“Harlan Ellison Month” (well, “Harlan Ellison Week +1”, anyway) continues here today at “Attack of the 50 Year Old Comic Books”, as we take a look at the second half of a two-issue crossover between Avengers and Hulk, originally published in March, 1971, which the writer of those two Marvel series, Roy Thomas, adapted from a plot synopsis by Mr. Ellison.
I’m not going to provide a summary of the tale’s opening chapter here, mostly because the recap provided on the first three pages of Hulk #140 (which’ll be coming up shortly) will tell you pretty much everything you need to know to be able to follow the rest of the story — and also because you can, at any time, click on this link for the Avengers #88 post if you missed reading it a few days ago, and you really do want all the details. Even so, before we plunge head-first into the comic’s narrative, we need to take a moment to note what Thomas, as scripter, is going to be getting up to in these pages. And to facilitate our doing that, we’re going to quickly flip to the back of the book, to have a look at the letters column.
As mentioned last time, Ellison’s synopsis (roughly 1,800 words in length) was actually published, in full, in the fourth issue of the official Marvel fanzine, Marvelmania Magazine. (See right for a scan of the article’s first page.) Said issue was out for several months prior to Hulk #140 — long enough, in fact, for reader Harry Walder, Jr., of Chicago, IL, to have his response to it published in #140 itself:
The story in MARVELMANIA MAGAZINE #4 by Harlan Ellison was terrific, and should make an excellent Hulk episode. Be certain to get this Harlan fellow for more stories.
To which the Marvel staffer assigned to answer the missives received at “Green Skin’s Grab Bag” — presumably, Roy Thomas himself — replied, in part:
… Harlan Ellison — who did the basic plot of this issue and the current AVENGERS as well, as one gigantic story — is welcome to do another story for us anytime he wishes. We truly dig a lot of his s-f masterpieces. In fact, since this issue will be on sale on April 1 — April Fool’s Day — the Rascally One decided to toss in the names of over twenty Harlan Ellison stories (namely, the entire contents page of Paingod and Other Delusions and The Beast That Shouted Love at the Heart of the World)* as bits of dialogue and caption copy in the very mag you’re now holding in your happy little hands! Happy hunting, Harlanophiles!
Some thirty-two years later, Thomas would offer a slightly different recollection of the circumstances behind his decision to work in references to so many single Ellison stories in this story. In notes accompanying a reprinting of Ellison’s synopsis in the 31st issue of Thomas’ own fanzine Alter Ego, the veteran comics scripter and editor wrote:
For those readers who may take this occasion to compare Harlan Ellison’s foregoing synopsis with the story as printed, I might say that in retrospect I have only one major regret. Due to deadline pressures (of my own making, not his, I hasten to add), I had to write the dialogue for the entire Hulk #140 overnight, staying up from dusk till dawn. In order to forestall natural drowsiness, I decided I would find a way to work into the dialogue and captions the title of every single Ellison short story in his 1969 collection The Beast That Shouted Love at the Heart of the World, which of course had inspired my name for the Hulk issue. This led me into a couple of convolutions I regret…
As we go through “The Brute That Shouted Love at the Heart of the Atom!”, I’ll be noting the Ellison story references as they show up (including the ones from the Paingod collection, which apparently slipped Thomas’ mind in 2003). Fortunately for me, much of the heavy lifting on this has already been done by others, including Daniel Traeger, who posts as ruckus24 on the Comic Vine online forums and produced this overview, as well as Brian Cronin, who’s made the same information more accessible via an article at CBR.com. In the interest of adding a little value to what’s already out there, I’ll be providing not only Thomas’ book source for each story title, but also its original publication information (if different) as well as other data of interest (awards, comics adaptations, etc.) as appropriate; nevertheless, I offer my sincerest thanks for the work that my esteemed predecessors have already done so that I don’t have to.
