Hulk: Future Imperfect #1-2
Issue(s): Hulk: Future Imperfect #1, Hulk: Future Imperfect #2
This was a prestige format ($5.95, 48 pages each, with embossed cardstock covers and glossy interiors) two-parter showing a dystopian future wherein the Hulk has become the evil ruler of a post-apocalyptic world. Alternate dystopian futures were a dime-a-dozen at this point, but what makes this one stand out is that it showed the implications of the Hulk's current psychological course. And unlike a lot of alternate futures, Peter David was able to use this story to create a sense of foreboding in the main series. In a sense it's similar to Days of Future Past (the one that started it all), which showed what would happen if the X-Men failed in their mission. But David was able to play into the implications more explicitly. In a more tangible sense, the setting and a couple of the characters will appear again. All in all, this story feels more relevant to the mainstream Marvel universe than, say, Peter David's Rahne of Terra or something like that.
The feeling of importance is helped a lot by George Perez (last leaving halfway through Infinity Gauntlet). Perez's full, detailed, artwork helps make the world feel fleshed out. Perez's love of drawing multitudes of characters ensures that the world feels fully populated.
And, in the absence of multiple super-heroes to draw, he provides a location that is probably one of the best remembered parts of the story: a trophy room full of the remains of the heroes that died in the apocalypse.
The story starts with the present day Hulk having already been transported to the future. A group of rebels are pursued by soldiers working for the ruler of Dystopia, who is named the Maestro. The Hulk had been hiding in a rebel safehouse, but he comes out to help the rebels.
After smashing the soldiers and their giant robot dog, we see the crowd thinking like the Hulk is familiar. The crowd fears and respects the Hulk, and the Hulk finds himself liking the respect.
Meanwhile, the Maestro's minister pulls him out of a "meeting" to inform him of the setback.
Most of the rebels that were attacked by the soldiers didn't survive. One, Pizfiz, was taken captive. The remaining rebel, Janis, takes Hulk to the rebel base. After introducing him to the rebels, Janis takes Hulk to meet the person who sent her to the past to recruit him. It turns out to be an extremely old Rick Jones, who lives in the room with the hero and villain memorabilia.
Janis is Rick Jones' granddaughter, named after Janis Joplin.
Some pretty gruesome stuff in there, actually, like the Beast's fur and the Thing's rocks.
Rick provides the Hulk with the history of this world. Ninety years ago, there was a "normal" (i.e. not super-villain initiated) nuclear war and then another war after that which Rick doesn't remember well. It killed off most of the population and the heroes and villains. The "Maestro" survived (although it's emphasized a few times in this story that he wouldn't have survived a ground zero nuclear explosion), and the increased radioactivity actually made him stronger. He used his intellect and power to create the city of Dystopia. Rick confirms what the Hulk already suspected, which is that the Maestro is the future version of the Hulk.
Meanwhile, the Maestro's people use mind-scanning technology to learn from Pizfiz how the Hulk got to this time period. We see scenes of them using Dr. Doom's time machine to go back in time to contact Rick Jones.
Note the Maestro's impatience. One thing i really like about the Maestro is that despite him supposedly having Bruce Banner's intelligence, he doesn't rule like a Dr. Doom-esque arch-villain. He's brutish and chaotic. Personality-wise, he's a lot like the Grey Hulk, but even less restrained and more evil. Despite the implications of his name, he doesn't rule with a master-like precision. He's gullible (Pizfiz almost goads him into killing him before he can be tortured into giving up any information). He's sloppy and prone to rages. We see that in the minister's comment implying that he's been neglectful in dealing with the rebels...
...and we see it again when the Maestro gets all of his guards killed trying to raid the rebel base.
It's well done character work, making Maestro feel not like a generic archvillain but a distinct character with clear connections to the iterations of the Hulk we've been seeing in Peter David's run.
But thanks to the radiation he's absorbed, he's much stronger than the Hulk, and between that and the fact that he knows all the Hulk's moves, he's able to defeat him when they meet.
While they're fighting, Maestro makes reference to a "Wild Man", a character that the Hulk has not yet encountered.
Knowing that the Hulk will risk himself to save civilians also helps the Maestro. The Hulk's back is broken, paralyzing him. The Maestro will later say that their shared "curious physiology" causes certain types of injuries to heal slower than others, and the Maestro has used that knowledge to keep the Hulk incapacitated for a while.
The Hulk wakes up in the Maestro's palace, where he's raped by one of Maestro's slave girls (who for some reason are called Chumlies).
