OK, honestly, I figured that group of characters were living on borrowed time, but not in that way.
Issue: Maestro: War and Pax #4, April 2021
Writer: Peter David
Artists: German Peralta and Javier Pina
The Plot: The Pantheon attempts to seal the Maestro away forever.
Commentary: Well, I did not see that coming. I only wish it had been more effective.
See, I figured the Pantheon were doomed from the moment I saw them in the first issue of this mini-series. I likewise figured the Maestro was going to savagely murder the lot of them as he did in the illusion in issue #3. And while he did kill Atalanta, he didn’t kill the others. That was mostly because, well…they killed themselves first.
That’s the sort of moment that would normally come at the end of an issue, and as a result, it’s the sort of moment that I would have not mentioned here since I tend to avoid dropping the last page surprise (whatever it is) in these reviews. But it’s hard to discuss this issue without discussing their ending, especially since it seems to have set up something far worse for the Maestro to deal with in the final issue.
However, the problem here is the main story isn’t the only story, and the last few pages cover a Pantheon mission to take down the terrorists that killed most of the world’s population, including one of their own. That story looks to be pretty much open and shut as it opens with a terrorist leader ranting, and then the Pantheon shows up and starts killing people at his rally. I would imagine the last issue will continue that last part and offer a similarly quick whole lot of nothing.
Which is something of a shame because this issue is the one that more than any of the others really dug into the Maestro’s motivation. Yes, Rick Jones said the Maestro was just the part of Bruce Banner that was going to pass along the same abuse he suffered as a child. That seemed like too simple a leap for the story being told, but this issue doubles down on that in a more effective way, showing the mental landscape inside Banner’s mind as he takes therapy from a memory of Doc Sampson before the Maestro wanders in, “kills” Sampson, and then refers to others as weaklings who just make Banner weak. Actually taking the time to show the Maestro as just another Hulk persona goes a long way towards explaining things as to why the Maestro felt he needed to run things. Here, he makes it plain: he’s strong, others are weak, and they deserve it.
Likewise, the Pantheon’s suicide makes sense. They’re sort of immortal, they are heroes, and they failed. That would seem like something that would weigh heavily on them to the point where they might go without question into death, with Ulysses, the one who got along with the Hulk the best in the past, agreeing to fire missiles at MODOK’s AIM compound while also shooting one at their own. Only the Maestro, and perhaps a surprised dog, seem to survive the blast, but the Pantheon all huddle together, heads down, over the corpse of Atalanta, the only one the Maestro murdered, going to death without even trying to escape. There’s a heavy dose of survivor’s guilt there…made more surprising since they didn’t seem to be showing it before. Peter David isn’t above moments like that, and I might let it slide, but the fact the mini-series as a whole didn’t hint too much at those feelings is a minor weakness.
If that story had gotten more time and attention, it would have made for a stronger issue.
That said, the highlight may be Doom’s claiming Dystopia for himself. He arrives and receives both zero resistance but also zero interest as the jaded citizens don’t even care anymore. The closest he gets to anything like that is the minister who simply says the Maestro will be back and Doom will be sorry.
That’s the next and final issue. I hope I’m not as sorry as Doom is liable to be.
Noteworthy Issues: Batman/Superman: World’s Finest #13 (March, 2023)
The X-Files “Talitha Cumi”
Yellowjackets “Two Truths And A Lie”