One more thing to note before we get started, and it’s that when I first read this comic in 1971, virtually all of these references went right over my thirteen-year-old head; I mean, I knew who Harlan Ellison was (maybe**), but I was hardly a “Harlanophile”. Still, I was grateful when I encountered the editorial reply on the letters page explaining what “the Rascally One” had been up to, since otherwise, some of the words and phrases he’d embedded in this issue’s dialogue and captions were decidedly awkward — and others were downright nonsensical. But you’ll be able to see that for yourself, soon enough…
The shout-outs to Ellison’s prose fiction start as soon as the first page, where we have the story’s title (already seen on the cover) — well, the first third of it, anyway — which is, of course, derived from “The Beast That Shouted Love at the Heart of the World”, a tale originally published in the June, 1968 issue of Galaxy Science Fiction, which went on to win the Hugo Award for Best Short Story in 1969.
And while it’s not the name of a story from either Paingod and Other Delusions (which we’ll henceforth abbreviate as POD) or The Beast That Shouted Love at the Heart of the World (henceforth TBTSLHW), Thomas also manages to work an Ellison reference into the very first line of his script. This one’s to Dangerous Visions, a highly influential SF story anthology edited by Ellison, originally published in 1967; coincidentally, comics writer Mike Friedrich had also tipped his hat to this volume in his own tribute to Ellison, published this same month in Justice League of America #89 — which was titled “The Most Dangerous Dreams of All!”
I earlier described the first three pages of Hulk #140 as a recap — but that’s not entirely accurate, as we’re here provided a more detailed account of Hulk’s experiences during Avengers #88’s final scenes than we were given in that book. This is a perspective which Thomas understandably downplayed in that earlier context, but which is indeed a significant (and necessary) part of Ellison’s original plot synopsis:
… in mere moments the Hulk has been reduced and compressed so much, he becomes invisible, shrinks down and down and down until he is hurled into a sub-atomic, sub-molecular universe that exists in a mote of dust. Down, down, down until he emerges, gigantic in another world. And is shrunk down more and more until he stands astraddle two continents, a Colossus of Rhodes from another universe. The shrinking continues rapidly and the Hulk soon becomes smaller than the average size of a creature in this sub-molecular universe…
Now he is dwarfed by the feather-topped trees, he is smaller than the diamond rocks striated with onyx…
Joining Thomas on this story is his regular artistic contributor on the Hulk series, Herb Trimpe. Somewhat unusually for this era of the title, Trimpe only contributes layouts this time out, with both the finished pencils and inks being supplied by Sam Grainger.
But the layouts are pretty much where the visual interest of this issue lies (at least for your humble blogger) — especially in these first three opening pages, where Trimpe’s wordless panels, most sharing the same narrow, vertical design, impress with their Steranko-like drama, imagination, and variety of camera angles.
Which isn’t to say that the full-page splash that immediately follows doesn’t pack a wallop of its own:
Having dispatched the “pig-dog”, the Hulk goes bounding off across the otherwise deserted landscape… and Roy Thomas comes to his first two Ellison story references since the tale’s title. (Good thing, too, since we’re already a quarter of the way through the comic, and our sleep-fighting scribe still has over twenty titles yet to work in.) Both appearing in the first panel below, they are:
“Deeper Than the Darkness” (from POD) was originally published in the April, 1957 issue of Infinity Science Fiction.
“The Place with No Name” (from TBTSLHW) was originally published in the July, 1969 issue of The Magazine of Fantasy and Science Fiction.
Page 7, above, gives us another four story titles:
“Are You Listening?” (TBTSLHW) was published in the December, 1958 issue of Amazing Stories. A comics adaptation by Elliot S! Maggin (scripter), Rafael Navarro, and Eduard Barreto (artists) was published almost fifty years later in Harlan Ellison’s Dream Corridor, Vol. 2 (Dark Horse, 2007).
“Paingod” (POD) was first published in the June, 1964 issue of Fantastic.
“Phoenix” (TBTSLHW) was first published in the March, 1969 issue of If.
