Back when I did a little reoccurring column called “Tom Recommends,” I did one for a special Incredible Hulk two-parter titled Future Imperfect. That was done by writer Peter David, a longtime favorite of mine and an equally longtime Hulk writer at that point, with the standard gorgeous artwork of George Perez. The basic plot was this: the Hulk was asked by time travelers to go an alternate future and beat the last superhuman being on the planet, a brutal dictator named the Maestro. It turned out the Maestro was also the Hulk, and he was a tough fight for the simple reason that he knew all of his younger self’s moves before the younger self made them, and he likewise had no memory of this encounter, meaning there was no guarantee the Hulk would prevail against his older, evil self.
But where did the Maestro come from? David returned to the character, with his former Hulk artistic collaborator Dale Keown, to answer that question.
Issue: Maestro #1, August 2020
Writer: Peter David
Artists: Dale Keown and German Peralta
The plot: The Hulk wakes up after a nuclear war and terrorist attacks have more or less destroyed most life on Earth. He isn’t pleased by this.
Commentary: Before I go too much further, I’ll just point out that Keown didn’t draw the entire issue. He did the cover and an opening scene that could amount to a dream sequence while the rest of the issue was capably drawn by German Peralta. Both are good, but I was something of a Keown fan back in the day. I discovered his work in the second issue of The Incredible Hulk that I had ever read, and Peter David was responsible for writing it. Now, I wasn’t a big enough fan to follow Keown to Image with his Pitt series, and his work seems more sporadic since then. Is he incapable to hitting a monthly schedule these days? That seems odd since he did so for quite a while on The Incredible Hulk. Regardless, he was followed up on The Incredibly Hulk with pencils by the equally (or more) capable Gary Frank, and I am generally more willing to follow writers than artists overall.
Plus, speaking of people who don’t seem to produce as much as they used to, Peter David…this guy always had my sort of sense of humor, his plots were generally clever, and he knew how to deliver pathos when needed. These days, it does seem as if he gets short stories or works like Maestro where he’s asked to return to old stand-bys. What I have read of his more recent work hasn’t been as satisfying, maybe because he doesn’t have the time and space to really develop character and story if all he has is a 12 or so page story in a longer anthology or maybe a one-shot issue of something. So, perhaps, here I’ll get the chance to see if he still has what he used to.
And, so far, so good. The opening sequence, drawn by Keown, seems to show the Professor Hulk a hero in good standing with an Avengers team that includes Thor, Captain America, the Vision, Wolverine, and some others. He’s happily married to Betty, and they have two sons, one of whom is green. His life couldn’t be better until the green son says the world is an illusion and the Hulk starts to notice some weird incidents, like how people just repeat themselves or appear out of nowhere to try to keep him calm. Keeping a Hulk calm is never something that works out very well, and he manages to soon escape to the real world. He’s been locked away for a long time, so long he grew a thick beard, and was in some kind of virtual reality simulation. He doesn’t realize it at first, thinking a small boy nearby is his son, when he’s confronted eventually by MODOK…a very old and broken down MODOK. He’s in an A.I.M. facility, and MODOK is willing to share what happened.
Apparently, a series of terrorist attacks made the surface unlivable for the foreseeable future. Most of humanity is dead. A.I.M. had an underground facility to take shelter in with whatever family and friends the A.I.M. personnel could gather. MODOK himself isn’t what he used to be since there’s no one around to repair his failing parts. A.I.M. had managed to capture a couple gamma-powered beings like the Hulk (also seen is Vapor of the U-Foes and the Abomination) who, temporarily stored in VR environments, were powering the base. But those systems are also breaking down, so it was only a matter of time before one like Bruce Banner would break free.
This is a lot to dump on someone, obviously, and MODOK’s pleas to get Banner to come back inside and help don’t work. Banner is dead as far as the Green Goliath is concerned. From now on, until he comes up with a better name, he’s just the Hulk. So, no, he will not be helping A.I.M.’s survivors at this time.
That wasn’t a bad way to explain a bit. Rick Jones in the original story just said the Hulk, and only the Hulk, was able to just absorb all the nuclear radiation from the bombs and come out of it stronger. That was despite the fact the younger Hulk defeated the Maestro by dropping his older self at the one place he knew could kill him: ground zero for the gamma bomb test that created the Hulk in the first place. I don’t know that I needed this story’s explanation as Rick’s worked just fine for Future Imperfect‘s purposes. But I will admit to being a bit curious. Having only one city survive the end of everything isn’t necessarily a bad idea, but Marvel has plenty of beings and characters floating around who all could have had contingency plans to survive such catastrophes, and even then, what made the nominally heroic Hulk become the absolutely despotic Maestro? This first issue grabbed my attention just fine, so I do intend to find out.