So, even if the premise of this mini-series is that the Hulk is going to become the villainous Maestro, that doesn’t mean it happens at all once. There’s a journey to be had, and other survivors to be found along the way.
Issue: Maestro #2, September 2020
Writer: Peter David
Artists: German Peralta and Dale Keown
The Plot: The Hulk explores more of the world after the apocalypse he more or less slept through, ending his journey at the former New York City.
Commentary: As much as the first issue ended with the Hulk more or less declaring Bruce Banner was dead and he was just the Hulk now, that doesn’t make the Hulk a villain. He may end this series as one, but he isn’t there yet. Something must come up that drives him over the deep end. There doesn’t seem to be any sign of that yet. Much of this issue is spent with the Hulk visiting familiar American landmarks, looking for survivors, and mostly finding devastation. He does find survivors in Washington D.C. under the protection of Machine Man. These are the descendants of servants and staffers that worked in the White House who found themselves living down there when the world went to hell. As much as Machine Man is far from unwelcoming, he also makes it clear he only has enough provisions for the people already there, and the Hulk needs to leave. Banner doesn’t really argue, but he does hear about how New York City is still standing, even if it has been renamed Dystopia.
Man, a place like that sure doesn’t sound all that inviting. Then again, it’s somewhere to go.
One thing I will admit to liking about writer Peter David’s work is he does revisit and seemingly clarify old ideas. The original Future Imperfect suggested the Hulk could absorb ambient radiation and more or less turn out fine. This story has the Hulk realize that isn’t true. Likewise, the Hulk encounters a swarm of insects, similar to the flesh-eating ones from David’s Hulk: The End, where Bruce Banner wandered an otherwise dead world, followed by an alien recording device. He occasionally turns into the Hulk, and that would be particularly whenever an insect swarm attacks. The Hulk can swat and smash as many as he could, but he would inevitably be overwhelmed by sheer numbers, eaten, and then grow back. That story ended with Banner, and only Banner, seeming to die and pass on to what was next, leaving the Hulk alone for the first time. The Hulk, who had always hated Banner and wanted solitude, finally got what he wanted and realized he really didn’t. As such, seeing the insects both on the cover and inside the issue reminded me of that, but since this Hulk is intelligent (unlike the one from The End), and there are other survivors, there are people out there, regular people working for Dystopia, who know how to scatter the insects and save the Hulk from an unnecessary regeneration.
Interestingly, the city is run by someone called the Maestro. It’s not a Hulk. It is someone the Hulk knows who should be recognizable to any Marvel fan. And it’s a curious choice if this Maestro is every bit the tyrant the Hulk will be when he assumes the role. The darker side is only hinted at, and the reveal of who the Maestro is is all of a single page, but I suspect it can lead to something interesting up next.
German Peralta drew the main story, and it’s fine. But then there’s a short back-up with Dale Keown’s artwork, something that answers a minor question from Future Imperfect that was maybe something some fans might have wondered about, but not exactly a super-important detail. Future Imperfect famously featured Rick Jones as a very old man in a vault full of bits and pieces from all kinds of superhumans. The back-up, showing Rick’s granddaughter Janice as a very young girl, has an explanation for how Rick started collecting things. Specifically, this story explains how the heck Thor’s hammer Mjolinir managed to get into the store room since, you know, you have to be worthy to even lift the dang thing. Did I need to know how that happened? No, but it made for a nice quick story all the same.