The Hulk later threatens to kill himself to prevent the Maestro from "happening" but Maestro is confident in the Alternate Timeline Theory of Marvel Time Travel.
The Hulk doesn't pull the trigger, and later says that he knows the Maestro's theory is correct. "Reed Richards did a paper on that." (What they don't know is that the theory became inoperative thanks to Fantastic Four #353, when our timeline got cut off from the TVA.)
The Maestro then takes the Hulk around, trying to convince him (or pretending to) to join him in ruling this world. And we see the Hulk's beard growing in.
Does that mean the Hulk normally shaves? I went down a rabbit hole thinking about this and General Ross/Red Hulk's mustache, but i think i'll just leave it alone.
It turns out, though, that the Hulk has recovered faster than (he thinks) the Maestro anticipated, and he's secretly been digging a tunnel to let the rebels into the palace. The Maestro's minister is also scheming. He intended to assassinate the Hulk to maintain the status quo (and maybe even retroactively wipe out the Maestro so he can take over). Hulk and the rebels force the minister to lead them to the secret entrance to the Maestro's room. But it turns out that the Maestro has anticipated all of this and was allowing it to happen as a way to deal with the rebels once and for all.
I love Perez's depiction of the Maestro. He's a madman.
The fight between the Hulk and Maestro takes them back to Rick's trophy room.
Two things i want to call out from the fight (beyond the scans i selected above). One, the Maestro claimed that he "never" liked Rick. He of course could be lying, but it puts a degree of tension to the Hulk and Rick's present day interactions.
Second, we see the Infinity Gauntlet and a Cosmic Cube among the trophies. I assume this is just meant as a joke and/or we can assume that the devices are depleted. The other item in that scene is labeled Cerebus #300, a nod to the fact that David Sim had always intended to publish three hundred issues of his series. Maybe that goal didn't seem plausible in 1993 but the Cerebus series did indeed reach completion in March 2004.
In the end, the Hulk gets Maestro on Dr. Doom's time machine, and sends him back to ground zero of the original gamma bomb explosion that created the Hulk.
The story ends with a send-off for old Rick Jones, which i found surprisingly moving despite this being an alternate future.
Regarding my concern about Maestro saying that he never liked Rick, note that the Hulk says that he's his best friend here.
As with Peter David's regular Hulk run, this story is elevated from being "just" a great adventure story thanks to the strong characterization and the psychological implications. The Maestro serves as a cautionary symbol for what could happen if the Hulk loses the tenuous battle for his sanity that we're seeing in the main series.
Quality Rating: A-
Chronological Placement Considerations: A flashback scene in this issue, showing how Janis contacted present day Rick Jones, is repeated in Hulk #414. So this story takes place not long after Hulk #413-416. This story is sort of the opposite of a Continuity Insert in that it was published over a year prior to when it was meant to take place (based on the present day scene, obviously, not the future portion).
I'm assuming that the flashback with present day Rick takes place directly before the main story, which allows me to tag Rick and Janis (i should technically also tag Pizfiz, but his present day appearances are limited to this story and the repeated scene from Hulk #414; Janis, on the other hand, will appear again).
Since i don't tag locals in time travel stories, the Maestro himself is not tagged. He only has one more present day appearance after this anyway. Technically, the Maestro should be considered behind-the-scenes in Hulk #1 and every time the Hulk has returned to the site of the gamma bomb (for reasons explained in Hulk #460-461).
Continuity Insert? N
My Reprint: N/A
One of the best stories in PAD's Hulk run, and definitely something that justified the prestige format. It was a good action adventure story on its own merit with a clever way to defeat the main villain, but its greatest strength was how it showed PAD was still dealing with Banner's psyche. Showing that the Hulk is still a threat in some way is a key element of the character's mythos.
My only complaint, and it is not a complaint about this story, is that I felt in many ways that the Abomination should have been a Maestro-level threat and portrayed very similarly as here. He's supposed to be stronger than the Hulk and kept his intelligence. While Emil Blonsky does not have Banner's genius intelligence, he was a trained espionage agent and most know plenty of tradecraft. He clearly has above average intelligence. The Maestro here shows what we missed in comparison to the rather pathetic version of the Abomination as he now existed.
Minor quibble - I never understood how Rick Jones had Mjolnir in his relic room. Nobody could have moved it there. Unless we think Rick had it belt in the same spot it was found.
Posted by: Chris | September 20, 2017 4:23 PM
I think it makes perfect sense that Rick built the room around Thor's hammer. That would be the cornerstone of his trophy collection.