“A Boy and His Dog” (TBTSLHW) was first published in the April, 1969 issue of New Worlds. Probably one of Ellison’s best-known works, it won the Nebula Award for Best Novella in 1970, and was also nominated for a Hugo Award that year. A film version was released in 1975, and a comics adaptation of the story (along with two others about the same characters), with art by Richard Corben, was published as Vic and Blood (2 issues, Mad Dog Graphics) in 1987-88. (UPDATE 3/17/21, 12:30 pm; reader B Smith, whose comment appears below, notes that the sound effect made when Hulk foot-punches the wartho — “BLUDD!” — is likely another reference to this same story, as “Blood” is the name of its titular dog. He is almost certainly right.)
With these references, we see Thomas beginning to strain to make Ellison’s titles fit into the comic’s captions and dialogue in a way that doesn’t call attention to themselves. “Are You Listening?” (in panel 3) and “Phoenix” (in panel 4) are both basically fine; but “Paingod” is a powerfully evocative coinage that feels too big for the way it’s used in panel 3, at least for this reader. And the usage of the phrase “A Boy and His Dog” in panel 5 doesn’t really track with the everyday meaning of that particular set of words.
There’s only one actual story title embedded on page 8 — panel 6’s “Bright Eyes” (POD), originally published in Fantastic (April, 1965) — but there are two additional Ellison references, nonetheless.
To wit: If you thought that “like the waves in Rio” was a weird simile for Thomas to use in that panel 2 caption — especially since he’s using second person narration directed at the Hulk — well, you probably won’t be surprised to learn that “The Waves in Rio” is the name of the introductory essay in the TBTSLHW collection. And if you considered “mrmeeeeee” to be an odd choice for a sound effect to represent cheering — even when coming from the throats of green humanoid aliens on an strange sub-atomic world — then you may be intrigued to discover that “mrmee” is the sound made repeatedly by the character the Ticktockman in the very last line of Ellison’s story, “‘Repent, Harlequin!’ Said the Ticktockman”. As I’ve already discussed this award-winning classic in last week’s JLA #89 post, I’ll simply note here that prior to its appearance in POD, the story was published in the December, 1965 issue of Galaxy; and also that a comics adaptation, drawn by Alex Niño with a script by, you guessed it, Roy Thomas, was published by Marvel in Unknown Worlds of Science Fiction #3 (May, 1975). (Final panel shown at right.) Oh, and I should also mention that there’ll be yet another reference to this same story a bit further along (a legit title quote, this time).
Discussing Hulk #140 in his 2012 introduction to Marvel Masterworks — The Incredible Hulk, Vol. 7, Thomas noted Ellison’s likely inspiration for the story’s central conceit, as well as for its most memorable character:
The story’s main claim to fame is that it introduced into Marvel a long-lived character: green-skinned Jarella, princess of a subatomic world. Ever since science-fiction writer Ray Cummings had scribed a short story called “The Girl in the Golden Atom” and sequels for early pulp magazines, this had been a fertile situation for comic books. (Matter of fact, Cummings himself, as a scripter for Timely/Marvel in the latter 1940s, had penned a two-parter in Captain America Comics #25-26 with the same theme.)
In my Avengers #88 post, I noted that a reference in that issue to the original Captain Marvel (the one from Fawcett Comics) was likely a nod from Thomas towards his and Ellison’s mutual fannish appreciation for that hero, and indicated that there’d be a couple more such before we were done. Here’s the first (and definitely most obscure) of the two remaining — as Thomas takes the names of two of the three members of Queen Jarella’s sorcerous triad, Holi and Moli, from the favorite exclamation of both Captain Marvel and his teenage alter ego, Billy Batson. (Well, at least their favorite exclamation that doesn’t magically transform Billy into the Big Red Cheese, and vice versa.)
