While the Maestro has never been a particularly redeemable figure, his latest appearance sinks him to a new low that is downright abominable.
WARNING: The following contains spoilers for Maestro: War & Pax #1, written by Peter David with art by Javier Pina and Jesus Aburtov, and letterer Travis Lanham.
While he may often be vilified, the Hulk is most often a tragic hero with a strong moral compass that he sticks to. Turning that convention on its head to created the twisted alternate future version of him known as Maestro is one of the most inspired aspects of the character, and after a long history of committing some of the worst acts imaginable it was hard to believe that the Maestro could get much worse. But in the debut issue of Maestro: War & Pax he does exactly that.
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While there are plenty of incarnations of Hulk from Joe Fixit to the Savage Hulk and most recently the Immortal Hulk, Maestro stands out with a reputation as quite possibly the most evil and deadliest of all the Hulks. Tony Bedard and Paul Pelletier’s Exiles #79 refers to the Maestro as the “most corrupt” Hulk of any world across the infinite multiverse, and his actions in this issue help to validate the assessment. To his credit, Maestro initially shows mercy when he tells one of his lieutenants to spare the lives of a group of children who have survived their assault on their city, reminding his subordinate that they’re “not monsters.”
Many children died in Maestro’s attack, performed with his soldiers and Dogs of War as they decimated the resistance forces. Maestro approaches the children and explains his twisted worldview to them, saying that he did not kill their parents but their parents killed themselves by resisting him. He plays nice, asking to be called Bruce and offering the children a new home in a new city. But when one of the children spit on him it turns ugly.
Unwilling to tolerate open defiance and disrespect in any form, the Maestro orders his army to “do what you want” with the children as the robotic Dogs of War and soldiers close in. The Maestro has been atrocious before, but murdering a helpless group of orphaned children just might take the cake.
The Maestro despotically ruled over a starving nation for decades by the time he was first introduced in Peter David and George Perez’s Hulk: Future Imperfect in 1992. Over the course of that story he only seemed to grow worse as he attempted to corrupt the past, heroic version of himself. Demonstrating his disgusting sadism, Maestro at one point held the Hulk prisoner and forced his harem onto the past version of himself. Showing no mercy even for himself seemed like a hard bar to lower, but slaying a group of children may have done just that.
Marvel’s future has rarely been so bleak as in Maestro’s world, but in the closing pages of the issue some resistance to the monster’s despotic rule does present itself. Dr. Doom and the team of demigods known as the Pantheon prepare to unite forces, toward untold ends, but with Maestro’s campaign of destruction racking up innumerable sins they could prove to be the only force able to stop him.
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