Posted by: clyde | September 20, 2017 4:47 PM
I agree that this is a great story.
What I never got was how the Silver Surfer's board was damaged. I thought Surfy was well-nigh invulnerable and could easily survive a nuke. I just kind of shrugged it off when I read this story as poetic/artistic license on David and Perez's part, as it looked cool, but I'm not sure it makes that much sense.
Posted by: intp | September 20, 2017 6:27 PM
A robot grabbed it in JOURNEY INTO MYSTERY #86, so perhaps he had Machine Man carry it to its place.
Posted by: Luke Blanchard | September 20, 2017 6:45 PM
That trophy room is a remarkable collection of Easter eggs, including especially the Oan power battery on the far left, the bottled city of Kandor on the far right, and Captain Mar-Vell's nega-bands being used as planters in the middle.
Posted by: Andrew | September 20, 2017 7:29 PM
The Surfer's board was an oddity to me as well. There's ambiguity with the war Rick doesn't remember, but having that involve something with the potential to destroy Galactus's handiwork (such as a Celestial host) would weaken the theme that plain old humanity is responsible for dystopia.
Anyway, this is a superb story, the kind where key moments replay in your head after reading it. A subtle continuity touch is that after the Maestro is transported back to New Mexico and dimly hears his past self warning that the gamma bomb's about to go off, he reacts with "Bomb?", which was Rick's response to that same info in Hulk #1. And then we have that awesome spread of Banner's weapon simultaneously ending his life and changing it forever.
Posted by: Mortificator | September 20, 2017 7:29 PM
While I understand it's necessary for the plot to work, I've always disliked the sort of dystopian stories where all the heroes and villains except for the protagonist/antagonist have somehow died. It's easy to imagine a nuclear war killing most human and mutant characters, but how did that happen to Thor, or freakin' Silver Surfer? And what about all the other Gamma-powered characters? And then, of course, there are also characters who simply cannot die, like Mr. Immortal. I just don't feel stories like this work in a shared universe which has multiple characters who should be able to survive an apocalypse... Unless the writer comes up with a plausible reason why they didn't, which I don't think David managed to do here.
Posted by: Tuomas | September 21, 2017 4:28 AM
Perez wasn't unable to keep up with Infinity Gauntlet's schedule, he was instead dissatisfied with the direction of the project (he wanted to draw MORE characters, but by #4, he realized he wouldn't get the chance to draw any new characters) and was still having editorial problems with DC over War of the Gods.
Posted by: AF | September 21, 2017 6:42 AM
Interesting, thanks AF.
Regarding the trophies, in my opinion you can either treat them like easter eggs (e.g. of course the the Oan power battery and Kandor can't really be there from a "continuity" perspective, so you can treat the rest with the same degree of seriousness), or you can use Rick's mention of the second war along with the existence of the (depleted?) Infinity Gauntlet and Cosmic Cube to explain any impossibilities.
Posted by: fnord12 | September 21, 2017 11:04 AM
I don't consider the trophies to be anything than easter eggs EXCEPT for those that affect the actual plot.
Posted by: Chris | September 21, 2017 2:02 PM
I was also bothered by the Maestro's crack that he 'never liked' Rick, but I sort of attribute that to Maestro just reacting to Rick's comment calling him a 'dirtbag'. To me, Maestro letting Rick live all those years says more about his feelings about Rick than anything else, since Rick was always a potential threat to his regime (more as a leader than as an active participant of course).
One of my favorite aspects of David's run was the development of Bruce's friendship with Rick. One really gets the sense that Bruce really has only two people who truly care about him-- Betty and Rick. Pretty much everyone else hates or fears him. Or just feel sorry for him (like Reed Richards and Dr. Strange).
Posted by: intp | September 21, 2017 3:42 PM
That pile of bricks int he trophy room, including the odd green one, will become important much later on in one of PAD's Genis-Vell stories.
Posted by: Omar Karindu | September 22, 2017 6:26 AM
While I understand it's necessary for the plot to work, I've always disliked the sort of dystopian stories where all the heroes and villains except for the protagonist/antagonist have somehow died. It's easy to imagine a nuclear war killing most human and mutant characters, but how did that happen to Thor, or freakin' Silver Surfer?
PAD does some interesting things with his various Hulk alternate future stories, suggesting here and there that they share certain features even if they aren't the same timeline. Nearly all of them involve a nuclear exchange and an incident that pushes the Hulk into full-tilt misanthropy.
