‘She-Hulk’ Introduces a Supervillain Threat with Phase One Ties

We examine 'She-Hulk' Episode 6 and consider who's running the Intelligencia message board.
She Hulk Episode Intelligencia

Marvel Explained is our ongoing series, where we delve into the latest Marvel shows, movies, trailers, and news stories to divine the franchise’s future. This entry explores She-Hulk Episode 6 and examines the secret supervillain group threatening to kill Jen. Yes, prepare for SPOILERS.

After last week’s last-minute teaser, many were expecting a certain Netflix vigilante to sport his horns in the MCU. To those folks, I say, “Bummer.” To the rest of us, I say, “Yay!” SheHulk Episode 6 doesn’t quite reveal the major threat skulking in the shadows, eager to murder Jennifer Walters (Tatiana Maslany), but it does offer a major clue. And in the process, it heavily suggests the return of a diabolical threat dating all the way back to the Phase One era.

While Jen is desperately trying not to hulk out at her high school friend’s wedding, her law pals Nikki (Ginger Gonzaga) and Mallory (Renée Elise Goldsberry) are knee-deep in a super-powered divorce case. The many ex-wives of the unkillable Mister Immortal (David Pasquesi) want to bleed his bank accounts dry. In researching their defense against their very reasonable rage, Nikki and Mallory stumble over the Intelligencia, a hate-fueled message board that tracks super-powered shenanigans.

The two lawyers discover a thread obsessed with their friend, Shulkie. Not in a cringey fannish way, but in a fearful, murderous way. One post asks the question, “How do we kill She-Hulk?” Mallory wants to keep the site quiet, not wanting to worry Jen unnecessarily. Nikki cannot help herself. She leaves a warning on Jen’s phone immediately.

SheHulk Episode 6 concludes in an unknown laboratory. We do not see the faces of any of the scientists, but we do see them carrying the busted syringe that the Wrecking Crew tried to inject into Jen’s skin two episodes back. On a monitor, we also peep a message from someone calling themselves “Hulk King,” asking, “is the next phase of the plan ready to go?” That next phase seemingly involves an even larger needle in a steel case wrapped with a radioactive warning label.

Who is Hulk King?

The comic books don’t hold an immediate answer regarding a Hulk King. Bruce Banner was a king on Sakaar after he conquered the world in the Planet Hulk storyline. When he returned to earth for World War Hulk, he still wore the Sakaaran crown as well as a suit of rage. In SheHulk Episode 2, Hulk was last seen in a Sakaaran spaceship, presumably heading back to his old Thor: Ragnarok stomping grounds.

We will see Hulk again in SheHulk, but it’s an easy guess that his storyline will be saved for a stinger, setting up his next MCU event appearance. Banner is not the Hulk King in Episode 6. Instead, my mind springs back to Samuel Sterns, Tim Blake Nelson‘s weaselly, mischievous scientist from Phase One’s The Incredible Hulk.

At the end of that film, Bruce Banner’s cloned Gamma-blood dripped upon Sterns’ forehead. As it took effect, his brain seemed to grow, and a goofy grin stretched across his face. In the comics, Sterns is the A-number-one Hulk villain called “The Leader.” He’s always wanted what Banner accidentally received during the Gamma explosion. He sees Banner as a dope who got god-like powers through a mishap. Every time Banner tries to shed himself of his abilities; disgust rushes into Sterns.

How dare this jerk reject what he wants so badly? Everything the Leader does is to prove to Banner what a Gamma-powered individual should be doing. In the Leader’s case, that’s mostly world dominating.

Fear the Intelligencia

Marvel Studios

When we discussed the Wrecking Crew and the Leader’s possible involvement two weeks ago, that was mostly wishful thinking. Now, after SheHulk Episode 6, we have more to support the theory. One, we already know the Leader is coming to the MCU. At the D23 Expo, Kevin Feige confirmed that Tim Blake Nelson would be back in Captain America: New World Order. The Leader is not typically a Cap villain, but the two have scrapped on occasion.

Two, the Leader is a critical member of Marvel’s Intelligencia supervillain organization. In the books, they’re not just a bunch of online trolls. They’re a few of the smartest maniacs in the world, including, but not limited to, Samuel Sterns. Also on the roster are M.O.D.O.K. (the Mental Organism Designed Only for Killing that recently starred in a Hulu original series and is slated to make their MCU debut in AntMan and the Wasp: Quantumania), Doctor Doom, Red Ghost, Egghead, Klaw, Mad Thinker, Trapster, Wizard, and the Super-Apes.

These creeps formed to exchange diabolical ideas. However, they didn’t really get cooking until King Hulk returned to Earth to wage war against the heroes who originally sent him to space, hoping to make the Hulk’s rage somebody else’s problem. The Intelligencia discovered a method for channeling cosmic energy, and they used this to help bring down the jolly green giant. They also used this information to transform General Ross (William Hurt in the movies) into the Red Hulk, another formidable foe of Bruce Banner.

Sam Sterns’s Revenge

What has Samuel Sterns been up to since The Incredible Hulk? We don’t know, but you can bet a good portion of that time involved building tremendous resentment against Bruce Banner. She-Hulk could be his key to finally taking down dear ol’ Bruce, whenever he returns from off-planet.

Sterns has used online codenames in the past. In The Incredible Hulk, he was Mr. Blue to Bruce Banner’s Mr. Green. Making the leap to “Hulk King” doesn’t seem like a big reach for this punk.

Sterns couldn’t understand why Banner rejected their partnership at the end of that film. While building resentment for such indiscretion, you can also bet Sterns was tinkering away at perfecting his gamma-enhanced intelligence situation. Forming Intelligencia around him seems like a logical extension of his work in the Phase One movie.

We only have a few SheHulk episodes left. Jennifer Walters pounding on Samuel Sterns in Bruce Banner’s absence doesn’t really speak to the show’s focus. It would further reduce the villain’s superiority complex, which in turn, would make him an even bigger doofus for Sam Wilson to contend with in Captain America: New World Order.

Sam Sterns feels like Marvel’s answer to the incel Riddler seen most recently in The Batman. He’s weaponized indignation, ego personified. His head is large literally and metaphorically. He’s a sniveling wretch, but sniveling wretches can cause serious harm. Beware the fragile psyche and the anger that seeps from it. Smash it once, and it only comes back more obese.

She-Hulk Episode 6 is now streaming on Disney+

Brad Gullickson: Brad Gullickson is a Weekly Columnist for Film School Rejects and Senior Curator for One Perfect Shot. When not rambling about movies here, he's rambling about comics as the co-host of Comic Book Couples Counseling. Hunt him down on Twitter: @MouthDork. (He/Him)