Like the other two, this is the sort of reference that it’s hard to imagine Thomas (or any other Marvel writer) indulging in just two years later, by which time DC Comics would have brought back the Fawcett Captain Marvel in a brand-new title, Shazam! In 1971, however, Billy Batson and friends had been in limbo for some eighteen years, and virtually no one saw a revival coming any time soon (if ever).
… aaannd there’s the third Fawcett Captain Marvel reference, But, you knew that already.
This wasn’t the first time that Marvel had presented a story in which the Hulk gained Bruce Banner’s intelligence — but it was the first such story that I had ever read, and it made a strong impression on me.
Page 11 gives us two more Ellison story references. The first, which comes in panel 6, is “Along the Scenic Route” (TBTSLHW), which was first published in the August, 1969 issue of the magazine Adam. The second, found in panel 7, is “Worlds to Kill” (also TBTSLHW), from If (March, 1968).
“The Pitll Pawob Division” (TBTSLHW) isn’t such a bad name for a cadre of assassins, when you get right down to it. Ellison’s story was originally published in If (December, 1968).
“Shattered Like a Glass Goblin” (TBTSLHW; originally published in 1968 in the anthology Orbit 4) is another story I’ve previously discussed in the context of JLA #89, where writer Mike Friedrich had also dropped a reference to it (although he hadn’t been quite as overt as Thomas in doing so, choosing to substitute the more mundane word “goblet” for “goblin”). This is probably the only instance in Hulk #140 where the Ellison reference is actually relevant to an ongoing plotline in the title, as Bruce Banner’s beloved Betty Ross had, indeed, recently been turned into a fragile crystal statue.
But if Thomas got lucky with “Shattered Like a Glass Goblin”, neither his own Hulk stories nor Ellison’s synopsis offer him any help with working in “‘Repent, Harlequin!’ Said the Ticktockman” in a way that makes sense in the context of our present narrative. Nevertheless, he brazens on through — putting the first part of the title in the mouths of the Pitll Pawob guys, and then having Bruce-Hulk literally quote the rest of it, as something he vaguely remembers reading “someplace”. Not that it’s impossible (or even all that unlikely) that Bruce might have read a little Ellison somewhere along the line; but if you, the reader, don’t recognize the phrase as the title of a story, the dialogue as it stands is pretty well meaningless. As a thirteen-year-old reader in 1971, I’d never heard of the story; and even though the explanatory note in the letters column allowed me to work out what Thomas was doing here, I still found it annoying.
“Try a Dull Knife” (TBTSLHW) was originally published in the October, 1968 issue of The Magazine of Fantasy and Science Fiction, while “Santa Claus vs. S.P.I.D.E.R.” (also TBTSLHW) first appeared in the January, 1969 issue of the same periodical.
“Wanted in Surgery” (TBTSLHW) was originally published in the August, 1957 issue of If.
As the Visis subplot winds down, Thomas manages to get in a whopping four references to Ellison stories — three of which would later see comics adaptations of their own — on page 15. In order of appearance:
“Asleep: With Still Hands” (TBTSLHW) first appeared in the July, 1968 issue of If.
“S.R.O.” (TBTSLHW) was first published in the March, 1957 issue of Amazing Stories. Scripter Steve Niles and artist John K. Snyder III produced a comics adaptation for Harlan Ellison’s Dream Corridor #2 (Dark Horse; April, 1995). (First page shown at left.)
“Run for the Stars” (TBTSLHW) was originally published in Science Fiction Adventures (June, 1957). A comics version by Ken Steacy first appeared in Marvel’s Epic Illustrated #11 (April, 1982), and was later collected with Steacy’s other adaptations of tales from Ellison’s “Earth-Kyba War” story cycle in Night and the Enemy (Comico, 1987). (First page shown at right.)
