The Maestro is only two years away from celebrating its 30th anniversary, having debuted in Marvel Comics' The Incredible Hulk: Future Imperfect #1 in 1992. That two-part miniseries was part of a renowned Hulk run developed by writer Peter David over the course of a decade—one only rivaled in recent years in The Immortal Hulk. However, the many concepts and characters created (or re-created) by David and his collaborators still cast a long shadow across all Hulk comics, which makes the origin of Hulk-turned-dystopian-dictator The Maestro an exciting affair for fans. The first issue begins to fulfill the promise by offering details on how exactly Earth descended into such barbaric conditions, but fails to offer much beyond its ability to patch cracks in a decades old story and a dose of nostalgia.
Readers unfamiliar with "Future Imperfect" may be surprised at the slow reveal of what led to his monstrous nature, but it's likely any reader who recognizes The Maestro will already be familiar with the narrative of this issue. There is a build to the big reveal, but it's a reveal promised by 30 years of comics and the very cover itself. This slowburn approach may be disorienting for the Hulk, but it has no impact on those anticipating it from the very first page. This leads to much of the first issue playing out in a decompressed form that does an origin story no favors.
The tension between Dale Keown and Jason Keith's very modern approach resembling some recent Hulk comics with German Peralta and Jesus Aburtov's rougher lines and darker colors provide more interest in the issue's core twist than what is actually occurring on the page. Their contrast makes a statement of sorts about the Marvel comics sold today and the popular styles of the early 90s that made The Maestro a hit. Readers are pushed out of their current comfort zone into a much grittier story, and these polished styles are well-suited to the distinct tones they portray. They form the most compelling element of Maestro thus far, and one hopes to see more of Keown or other guest artists in developing more opportunities like this.
All four of those artists engage in some heavy lifting to carry a script that reads like an artifact from the era of Future Imperfect. Filled with languorous asides, two-dimensional characterizations, and painful dad jokes, Maestro is already dated on release day. There are plentiful critiques to be made, but one moment will suffice in capturing the flaws of this approach. When confronted with impossible tragedy, an abundance of problems, and a dire showdown, Hulk and M.O.D.O.K. still find time to stand about and make jokes about the villain's acronym, yet no space is allotted for a single moment of recognition or grief of what has been lost. If taken from a back issue bin with yellowed pages, this might be charming, but it's simply off-putting here.
Any reader's opinion on Maestro #1 is bound to depend on their connection to the source material. The fan of Peter David's Hulk in me is still excited to see some colorful mortar applied to cracks in the writer's iconic run. However, the modern reader of superhero comics struggles to look past the many ways in which this story remains a product of a different time. No matter how impressive Peralta and Keown's artwork may be, they cannot cover for how slowly the story arrives at obvious points and the threadbare character work on display. It all reads like a script plucked from 1992 and finally drawn in 2020. Maestro is not a story that needed to be told, but it can still be enjoyed in the proper context.
Published by Marvel Comics
On August 19, 2020
Written by Peter David
Art by Germán Peralta and Dale Keown
Colors by Jesus Aburtov and Jason Keith
Letters by Ariana Maher
Cover by Dale Keown and Jason Keith