Incredible Hulk: Heart of the Atom


By Roy Thomas, Harlan Ellison, Archie Goodwin, Len Wein, Bill Mantlo, Peter Gillis, Herb Trimpe, Sal Buscema& various (Marvel)
ISBN: 978-0-7851-6212-4 (TPB)

Love is in the air and it’s a Leap Year too, so if you’re a typical guy you’ll want to pay attention. Don’t wait for February 13th. Start looking for a St. Valentine’s Day present for The One now. I’m reviewing romance-themed graphic novels sporadically between now and then as a prompt.

PAY EVEN MORE ATTENTION. A graphic novel – no matter how good – is not suitable as a romantic gift on its own. For Pete’s Sake buy something else – and more thoughtful – too.

Bruce Banner is a military scientist accidentally caught in a gamma bomb blast of his own devising. As a result, any kind of stress causes him to transform into a giant green monster of unstoppable strength and fury. He was one of Marvel’s earliest innovations and first failure but, after an initially troubled few years, finally found his size-700 feet and a format that worked, becoming one of the company’s premiere antiheroes and most popular features.

As such a rambunctious, rampaging monster, it’s hard to imagine the Hulk as a heartbroken star of romantic tragedy but that’s just what this compilation – collecting stories from Incredible Hulk #140, 148, 156, 202-203, 205-207, 246-248, What If? #23 and pertinent pages from The Official Handbook to the Marvel Universe, collectively covering June 1971 to October 1980: the everyday love story of a meandering monster and a sub-atomic alien princess…

By the close of the 1960s the Hulk had settled into a comfortable niche and satisfyingly effective formula: world-weary Banner sought cures for his gamma-transformative curse, alternately aided or hunted by prospective father-in-law US General “Thunderbolt” Ross and a variety of guest-star heroes and villains. Artist Herb Trimpe made the character his own, adapting the “house” Jack Kirby-based art-style into often startlingly abstract mannerism, augmented by his unmatched facility for drawing technology: especially honking great ordnance and vehicles…

And, of course, no one can deny the cathartic reader-release of a great big “Hulk Smash!” moment…

The titanic trysts open with the concluding chapter of a landmark crossover that had opened in Avengers #88 (but not included here). In that missing fragment, Psyklop – insectoid servant of Elder Gods – abducted the Hulk to fuel their resurrection…

This leads directly into Incredible Hulk #140 and ‘The Brute that Shouted Love at the Heart of the Atom’ (by Harlan Ellison & Roy Thomas, pencilled & inked by Sam Grainger over Trimpe’s layouts). Banished and imprisoned on sub-atomic world K’ai, Banner’s intellect and the Hulk’s body are reconciled and form one unbeatable warrior champion. He becomes a barbarian hero to an appreciative populace, and lover of their perfect noble princess Jarella. However, at the moment of his greatest joy, the Green Goliath is snatched away by Psyklop and exacts justified vengeance even as his departure cause havoc on the microversal paradise….

For issue #148 (February 1972) Archie Goodwin debuted as scripter – with a little plotting assistance from a very junior Chris Claremont – in ‘But Tomorrow… the Sun Shall Die!’ Lost love Jarella travels to Earth and a longed-for reunion, just as Banner is cured of his curse by radical solar-energy experimentation. Unfortunately, she accidentally brings with her a super-assassin determined to end her life at all costs, which somehow triggers the sun into going nova…

Forced to return to her planet, Jarella becomes an object of obsession for the Jade Juggernaut – as detailed in a text précis of his months-long hunt for her – before we resume in Incredible Hulk #156 (October).

Having swallowed a defective shrinking formula created by the Astonishing Ant-Man in a forlorn attempt to rejoin Jarella in her subatomic world, Hulk reduces in sporadic bursts and is propelled into a succession of micro-worlds, before a shrinking spasm happily deposits him on Jarella’s world in time for ‘Holocaust at the Heart of the Atom!’(Goodwin, Trimpe & Sal Trapani) to pit him against his worst nightmare – himself – before once more losing his true love to the vicissitudes of cruel fate…

With Hulk #202-203 (August and September 1976) Len Wein, Sal Buscema & Joe Staton start bringing the romance to its inevitable close as a once more miniaturised man-monster plunges through micro-space before arriving in the promised land of his beloved and long-lost alien queen…

Havoc at the Heart of the Atom’ reveals how his previous visit rendered the world tectonically unstable, shattering the civilisation which once had the power to blend Banner’s mind with the Hulk’s body. Moreover, the once-civilised population have turned on the queen they hold responsible…

Reunited with his beloved, the simplistic brute swears to fix the problem but is soon embroiled again with the antediluvian horror who first stuck him in the microverse, and who still craves bloody revenge…

The ‘Assault on Psyklop!’ proves another crushing defeat for the vile insectoid and a guardedly happy ending for the man-brute as a coincidental rescue attempt from Earth brings Hulk home, carrying his astounded lover with him…

In Hulk #205, Wein, Buscema & Staton depict the most soul-shattering moment in the Green Goliath’s tortured life as ‘Do Not Forsake Me!’ finds Jarella adapting to life on Earth only to sacrifice herself to save a child from rampaging robbery robot Crypto-Man.

Stunned and bereft, the Hulk becomes ‘A Man-Brute Berserk!’: his grief-stricken trail of grief-fuelled destruction leading from Gamma Base, New Mexico all the way to New York City where even his closest friends and allies are unable to calm the green gargantuan, leading to a brutal battle ‘Alone Against the Defenders!’ who finally realise compassion is the only method that can work against their traumatised foe…

Another catch-up text page brings us to Incredible Hulk #246 (April 1980) for another traumatic experience. ‘The Hero and the Hulk!’ by Bill Mantlo & Buscema reveals that Jarella’s body has been kept for study by the military and opens with an infuriated Gamma Giant determined to take her back home for decent burial: a grim task made easier with the assistance of Kree-born Protector of the Universe Captain Marvel

Returned to ‘Jarella’s World’, Hulk finds a desolate planet on the edge of death, with only one solitary oasis of verdant life remaining. It is jealously guarded by wander Universal Elder the Gardener – who will brook no intrusions of any kind – but a combination of Banner’s empathy and the Hulk’s forceful nature eventually convince him to allow her interment: triggering an unexpected blossoming of new life in ‘How Green My Garden Grows!’

Completing this collected star-crossed tale of woe, is an alternate take originating in October 1980’s What If? #23. Concocted by Peter Gillis, Trimpe & Mike Esposito ‘What If… Hulk’s Girlfriend Jarella Had Not Died?’ posits what might have occurred if Jarella had not died and the lovers had returned to K’ai to liberate that world from the influence of the Elder Gods…

Packed with bonus features such as informational pages about Jarella and The Gardener (from the Marvel Universe Handbook), this potently passionate primer of love without limits is a vibrantly verdant delight to charm any savage beast…
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