The Hulk's Dark Side Emerges in Games and Comics This Summer

After almost a quarter-century, the Maestro returns in both 'Secret Wars' and 'Marvel Contest of Champions'
Greg Land/Marvel Entertainment

The Maestro is back.

The Marvel Entertainment supervillain — a version of the Hulk from a distant future who has become corrupted by power and a life spent in conflict with everyone around him — first appeared in 1992's The Incredible Hulk: Future Imperfect miniseries by writer Peter David and artist George Perez, but he's set to return in not only a new comic book series, but also as the main villain in the mobile game Marvel Contest of Champions.

"I have to admit, when I created the character in the 1990s for a two-part story where he died in the end, it never occurred to me that he would have the kind of staying power where it's now almost 25 years later and he's heading up his own series," David told The Hollywood Reporter earlier this week.

He put the appeal of the Maestro down to his central concept. "Even though he's the evil, future version of the Hulk, deep down he's still Bruce Banner, and I think people find that intriguing," he said. "They find it curious that the guy who's currently here in the Marvel Universe, is the ultimate bad guy in the far future."

The seeds of the Maestro's creation came to David during his critically acclaimed 12-year run as the writer of the regular Incredible Hulk comic book, where he dealt with the recently established fact that Bruce Banner had been abused as a child by his father.

"Early on in my run, I came to the conclusion that — because he'd suffered abuse as a child — Bruce Banner was already someone suffering from what was then called 'multiple personality disorder,' " David explained. "The concept was that the explosion that released all the gamma rays did not create a problem as much as exacerbate an already existing one: that this guy had the potential to be a new version of his father. The Maestro was the ultimate take on that idea, that Bruce Banner is not necessarily a nice guy."

David is handling the villain's return to the comic book page, in a new Future Imperfect series tying in with Marvel's summer event, Secret Wars, illustrated by artist Greg Land. "There are things in the new series that reflect and harken back to the first series," he promised, saying that characters from the first series will return — although he won't be drawn out as to whether Rick Jones, the Hulk's former sidekick who leads the revolution against the Maestro in the original story, is one of them.

"I don't want to give away everything," he teases. "I will tell you this: there's a character in the series referred to as 'the Boss,' a person who oversees the battle against the Maestro. I feel pretty confident in saying that no one will be able to guess that person's identity until it's revealed on the last page."

While the Maestro is causing trouble for the inhabitants of Battleworld in the comic pages, the character will also be revealed to be the puppet master behind events in the successful Marvel Contest of Champions mobile game. According to Bill Rosemann, creative director of Marvel Games, the villain's introduction started with a phone call.

"The game is based on a storyline by Sam Humphries [writer of Legendary Star-Lord and Uncanny X-Force for Marvel], and Sam gave me a call," Rosemann told THR. "We'd gotten to a point in the game where we would be revealing who the big bad was — we knew that [on-screen villain] the Collector was working with a mysterious benefactor, and the player had already seen Thanos, so we found ourselves wondering who would be the best reveal, who would be a character who could trump the Collector and go toe-to-toe and perhaps even defeat Thanos himself?"

The Maestro fit the bill, Rosemann said, not only because of his and Humphries' respect for David's work on the original Future Imperfect series, but the basic appeal of the character. "The way that Peter and George did such a fantastic job in thinking up the character and what he looks like means that, when you first look at him, you instantly get it. You see him, you see his weapons, and you know that this is the Hulk of the future and he is trouble."

The weapons alone might be enough of an indicator for those who have been playing Contest of Champions for a while — the game launched in December, and has been downloaded almost 20 million times, according to Rosemann. "We sent our friends at [game developer] Ka-Bam reference art from the first Future Imperfect, and copies of the comic book to read, so that they would get the Maestro correct," Rosemann said. "In the game visuals, you'll see that they gave him some armor, and it's armor that he hasn't been seen wearing before, and we made sure to add detailing that was authentic to the story, with weapons that come right from the trophy room in the original story — every time we show the Maestro, he has all these weapons that all come from a Marvel hero or villain that you can look at and puzzle where each of them come from. We love to have Easter eggs."

Both David and Rosemann spoke about the excitement of potential crossover between the game and comic audiences as a result of the Maestro's new prominence in both ("That's the goal," Rosemann said. "They're two things, each designed to be the best they can be, but if we can introduce each of our audiences to the others' story, that's an awesome thing"), but they were also quick to reassure that cross-promotion wasn't the reason for the character's appearance.

"The number one thing is always: Does it make a good story," Rosemann said. "What would be the coolest, most awesome reveal that would make the readers or players think, 'Holy crap?' While thinking about it, we realized that Secret Wars was coming up and would be harking back to some of Marvel's greatest alternate timelines and stories, but that was additive. The original intent is always story, story, story — and the wonderful character of the Maestro."

David said that it's "tremendously exciting" to be able to return to the character as a writer, but also to see him engage with the wider Marvel universe in the Contest of Champions game, pointing out that when you create a character in a shared universe, seeing them interact with other heroes and creators is something you hope for. Rosemann, meanwhile, pointed to the Maestro's plans in the new Future Imperfect comic book and the Contest of Champions game and said simply, "It's the time of the Maestro. And that time is now."

The Maestro is already available in the Contest of Champions game, while the first issue of the new Future Imperfect will be released digitally and in comic book stores June 3.

Read more Marvel Confirms Comic Book Reboot in 'Secret Wars' Event Series