The basic premise of the Incredible Hulk is that his greatest enemy is himself. Usually, it means that Bruce Banner is at odds with his big, green alter ego or that the Hulk’s rampages and bad luck tend to destroy any semblance of happiness in his life. In 1992, the team of Peter David and George Perez went more literal by having the Hulk’s greatest enemy be an evil version of the Hulk. The Incredible Hulk: Future Imperfect #1 introduced the Maestro, a version of Hulk from a possible dystopian future based on one question:
What if the Hulk had the mind of Banner…but became a full-on megalomaniac?
The basic idea of what happened was that lots of heroes were wiped out in nuclear war, Hulk absorbed more radiation and became stronger, his distaste for humanity drove him insane, and he became a world-ruling monster. There’s even a famous two-page spread of his trophy room that shows the remains of weapons and costume pieces belonging to various Marvel characters. Lots of crazy shit went down, but the details are vague.
While we have a decent idea of what brought the Maestro into existence, we’re finally going to get the full story 28 years after his debut. This August, we’ll be getting Maestro #1 by Peter David and artists German Peralta and Dale Keown. Naturally, Future Imperfect artist George Perez will be doing the variant cover.
“I had no idea that when I first created the Maestro for Future Imperfect, that he would have the kind of popularity and staying power he has now,” Peter David said in a statement. “Until now, I’ve only been able to allude to his origins, so I was thrilled to have the opportunity to explore them in this series, and I can’t wait for fans to see all the artwork that’s been coming in!”
Now Marvel is hyping up the story with a new trailer full of animated stills. While we don’t have all the answers, there are a few familiar faces to help keep us guessing.
Notably, we see the return of Professor Hulk and his black undershirt as he punches the head off of a Sentinel. Probably more about establishing Hulk’s heroism before everything went wrong. We also see a roster of Avengers made up of Captain America, Black Widow, Thor, Wolverine, Giant Man, Scarlet Witch, and Vision.
More importantly, Hulk appears to be tangling with AIM and an elderly version of MODOK. AIM also appears to have Hulk’s rival the Abomination in some kind of stasis. Considering the shot of Hulk tackling MODOK and this being an origin story of Hulk’s turn to megalomania, I don’t like AIM’s chances.
On the dire side, the trailer shows Washington DC getting nuked and Hulk coming across the destroyed remains of a city. What’s interesting in this is how there’s one still that very much looks like Hulk from the alternate future Hulk: The End, where he’s the last man alive and he’s constantly feasted on by cockroaches on a daily basis. More on that in a second.
Future Imperfect was about the Professor Hulk persona (also with Banner’s intellect) being pulled into the future by rebels to defeat his evil future self. In the initial physical contest, he didn’t stand a chance, but he ultimately destroyed Maestro by sending him back in time to Hulk’s explosive origin at the bomb testing site. The gamma blast killed Maestro and he…proceeded to come back in really contrived ways that aren’t really all that memorable.
He still became a staple for alternate Marvel Earths and their futures. His canon self fought the Exiles prior to Future Imperfect‘s events. He was one of the bigger threats to God Doom’s reign in Secret Wars. A version of him appeared as an antagonist in the Contest of Champions series. A version of Maestro ended up in the Old Man Logan universe and got killed by the titular hero. One time the Avengers found a future where Maestro was a benevolent member of the team, but had a secret grudge against Bucky Barnes (which I don’t think was ever really explained).
More than anything else, Maestro exists as something for Banner and Hulk to fear becoming. Going on rampages is one thing, but to be a sadistic villain is too far for both the scientist and the brute. In Hulk: The End, even being the very last man on Earth, Banner still shaved regularly because he didn’t want to see Maestro staring back at him. When Hulk became the intelligent Dr. Green and was bent on curing all the gamma-powered supporting characters, he ultimately stopped because he realized he was going down Maestro’s path. There’s even a What If based on modern Banner evolving into Maestro instead of Professor Hulk and being so freaked out that he tricked the Thing into killing him.
Once August comes around, we’ll see how the big, green nightmare truly begins.