Remember the time when Greg Pak wrote that cool storyline where Hulk was blasted off into space by Iron Man and Reed Richards because they didn't want him to go rampaging all across the Midwest ever again but unfortunately the shuttle the Hulk was in veered off course and landed on an inhabited planet with warring factions and he quickly became the leader of the losing side and kicked the butt of the ruling class, appointed as the new ruler, fell in love, got married and then lost everything to a bomb because one of his new friends betrayed him? Yeah, Heart of the Atom is actually nothing like that.
It shares some similarities, though, but instead of outer space the Hulk travels down to microscopic level where he discovers the existence of a medieval-like civilization. The inhabitants embrace him after he shoos away some rampaging creatures that look like wild boars from destroying their castle. Plus, they also have green skin so they immediately accept Hulk as their own. If Spider-Man had saved them instead of the Hulk, they would probably shoot their arrows at him. Bastards! Anyway...
Hulk is brought to Jarella, Empress of this microscopic world, who orders her three sorcerers (two of whom are called Holi and Moli, I kid you not) to make the Hulk understand their language so that they can communicate. Not only did the magic spell work it also resulted in the Hulk having Bruce Banner's intelligence as well. One quick marriage with Jarella and the defeat of a jealous would-be usurper later, the Hulk is happy in his new role as King but this being Hulk, happy things don't stay too long. He is soon snatched back into the regular-sized world leaving behind a distraught bride who has no idea why her new husband grew to ginormous size.
Hulk visited the micro world a few more times over the years but it would end the same every time: something would compel him to leave his wife and her sub-atomic world. Things get really interesting when Jarella is transported back to Earth along with Hulk and she ends up getting killed. No, that's not a spoiler. You know things won't end well with her the moment she set eyes on Hulk. It's a given. It is also when Sal Buscema took over pencilling chores and I like his rendition of Hulk with the ever gaping mouth and spittle. Sal Buscema's Hulk never, ever looks dumb. He's just very angry and that's the way I like it.
Heart of the Atom collects all the relevant issues (11 in all) plus What If? #23 which asked what if Jarella hadn't died. All in all, it's a good collection on an often forgotten part of the Hulk mythos. No doubt it would claim credit for inspiring Greg Pak's Planet Hulk story (heck, the inside cover flap of the book practically said so) but there's nothing wrong with that. When you have been telling stories of the same character practically non-stop for the past 40 years it's kinda hard to come up with something new and fresh. Just read the back issues for ideas and try to cater it to the modern audience. Every writer does that. If you've read Planet Hulk and thought it was great, read Heart of the Atom. Greg Pak obviously did.
Oh, by the way, the cover above is the cover of one of the issues collected within and not the cover of the collection itself. The hardcover has dark green lettering on a black background and it didn't scan well. At least not on my cheap scanner.