Regarding Thor, it possible that this timeline shares several features with the one shown in The Last Avengers Story, in which he, the Thing, Hercules, and the Hulk confronted some unspecified menace to Asgard and Olympus. Ultimately, only a now-gray Hulk returned, under circumstances suggesting that something terrible had happened to everyone else involved.
Since the Maestro isn't gray like the Hulk in that story, perhaps this is a timeline where Thor and Hercules were killed in the battle discussed there, but Hulk wasn't brought along. Hulk: The End seems to has a global nuclear war, the "Hell on Earth" War, and the "Outer World War," the last of which is probably where Thor et al. died and might be a version of the Asgard-OLympus battle mentioned in The Last Avengers Story.
Posted by: Omar Karindu | September 22, 2017 6:41 AM
I be curious to see what becomes of the bricks. The Hardcover of Future Imperfect says they are "bricks from Avengers mansion", though now that you mention it, the green one looks to be the same color as the Impossible Man(?)...
Posted by: Andrew | September 22, 2017 10:21 AM
Even the Hulk can look somewhat stereotypically handsome when drawn and inked by George Perez. The Maestro is another matter...
I had assumed that Banner shaved, and then he didn't normally remain in Hulk form long enough for his beard to grow out much, or, even if he did, that might just be a detail that most artists and writers could easily overlook. Hm now it seems I may have fallen into the same rabbit hole...
Posted by: James Holt | September 22, 2017 11:37 AM
Regarding Thor's hammer: In Captain Marvel #30 (May, 2002), old Rick Jones reveals that he is worthy of wielding Mjolnir during a confrontation with Thanatos, the Rick Jones from the Marvel 2099 timeline.
Posted by: Don Campbell | September 22, 2017 2:13 PM
IMHO, there are two many scantily clad sex slaves and rape scenes in this story. Yes, there was a need to establish that Maestro was doing things that Bruce considered monstrous but it arguably crossed the line into Claremont territory.
Posted by: Michael | September 22, 2017 6:37 PM
At the risk of stating the obvious, the Hulk starting to grow a beard here is purely a symbolic indication that he is becoming more like the Maestro. The Hulk normally stays beardless the same way the male characters on Lost never had more than 5 days worth of stubble no matter how many months they spent on that damn island.
Posted by: Andrew | September 22, 2017 7:25 PM
I'll add a fan-fix component to Andrew's point: PAD used to say that he thought of the Hulk as an unwitting shapeshifter, which is why he has more than just two appearances (and can even do things like taking on Banner's face as the "Professor" Hulk). So the facial hair is normally suppressed because the Hulk doesn't imagine himself with a beard, but when he sees the Maestro, he starts to imagine himself growing one, and he does.
Posted by: Walter Lawson | September 22, 2017 11:45 PM
Are you kidding? Nearly all the guys wound up growing beards in Lost.
Posted by: AF | September 23, 2017 5:58 AM
Sorry, AF, I really should limit myself to the subject at hand. I think the Lost guys should have had thicker beards, like Grizzly Adams long, but maybe they weren't "really" on the island as long as it seemed to me. Walter, your suggestion makes a lot of sense, though I am always resistant to "power creep". It beats saying he shaves himself by bouncing his heat vision off a reflective surface from the vessel that brought him to this planet.
Posted by: Andrew | September 24, 2017 8:26 AM
My fan-fix for Hulk's beard-growth was that the Hulk was a transformed version of Bruce Banner and so would have a beard if Bruce did, but the Hulk had always been shown clean shaven because Bruce normally was. Since 377, now Hulk was the default form, he would start growing a beard & had been shaving it since then.
Sure there were times this theory didn't work (in times when Bruce has stubble and Hulk doesn't, maybe it's because Hulk's skin is wider/thicker & the hairs weren't long enough to show?) but it was good enough for me. I prefer Walter's explanation though, perhaps PAD had something similar in mind.
Posted by: Jonathan, son of Kevin | September 25, 2017 3:39 PM
I read Future Imperfect exactly once when it came out and it made an indelible impression on me. The scene that stuck with me the most is the interrogation of Pizfiz. Once Maestro confirms he’s of no more use, he kills him for spitting on him and storms out of the room.
Posted by: Haywerth | September 25, 2017 4:03 PM
I don't think the "Hulk is clean-shaven because Banner shaves" fan-fix explains why Hulk didn't have a beard or even a stubble during the time the two were separated? Or the numerous times Hulk has been stranded in the middle of the wilderness or on an alien world with no obvious tools for shaving available?