“The Discarded” (POD) was first published in the April, 1959 issue of Fantastic. A couple of decades later, Tom Sutton gave us a comics adaptation in The Illustrated Harlan Ellison (Baronet, 1978). (Some might quibble whether or not this version technically qualifies as “comics”, since, like all the other stories in the Baronet volume, the entire text of the author’s original prose is presented as originally written without being incorporated into the art as conventional captions or word balloons. I can see their point, but in my view, Sutton’s adaptation functions as sequential art in precisely the same way that Hal Foster’s classic newspaper comic strip “Prince Valiant” does; ergo, it’s comics. Unconvinced? Just take a look at the first page, shown at left, and tell me I’m wrong. [The comments section awaits!]) The story also received a live-action dramatic adaptation in 2007, as an episode of ABC’s (very) short-lived television series, Masters of Science Fiction.
“The Crackpots” (POD) first appeared in the June, 1956 issue of If.
Setting aside all the story-title-dropping business, Thomas’ script for Hulk #140 actually follows the corresponding portion of Ellison’s plot synopsis quite closely, with one significant difference: In Ellison’s version, there’s a scene with Psyklop (or “Syklop”, as Ellison originally named him) that falls in between his zapping the Avengers away to a New York subway platform and the Hulk’s first encounter with a wartho:
Syklop dashes to close off the shrinking ray.
Realizing he has sent his one hope of success to another universe, Syklop begins making preparations to follow the Hulk to that infinitesimal space. But to do that, he has to revamp the ray so it will shrink him to a size larger than the size the Hulk must have now become, and bring them both back at a pre-set time. It will take time to make such changes, and while Syklop bends to his intricate chore…
When we read Ellison’s version, we know — practically from the moment the Hulk arrives in Jarella’s world — how his sojourn there is going to end. A sense of inevitable doom thus hangs ominously in the background the whole time we’re reading about the Hulk taking his tentative steps towards acceptance, peace, and love.
But in Thomas’ adaptation, we’re never told that Psyklop is looking for the Hulk, or even that he has any method by which to locate or retrieve him. He’s out of sight, and, while perhaps not completely out of mind (we’re reading a story, after all, and we know how these things usually go), we’re not waiting in dread for Psyklop to show up in the same way that we are in Ellison’s telling. When the villain’s grasping hand comes smashing through the palace dome, we may well be as shocked as the Hulk, or nearly so.
I’m not at all sure it’s possible to say which of these two ways of telling the story is “better” — but, as a reader, I have to admit to a slight preference for Thomas’ approach.
With the next to last panel of page 18, we come at last to the end of the Ellison story title references: “White on White” was originally published in the November, 1968 issue of Knight magazine.
“For Torla’s was a little spell, cast in a little world — and now it fades from your great shoulders like the morning dew –”
That’s a really nice line, in my opinion — and it’s all Roy Thomas. (Ellison’s synopsis simply says, “the effects of Torla’s sorcery wear off…”) It rather makes you wonder what the rest of the book might read like, if the Rascally One hadn’t been so intent on shoehorning twenty-two extraneous Ellison titles into his script.
Your humble blogger has not read every single Hulk story ever written — far, far from it — but I’ve read more than a few, and of that number, none conclude more memorably, or movingly, than “The Brute That Shouted Love at the Heart of the Atom!”
Thomas’ language in the story’s final row of panels tracks closely to that in Ellison’s original, but it’s not identical. For comparison’s sake, here are the closing lines of “The Hulk in the Grip of Syklops!”:
Leaping through the sky, a dim memory of happiness still fading from his fogged brain, he remembers a tiny green Queen and a time of joy. And he soars away into the distance, trying to find a place he can never find again, not even understanding that the world and the life he seeks are forever denied him, locked in a mote of dust clinging to his garments.
Once again he is the homeless, brutal Hulk.
