Axel-In-Charge: Waid & Samnee on "Black Widow" and the Dawn of the All-New, All-Different Era
Bill Week ends here! There can be only one Billander! Who shall be the last Bill standing? I bet it’s not what you expect. (I’ve been through the desert on an archive with no name…)
216. Beta Ray Bill
Remember when I said this week was going to be all about creators? I fibbed.
Beta Ray Bill literally smashed his way into the Thor title with #337, seen above. It was the first issue of Walt Simonson‘s visionary run, and it shook things up quite a bit. Bill was the protector of an alien race called the Korbinites; their home destroyed, they took a fleet of ships to find a new planet to inhabit. Bill was the only one to pass a grueling psychological test that killed or drove mad every other candidate. And then, Bill was bio-engineered into a horse-faced warrior. During the journey, he encountered the mighty Thor, fought with him, and became the first being besides Thor and his dad Odin to wield the enchanted hammer Mjolnir. A strong and noble champion, Bill was worthy enough to hold the hammer, and become Beta Ray Thor.
He and Thor quickly became allies, and Odin fashioned a new hammer for Bill, dubbed Stormbreaker. Together, the two battled the forces of Surtur, the giant Asgardian demon king who had been the cause of the destruction of the Korbinite homeworld. Following the big battle, Bill hung around on Earth, built a rapport with the Lady Sif, and encountered many other of the world’s heroes. Eventually, he was called back to his people, but he’d return now and again, such as when he became a friend and mentor to Eric Masterson when they formed the “Thor Corps” with future Thor Dargo.
Bill’s returned in recent years, mostly under the pen of Mike Oeming. He wrote Stormbreaker, the Beta Ray Bill mini-series which, um, ended with Bill becoming merged all Don-Blake-like with a dead hobo. Now Bill’s joined Canadian super-team Omega Flight. I don’t know what the rationalization is for all this, but it’s cool that Beta Ray Bill is getting some face time. He’s such a kooky character that I figure most creators would shy away from him.
No one has ever managed to write him quite like his creator, Walt Simonson. Walt managed to engrain Bill into the supporting cast so quickly and effortlessly that Bill was able to carry his own issues with nary an appearance from Thor. We cheered when Bill returned and when he fought the Titanium Man, of all villains. Simonson portrayed him so well that we the readers actually came to believe that Bill was truly worthy of wielding Mjolnir, that he was a hero’s hero. The Asgardians accepted him as their own, and he became one of Thor’s closest and most trusted friends. He’s as noble and self-sacrificing as the Silver Surfer and as brave and cunning as the thunder god himself. Plus, he’s a cool guy who always has a keen insight or sage advice, not to mention a quip or two. He’s like the Martian Manhunter of the Thor mythos.
Also, he’s got a sentient spaceship named Skuttlebutt. And he ate Thanksgiving dinner with the Power Pack. Because that’s how he rolls.
For everything you ever wanted to know about Beta Ray Bill but were afraid to ask, visit this comprehensive history and character profile at the Marvel Directory. Be sure to track down those back issues for more Beta Ray Badassery!
That’s a wrap on Bill Week. I am truly honored to share my name with all of them! Comics just wouldn’t be as great without them.
Join me tomorrow for, er, something cool, no doubt.
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