When I told friends I needed to read Thor stories this month for research purposes, they started throwing names of issues and creators at me with enthusiasm. Thor’s a popular guy/god/hero. In the flurry, one story was almost universally recommended: Beta Ray Bill’s first appearance. I’m not one to write off popular opinion but there’s always some pressure involved in reading a story so many people love – what if I didn’t like it? It’s awkward to admit to a friend you’re not into something he/she completely adores. Plus, the name Beta Ray Bill seemed goofy.
I couldn’t ignore everyone though. I picked up the giant (seriously, it’s Norse god-sized) omnibus collection of Walt Simonson and Sal Buscema’s The Mighty Thor and paged to the first issue. Everyone was right. It’s a fantastic story I think should be on everyone’s to-read list.
One of my primary concerns when jumping into tales about a new-to-me character is whether I’ll be lost. Too many references to past issues can leave a new reader feeling confused and frustrated. I loosely know Thor from the movies and Avengers comics but haven’t completely dived in. However, you can walk into Beta Ray Bill without in depth prior knowledge and enjoy the heck out of the characters and the events that unfold. And the direction of the three part introduction (issues #337-#339) of Bill surprised me.
The action begins with Nick Fury introducing himself to Thor and picking him up in some fancy wheels (I didn’t know he had Lola first!). He wants Thor’s help dealing with an unknown entity zipping towards Earth. The vessel contains Beta Ray Bill. He’s not ordinary by any definition but with one panel he becomes extraordinary. He’s able to wield Mjölnir. What?! Thor’s reaction was similar to mine.
Who did this guy think he was? How dare he steal Thor’s hammer! Luckily, Simonson had a damn good reason for it. Beta Ray Bill was only trying to save his race. No big deal. The image of his people racing across the galaxy, trying to stay one step ahead of fire demons, is enough to make your heart ache. Only Bill can save them – and because he was physically enhanced to become an extreme warrior, his people had even turned away from him. Yep, heart still breaking over here.
It was no wonder he could use Mjölnir. How much better can a being be?
My feelings about Odin bounced all over as I turned the pages. There was anger for making his own son fight to the death over the hammer. I mean, come on. Honor, traditions, blah blah blah. He’s your son! Then I begrudgingly gave him slack when he came up with the compromise of forging a different weapon for Bill. Finally I leaned into respect when he showed total compassion for Beta Ray Bill’s situation and gave him the enchantment so he could return to his true form. Sniffle. When it was all said and done, I was firmly on Team Odin.
Thor showed his honorable side, too. He only got a touch pouty about his hammer being taken away, and I don’t blame him. The thing has his name on it after all. I liked Thor in the story but for me, he took the backseat to others this time. Even Sif made more of an impression on me this time.
The pages gave us some wonderful Sif moments. I’ll skip right over her pining for Thor and focus on the fact that she kicked serious butt. She took down a huge dwarf and fought off a stream of demons – basically, she lived up to her warrior of Asgard reputation. But, she was also selfless. That’s a whole other kind of strength. Sure, she wanted an enemy to fight to take her mind off Thor, but she didn’t have to put herself on the line for Bill’s people. I like that aspect of her character and admire her all the more for it.
I also wouldn’t mind being her best friend.
Beta Ray Bill’s first appearance definitely got to me. I expected to be entertained, but I received so much more. The story moved me. Simonson’s writing revealed a lot about the characters and hooked me into caring for them in no time. I felt invested enough to keep going through the tome/omnibus and have continued to enjoy adventures that to my mind, showcase just how wonderful comic book storytelling can be.
Before I go, I did have to laugh at this moment. Apparently “don’t look a gift horse in the mouth” is a saying where Bill is from, too.