon we see it’s all in service of the Leader reaching and understanding the mysteries of the Green Door. It’s a definitive take on a character who has been defined by inconsistencies his entire existence.
Guice and Palmer are legends and it shows in this issue. The line is a little more loose than Guice’s pencils usually are, but it creates the feeling that the Leader is a wild and unrestrained presence. His evolution into Godhood isn’t an easy or simple process, it’s messy.
Mounts and Petit continue to contribute in some very big ways. Mounts is able to make bright colors feel sickly and off, especially the Green Door. Meanwhile, Petit is able to convey a lot of tone in his lettering work, almost giving the Leader an actual voice.
Hands down this continues to be one of the best comics on the shelf month after month. It’s unsettling and exciting, and will really be hard to live up to once it’s all over.
Immortal Hulk #34 is available now from Marvel Comics.