Saturday, February 24, 2018

Don't Make Me Angry!, Part 22: The Incredible Hulk: Heart of the Atom

 Even a monster can know love.....

And so we close the books on yet another Crabby Reviewer marathon, with THE INCREDIBLE HULK: HEART OF THE ATOM, a collection that encompasses the entire relationship between The Hulk and his doomed love, Jarella of K'ai.

 Since this collection starts with THE INCREDIBLE HULK #140, this was actually the book that I started the marathon with, over two months ago. Since then, I've woven in and out of this collection as necessary, and we are. Alpha and Omega, all in one book.

 Issue #140 is written by Roy Thomas, from a story by Harlan Ellison, and features The Hulk's first encounter with Jarella and her sub-atomic world. It also features this image:

which, for some unknown reason, was made into a blacklight poster in the mid-'70's. Also for some unknown reason, one of my parents thought it would be a good idea to buy 5-year-old me the poster, and hang it opposite my bed, thus giving me bad dreams and night-terrors for years to come. I have no idea why this giant pig-dog terrified me so just did.

 Due to a spell cast by Jarella's mystic advisors, not only can The Hulk understand Jarella and her people, but he also retains Bruce Banner's intellect. Bruce and Jarella fall in love, but the two are tragically torn apart by Psyklop, who enlarges The Hulk and returns him to Earth out of spite. This issue is made unbearable by Roy Thomas' obsession with working as many Harlan Ellison story titles as he possibly can into the body of the story. I wanted to travel back in time and smack the undoubtedly stoned Thomas in the back of his head.

 From there, we jump ahead to THE INCREDIBLE HULK #148, which finds Jarella's sorcerers enlarging her and sending her to Earth to find her beloved. Shit happens, and back to K'ai Jarella goes.

 But not so fast!! The Hulk visits her world again in issue #156, only to be re-enlarged and returned to Earth. While their romance is a beautiful thing, you can see how this shrinking/enlarging, together/torn apart shtick could get old after a while. Enter issue #'s 202-203 & 205-207...writer Len Wein throws a spanner into the works by staging yet another shrunken conjugal visit to Jarella's world, only this time, Jarella returns to Earth with The Hulk, and is stranded there. This could have been a massive twist to the monthly adventures of The Hulk, as we soon see Jarella and Bruce Banner strolling around town together, deeply in love. I wonder what kinds of stories could have sprung from the concept of The Hulk.....having a wife, being content, maybe making peace with his dual personalities. Alas, we will never know, since Wein summarily kills Jarella off. He does kind of get a pass, since we get a few issues of The Hulk as we've never seen him before: grief-stricken and hopeless. Wein wrings every last bit of pathos out of this scenario, and artist Sal Buscema nails all of the different emotions that our hero is experiencing.

 Issues 246-248, written by Bill Mantlo, follow The Hulk on a final excursion to K'ai, this time to lay Jarella to rest among her own people. Of course, things aren't ever that easy for old jade-jaws, and he runs afoul of the Gardener, one of The Elders of the Universe. Of course, The Hulk smashes, and eventually sets things right, saying a final, heartbreaking farewell to his beloved, and saving what's left of her people, as well.

 The collection wraps up with the "What if The Hulk had become a barbarian?" story from WHAT IF? #23. Not a bad tale, but it felt a little rushed. I also wish that this volume had been expanded a little to include the trip back to Jarella's world from THE INCREDIBLE HULK #'s 351-352. Although Jarella was long since deceased by then, the story does offer a bit of closure to her tale, and would have been appreciated here.

 Marvel always does a great job on these oddball collections, and this volume is no exception. It can be picked up and read completely cold, and a new reader will have a full picture of the beginning, middle, and end of one of comicdom's great doomed romances.

 THE INCREDIBLE HULK: HEART OF THE ATOM earns eight out of ten nightmare-inducing pig-creatures:

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