WARNING: The following article contains spoilers for Hulkverines #1, from Greg Pak, Ario Anindito, Morry Hollowell, Andrew Crossley and VC's Joe Caramagna, on sale now.
Throughout decades of Hulk stories, the wicked scientist known as Samuel Sterns has devised numerous schemes to try to kill Bruce Banner and his gamma-powered alter ego. Eventually infected and turned into the Leader, Sterns' hatred for Banner has grown with each encounter, but no matter what, he's never been able to take the Jade Giant down.
In Hulkverines #1, though, the Leader finds himself playing a deadly game of chess, weaponizing gamma radiation like never before. But this time, it's not in the form of some monster like the Abomination, A-Bomb or Red Hulk; now, Sterns has created a lethal gamma virus designed to kill Banner once and for all.
Despite its admittedly simplistic title, Hulkverines is a cerebral story that doesn't just focus on a bunch of Hulks brawling out. The Leader has been freed from imprisonment at the mysterious Shadow Base in order to hunt Banner, and he decides the best tool is none other than Clay Cortez -- or as he's better known, Weapon H. Clay was taken by the Weapon X program as a mercenary and turned into an amalgamation of the Hulk and Wolverine, boasting the strength of the Green Goliath, but with adamantium blades and a grey tinge to his skin. Also, Clay maintains his intelligence when in monster-mode, making him the perfect weapon through which to take Banner down.
And so, the Leader sets things up for Banner to track Clay, who's in hiding with his family after running afoul of Dario Agger and Roxxon. But as we see both Weapon H and Hulk go into battle, it's clear Sterns isn't expecting the Hulk to succumb to a slugfest. Earlier in the issue, Clay seemingly comes down with the flu, which shouldn't happen as he has healing and regenerative abilities like Wolverine. It somehow persists in his Weapon H form, and when Hulk eventually restrains him and absorbs Clay's gamma energy, the Leader's sinister plan comes to fruition.
The Hulk contracts this flu as well, resulting in both men getting damaged badly (at least on the inside). It forces Clay to revert to his human form, while leaving Hulk wobbly and on the verge of passing out. It's a strategic move by the Leader, who reveals he secretly tracked and infected Clay, knowing Banner would eventually seek him out to put him down due to a belief that Weapon H was going to be dangerous to humanity. Sterns knew he couldn't track Banner himself, as Hulk would have sensed a tail from him, so the Leader set a viral trap using Weapon H as bait. It continues their rivalry, and with Logan eventually coming to the Leader's defense, it seems there's a lot more to Sterns' plan that initially meets the eye.
It's going to be interesting to see how both Hulks resist the virus, especially since Banner doesn't have Logan's healing powers like Clay does. What's even more intriguing is that The Immortal Hulk just revealed that gamma radiation is a supernatural doorway to a brand-new demonic realm, so without knowing it, Sterns may have been tampering with mystical forces.
Either way, it's nice to see the Leader tricking Hulk like this because we usually expect to see teams like the Avengers or heavy-hitters like Thor, She-Hulk and Thanos taking Banner out via brute force. But as we're witnessing these behemoths tussle, it's all about brains -- not just brawn -- and right now, the Leader's methods are totally sick but as effective as ever.
Hulkverines #2, the second part of a three-issue miniseries, will go on sale March 27, 2019.