Posted by: Tuomas | September 27, 2017 4:23 AM
Well I did say the theory didn't work sometimes... it was just my personal fix for it rather than a fan-fix needed to work for any circumstance. So I wouldn't try too hard to defend it, I just figured it worked in general, and for the times it didn't work there should be another explanation. But when they are separated by Samson, the whole "default form" is suspended.
(To be honest, even as a kid I never thought it was realistic anyone could separate them into 2 bodies, and if anyone somehow did, it would be a polymath genius like Dr Doom, who might even throw in some magic, not a psych like Samson. But the PAD "unwitting shapeshifter" theory solves that too, Samson is able to split them up because Bruce believes it to be possible. Even though it will later turn out they cannot survive without the other, what Bruce unconsciously believes can be done temporarily overrides that.)
I just figured that the Hulk didn't grow hair & only Bruce did, so any time the Hulk is kept from returning to his default form (or rest form) of Bruce, he will not grow hair himself. After Hulk 377 where Bruce is now the Hulk, that changes. Since hair is basically dead cells, PAD's introduction of a healing factor also suggests Hulk shouldn't usually need to create hair. Perhaps Hulk was growing stubble here because normally his healing factor was based on physical exertion & getting angrier, in a paralyzed state he couldn't exert himself & dead cells were not fixed by his overtaxed healing factor?
Posted by: Jonathan, son of Kevin | September 27, 2017 5:46 AM
In any case, that's just some speculation. As I said, I think Walter's theory works better than mine and since it is based on PAD's own ideas, I think that's basically a a Word Of God explanation for why it happened here. I think it's likely that PAD was himself thinking the same as Walter, but didn't want to make it too obvious by explaining it. Much better to hint at it & let the reader work it out themselves.
Perhaps that's also why Hulk is hairier (both in stubble & arms/body) than normal in Hulk 368 - I'd generally seen that as a preference of the artist, in the same way Wolverine is hairier depending on the artist. However, you could also say it's something to do with how before the transformation, Hyde had been rattling Bruce with his theory that Hulk is a personification of animalistic savagery before modern society softened up humanity, and so Hulk took on what Bruce's unconscious saw as a more "caveman" appearance than normal?
Posted by: Jonathan, son of Kevin | September 27, 2017 6:01 AM
The Maestro hating Rick is a weird sort of Oedipal complex, considering he did 'father' the Hulk.
Posted by: Vin the Comics Guy | September 27, 2017 9:00 AM
Excellent entry, fnord. I remember being a kid and not being able to find these but reading about them with some frustration. It's a minor comment I'm certainly over-thinking, but I've got to comment on the Maestro being similar to the grey Hulk but "more evil"- I never saw the grey Hulk as evil in any capacity. I did see him as someone who rationalized his behavior, but towards the end of the grey Hulk era especially, there seemed to be some kind of evolution of the character, a speech he makes to the Super Skrull comes to mind especially, where the grey Hulk responds to the question of "what have YOU done lately" with a statement about "bozos who take pride in the suffering of others"- I'm paraphrasing, but it was very close to that. I think the Maestro is indeed a formidable and scary villain and your assessment of him being chaotic is kind of fascinating. I felt PAD was really all over the place later on, and a revival of the Hulk-as-Maestro (about the time I just gave up on Marvel) seemed intriguing, just to go nowhere later on. That could also be due to editorial interference more than anything else.
Posted by: Wis | October 7, 2017 4:17 AM
The gun the Maestro is holding which he says was designed by Forge to kill the Hulk later (earlier?) appears in the present day in Incredible Hulk #455.
Posted by: Ben Herman | November 1, 2017 10:17 PM
The green brick was Kryptonite (Superman's cape, a batarang and Wonder Girl's lasso also appear), but PAD eventually had a different explanation for it in Captain Marvel #30, which also explains how Mjolnir got there (which I'm not keen on, I prefer the guesses made here).
PAD says the trophies were almost all chosen by Perez: "The only props I specified must be present were Wolverine’s skeleton, Captain America’s shield, Thor’s hammer, Betty Banner’s ashes, and the Silver Surfer’s board… and a couple of other minor things. Everything else came from George. And he went nuts with Rick’s trophy room. So did I… because I didn’t know what the significance of the green brick was, atop all those other normal-colored bricks. Turns out, according to George, that that was one of the contributions of colorist Tom Smith. The green brick was Kryptonite. For that matter, the other bricks were the remains of Avengers mansion."
Perez made a list of all the trophies: http://www.peterdavid.net/2010/07/26/ricks-chachkas-contest-results/
Posted by: Jonathan, son of Kevin | November 3, 2017 7:51 PM
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