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A face only a mother could love. Well, and Sif. And me. – The Mighty Thor #352

February 16, 2011

A couple of times I’ve wanted to take a look at Walt Simonson’s wonderful run on The Mighty Thor, but every time I’ve gone through that box I’ve been sucked back into Jack Kirby’s long and splendiferous originating tenure with the character. It’s like a crack addict when he sees some rocks and a pipe — I can’t resist. But I have at long last beaten back temptation, and I’m happy to share some love for Wily Walt’s reign with Goldilocks.

While Simonson’s work could never match Stan Lee’s and Kirby’s (nor would he ever claim that it did, I’m sure), he managed to carve out his own unique look for the God of Thunder and his Asgardian friends and foes, one that was stylish and energetic, and he was always surging forward with stories that melded fantastic mythological elements with with more understandably human themes. I’ve long thought of Simonson’s Loki as the defiitive Lord of Mischief. He was tall and thin and he looked like he’d stab you in the back without a second thought, and those horns on his helmet were exaggerated to the Nth degree, but it worked.

When I was going through my Simonson Thor‘s, I was tempted by so many individual books. How to choose? How could you not fall for a story where Thor becomes a frog? Or any of the others? But I came up with an angle. I thought that it would be nice to pay tribute to one of my favorite secondary (or tertiary — is their a “fourtiary”?) characters. Hell, he may be my favorite character, period.

Beta Ray Bill.

I realize this alien cyborg, who because of his upright courage was gifted with his own Thunder God powers by Odin himself, has often had his features described as “equine,” but I’ve thought differently since the first time I saw him. To me he looks like my childhood dog grew longer limbs, started walking on just two of them, and got himself a membership at Gold’s Gym. Bad. Ass. Maybe that’s why I love him so much — those mental images of my faithful hound becoming my very own Chewbacca, but one that can speak English.  He’s so bleeping cool. I’m not much for action figures or statues or busts, but I’d be tempted to buy a nice looking Beta Ray Bill bit of merch. He even elevates malarkey like the Thor Corps. And he’s also gone hot and heavy with the Lady Sif, for which I tip my cap to him, even though that romance carries the whiff of bestiality.

I chose Thor #352 because of the prominence of Bill. In this, the penultimate issue of the Surtur saga, Thor is M.I.A and Bill has to carry all of the hammer-wielding water. And what does he have to do? Why, only lead the defenders of Earth against untold hordes of Surtur’s demons. And, by God(s), he’s up to the job!

First, here’s Bill’s babe riding a patented Walt Simonson Sound Effect into battle:

The “KARWHOUUM!” is joined in this issue by it’s friends THROUFHOOM!, KRASTHOOM!, SLASHKKKKK!, WHRINNNNNNE!, BLAMMMMMMM!, FA-THISSSSS!, KARASSSHH!!, KRAATHOOUOM, SHRARUKKARAKKK!, SCHRAKAAKKKKK! and KARRAKKKK! — that’s a lot of Simonson sounds for your comics-buying dollar.

Sif later goes missing in the tumult, and it’s only Volstagg’s coprulence that’s able to keep a distraught Bill from going after her:

It’s not all that surprising that with that fearsome visage Bill’s interrogation skills are on par with Jack Bauer’s, and hence able to turn even the most hardened of demons into pudding:

Here’s Bill channeling William Wallace in Braveheart — he’s doing the curcuit of manly icons, I guess. Is there anything this cyborg can’t do?:

Except he leads them all right into a trap:

Nobody’s perfect.

Beta Ray Bill epitomizes Simonson’s Thor in so many ways, which is rather fitting since it was a fearsome looking Bill who ushered in the new era by smashing the old logo on his classic first appearance cover. He was an off the wall take on an aging standard (I can remember first seeing him in a Power Pack comic and wondering “What the hell happened to Thor?”), breathing new life into a character (and costume) that had grown somewhat musty with age, in much the same way Walt came onto the broader title and with his stylish lines and story sense swept up all the dust and pulled down all the cobwebs and ultimately reinvigorated one of the original Marvel titans. Whenever I read one of his Thor comics, by the time I reach the end it’s almost as if I’m a little out of breath. There’s so much energy on display, it’s a real treat to tear through them. The action in this issue is a fine exemplar of that, and Bill’s preeminence makes it all the sweeter.

With the new relentless crop of Marvel films, my hopes of seeing Beta Ray Bill on screen, however dim and slim, are nonetheless growing. I pray to Odin’s beard every night to see such a thing.

To send us out, here’s the cover to Thor #350. It’s a great two-shot of Bill and Thor coming right at us, and it’s one of my favorite Bill images of all. And here’s a puzzler — which hammer would you rather take on the chin, Mjolnir or Stormbreaker?:

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