Fifty years down the road, no one is likely to call Harlan Ellison’s first Marvel Comics story — in either version — an unqualified masterpiece. Some of its problems — especially in the first, Avengers #88 half — can clearly be laid at the feet of the 2006 SFWA Grand Master himself. First among these would be the whole opening Hulk-trapped-at-Boulder-Dam set piece, which never connects to the rest of the story in any meaningful way. Another is the rather perfunctory appearance of the Avengers themselves; Ellison never identifies any of the heroes by name, and their only real impact on the plot is their inadvertently causing the villain to lose control of his Hulk-shrinking process. Thomas then compounds the problems of this chapter with the material he adds to Ellison’s synopsis (something that’s necessary to stretch the story to fill two issues), which leans heavily into the presumed Lovecraftian inspiration behind Syklop and his Dark Gods, but doesn’t make a lot of sense, story-wise.
Once we come to Hulk #140, most if not all of the story’s Ellison-derived problems are behind us; after dispensing with the Avengers, the synopsis proceeds on solid footing all the way to its practically perfect ending. Thomas has great material to work with here; unfortunately, his decision to incorporate the contents pages of two paperback books into his text gets in the way of his genuine skills as a writer, including his particular facility for adapting other writer’s work. On one level, it really is an impressive stunt (one reason I’ve given it so much space here); on the other, it makes for awkward prose, and interferes with the flow of the story. Since Thomas has himself expressed some regrets over handling the scripting this way, I don’t want to rag on him about it too much; but I kinda wish he’d just brewed a pot of coffee that night back in 1970, you know?
And yet. Flawed as it undoubtedly is, “The Brute That Shouted Love at the Heart of the Atom!” is still a great, classic comic-book story. Well-received in its time, it generated a number of sequels, as the love story of Hulk and Jarella was revived as early as #148 (Feb., 1972) by writers Archie Goodwin and (gaining his first official Marvel plotting credit) Chris Claremont, and then continued by other writers over the next five years. Of course, it was in the end a doomed love story, with the emerald-skinned queen of K’ai (the name eventually coined for Jarella’s sub-atomic world) ultimately meeting her untimely demise in Hulk #205 (Nov., 1976), courtesy of scripter Len Wein; but it could hardly have ended any other way, and remained true to the tragic spirit of Ellison’s original tale.
All in all, I’d say it wasn’t a bad showing from a talented and prolific writer who would continue to dabble productively, if only occasionally, in the comics medium on into the 21st century. But by any reckoning, surely March, 1971 was a banner month in comic books if your name happened to be Harlan Ellison.
Or Harlequin Ellis.
SPECIAL BONUS SECTION:
Sometime later in the year 1971, two full-page splash panels from Hulk #140 were included among 24 Marvel Comics images adapted into black light posters by The Third Eye. Similar to what I’ve done on a couple of previous occasions, I’m sharing the Third Eye versions of those images with you here, in honor of the many happy hours I spent grooving on the whole series while hanging out in the “black light room” of the Camelot Music record store in Jackson, MS, in the early Seventies. (Worthy of note: a portfolio of 12 of these images, scheduled to be released later in 2021, will include the image of Hulk and his wartho pal, as shown at left.)
*Harlan Ellison had published some eight short story collections prior to 1970; Thomas’ choice of these two particular volumes as the source material for his little project may speak to their being his favorites, but it seems just as likely that these were the two he happened to have ready at hand.
For the record, Roy Thomas’ Hulk #140 script incorporates the titles of all seven stories in the 1965 and 1969 editions of Paingod and Other Delusions (a new edition in 1975 added an eighth story), as well as all fifteen stories (and one essay) from The Beast That Shouted Love at the Heart of the World.
**Stop me if you’ve heard this one before (or better yet, just skip this footnote), but my memories of how I first became cognizant of Harlan Ellison are more than a little cloudy. I’m inclined to believe that I first encountered his name in connection with his Star Trek teleplay, “The City on the Edge of Forever”, sometime in 1970, or perhaps early ’71; then, in March, 1971, met the man “himself” in the thinly-fictionalized guise of the character “Harlequin Ellis”, in DC Comics’ Justice League of America #89; and then, later that same month (!), enjoyed his first imaginative contributions to the Marvel Universe in the form of Avengers #88 and Hulk #140. The plain truth, however, is that these three event could have happened in any order.