It's back to the Future Imperfect for legendary Hulk writer Peter David, fellow Hulk veteran Dale Keown and one-time Totally Awesome Hulk artist German Peralta with Maestro #1, the opening act of a five-issue origin story for that fan-favorite mad warlord. After 2019's blunt and sombre Hulk: Last Call, David and Keown's traditional stylings are accompanied here by Germán Peralta's more modern sensibilities. As we switch from the old to the new, David rips Professor Hulk from his nuclear family and into the aftermath of a nuclear apocalypse.
Written by Peter David
Art by Germán Peralta, Dale Keown, Jesus Aburtov, and Jason Keith
Lettering by Ariana Maher
Published by Marvel Comics
'Rama Rating: 8 out of 10
Peter David immediately immerses us in a utopia for his much-beloved Professor Hulk. But all is not as it seems. David's script relishes in our initial confusion, rooting the issue's opening scenes with a nightmarish instability as Hulk's world is pulled out from under him again and again until the horrible truth of the new world is revealed. David has fun playing with convention at this early stage, throwing in a fun Marvel Cinematic Universe reference that was itself partially inspired by his landmark run.
Artist Dale Keown takes the lead for the first third of the book, opening the issue with a killer splash of Hulk shattering a Sentinel, and David's script gives him a solid workout in the 10 pages he is afforded. There's Avengers galore, and a brief scrap with Thor keeps the tempo going as Professor Hulk struggles desperately with reality. Keown's work is heavily textured, every little emotion reflected in the furrows of his characters' brows. Despite his emotive panels, Keown has a habit of simplifying his lines a little too much outside of the close-up. There's a rendering of Scarlet Witch here who deserves much more than she is given, but generally his work here is ace.
Jason Keith colors Keown's work with dueling reds and greens. It's bold stuff, unafraid of bright tones and highlighting the best of Keown's veiny and muscular forms.
Then, spearheaded by a second powerful splash page, comes Germán Peralta. Peralta's work is immediately distinct, his Hulk's brow more angular and his eyes desperate and beady. Maestro's trademark beard is well underway here, his long stringy head hair already receding. Peralta gives us the issue's visual highlight here in the form of an elderly M.O.D.O.K., whose wispy eyebrows and endless wrinkles add a sense of aged dignity to a traditionally hilarious character.
From the tarnished walls to M.O.D.O.K.'s aged visage, Peralta's world is withered and decaying. His thick ink-work adds real weight to the big green guy and roots us to this world of shattered walls and bent steel beams. Colorist Jesus Aburtov uses burnished orange to great effect, bathing us in radiation from the blast.
David continues throwing curveballs, running us through a nuclear wasteland still reeling from twin catastrophic events and a M.O.D.O.K. who claims to have Professor Hulk's best interests at heart. After MO.D.O.K explains the lay of the wasteland, Hulk deforms the Hollywood sign into his namesake and disappears into a 'To be continued' teaser that seems to come all too soon. The script's adherence to maximum emotional impact means we get 3 splash pages, plus an atmospheric double-spread, meaning that Maestro #1 isn't the meatiest read. The story always earns it, and the eye candy is top tier, but it does mean that reading time is less than it probably should be for a $4.99 book.
David clearly has fun playing with allegiances here. M.O.D.O.K.'s plan seems almost heroic, and Hulk's vague plan at this point seems unobjectionable. David does well to quickly establish the horrors that lead to the creation of Maestro, and he's clearly planning on tugging on our heartstrings when he gets there. Throughout the issue, David uses his trademark angsty interior monologue to great effect, imbuing this alternate Hulk with a real sense of longing and loss. The issue's scope is kept tight, strapping us close to Banner's thoughts and feelings and binding us to his frustrations.
Maestro #1 is a satisfying opening chapter that runs at a whirlwind pace. Keown's Hulk has a certain regal handsomeness that truly sells the reality of Peralta's bearded beast, whilst Peter David's mournful script sets the stage for tragedy and horror. Make no mistake, by Maestro #1's end, you'll be pulling for the monster who is set to become the megalomaniac. With the knowledge of what is to come, it's bittersweet stuff.