THE INCREDIBLE HULK: FUTURE IMPERFECT by Peter David, George Perez, and Dale Keown
Story
Characterization
Art
Summary
FUTURE IMPERFECT could've easily been a standard 'evil alternate future' story. By keeping it as a reflective battle between the best and worst of Hulk AND Bruce Banner, it became one of Marvel's best. The incredible detail in the art is a highlight.
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FUTURE IMPERFECT is widely considered one of, if not the greatest, Hulk stories ever written. Writer Peter David takes a pair of almost cliche storylines — the evil alternate universe and time travel — and uses them to weave an intense character dynamic. Hulk fans are used to Bruce Banner and the Hulk at war against each other. FUTURE IMPERFECT creates a world where both the Hulk and Bruce Banner truly face their own worst demons. Except now, those demons have taken over the rest of the world.

READ: Don’t want to wait for Hulk in THOR: RAGNAROK? See his 2008 film!

That world is a futuristic nightmare — a single major city, literally named Dystopia, in a nearly barren, irradiated world. It’s hard not to think of JUDGE DREDD and DUNE looking it. The Hulk emerges into this nightmare with carnage and confusion — his personal trademarks. Yet at this point, Bruce Banner is in the driver’s seat, so the Hulk is able to absorb the elements around him. It’s an important distinction; without that conscious personality, this story would never work. It allows Hulk to have commentary and cooperation with the rebels, but it also lets him reach the conclusions that only Bruce Banner could. Hulk sees how the people look at him with the usual fear, but also respect. When he is able to start discussing the situation with the rebels, he is brought to a room that is filled with ruined superhero gear, and an aged Rick Jones.

FUTURE IMPERFECT
Image courtesy of Marvel Entertainment

Artists George Perez and Dale Keown bring the utter devastation of this moment to life. The scene is a twisted Where’s Waldo of Marvel, with artifacts ranging from the obvious (Cap’s broken shield) to the minuscule (Doc Ock’s arms). All of this pushes the gears turning in the Hulk’s head. He knows that something of immense power had to do this. He knows that with all these powerful figures gone, someone else is responsible for the conditions he’s seen. When he asks Rick Jones who’s responsible, the expression on his face says it all — he already knows the answer.

READ: Want more Hulk? Here’s a list of other essential Hulk stories!

THE INCREDIBLE HULK: FUTURE IMPERFECT — Evil From Within

The Maestro, an evil, future version of the Hulk has used his immense power to take over. Yet, he is clearly still intelligent, showing that his mind is still Bruce. Therein lies the horror of Maestro’s actions — it was easier to believe in the Hulk because he was childish. That dynamic is gone now, and Peter David makes sure we see how much of a monster an intelligent Hulk can be. The Maestro brutalizes prisoners and the populace before taking on the rebels and the Hulk. The battle is as intense as Perez and Dale Keown can make it, with explosions of rubble, collapsing buildings, and brutal punches from both combatants. Yet David doesn’t allow the battle to end quickly. Not only does the Maestro beat the Hulk — he actually breaks his neck (though Hulk survives).

FUTURE IMPERFECT
Image courtesy of Marvel Entertainment

The battle also questions how much of Banner’s mind exists in the Maestro, as he uses the doctor’s good nature against him. This leads into the most compelling arc of the book — the temptation of the Hulk. Since the Maestro doesn’t know what will happen if Hulk dies, he tries to convince him to enjoy the spoils of being king. Again, FUTURE IMPERFECT shows a unique connection between the Hulk and Maestro. Both use force, but they are also capable of cunning — Hulk tries to trick the Maestro, while the Maestro tries to bring Hulk over. Yet the Maestro resorts to brute force faster than Hulk. Both Banner and Hulk are now the Jekyll of the story, while the Maestro is Hyde. It’s no wonder Hulk says that Maestro sickens him worse than his other foes. Both Hulk and Banner see their own twisted reflection in the Maestro.

THE INCREDIBLE HULK: FUTURE IMPERFECT — A Personal Battle that Rocked the World

FUTURE IMPERFECT is a classic Hulk story because it changes a central Hulk theme — the monster inside. It takes that classic idea and flips it around, making it not about Bruce Banner facing the Hulk, but about both facing the worst of their own souls. The hellish backdrop reminds how far that evil has spread. By doing that, it also highlights another Hulk theme — that no matter what, when the Hulk sees people suffer, he gets mad. That’s the central idea of FUTURE IMPERFECT — the best and worst of a man doing battle with himself.

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