Today I am thrilled to share another guide for Patrons of Crushing Krisis to support my Guide to Thor, The Odinson as part of my countdown to Thor: Love & Thunder. This guide is for one of Thor’s most-dedicated allies, who was the first character other than Odinson himself to consistently wield Mjölnir in the comics. Of course, I’m talking about…
Beta Ray Bill is one of those comic characters who has confounded me while seeming very, very cool.
That’s because I’ve never read the sublimely legendary Walt Simonson run on Thor in full. Yes, yes, I know, how could I, how dare I, etc. In my defense, I used to own the omnibus, but I’m not a fan of the updated modern colors – so, when Marvel announced their Epic Collections in 2014 I decided I’d simply hold out to read it in Epic.
Here we are almost a decade later and I’m still holding out, so it was time to remedy the situation and read his origins (and every other issue he has every appeared in) for this Beta Ray Bill guide.
Even having read a fair amount of his appearances before this point, I had questions. First of all, why is he a walking horse-person who is dressed like Thor? What is going on with his golden hammer? And, why do I keep hearing that he is a cyborg?
Here’s the shortest possible story:
Beta Ray Bill is the designated guardian of a race of permanently-displaced aliens called Korbinites, whose galaxy was coincidentally destroyed by Thor’s villain Surtur. The Korbinites don’t look like horses – they have weird, noseless lightbulb-shaped heads. They are all that color of orange, though! The surviving Korbinites cybernetically enhanced Bill with powers of one of their fearsome native creatures and set him as the defender of their refugee fleet as they sought a new inhabitable planet.
When the fleet hit the Milky Way Galaxy, SHIELD asked Thor to investigate. Beta Ray Bill assumed he was a demon (fair mistake), beat the crap out of him, and picked up his cane-slash-hammer, transforming into a Beta Ray Thor. Odin summons both men to Asgard and has them engage in a fair fight for Mjölnir, and again Bill wins. Odin is so impressed with him that he gifts him his own hammer, Stormbreaker, which not only grants Bill Thor-like powers but also allows him to transform to a pre-cybernetic-horse-person version of himself.
Bill becomes forever indebted to Odin and Asgard, and treats Thor like a brother… except for how he kinda has a thing with Thor’s lover Sif during their brief exile to Earth. Eventually, Bill tears himself away from Sif and Asgard to continue protecting his fleet in a plot that impressively lasted a solid decade.
And that all happened during Walter Simonson’s Thor! It doesn’t even take that many issues to occur. That run is dense as Uru.
Not only does Beta Ray Bill have an awesome design and an awesome origin story, he… he keeps being awesome. Every time. Forever. He’s awesome in every single appearance he has ever made and I know this because I just read them all in a matter of days.
Bill has a Superman-esque moral compass, except imagine if Superman still had to check in on Krypton every so often. And then imagine later something very sad happened to Krytpon (I know, it’s hard to picture it) and something even sadder happened to Earth. What would Superman do with himself?
That explains Bill’s mid-00s arc, which saw him witness Asgard’s brutal Ragnarok as well as see a horrifying fate befall his people. Even though Asgard eventually bounced back (as it always does), Bill no longer had the excuse of, “I’ve got to go check on my peeps,” to get him out of every Thor appearance. Writers Abnett & Lanning, the creators of the modern version of Guardians of the Galaxy, decided to tap into Bill’s brief cosmic power streak from the 90s where he teamed up with Silver Surfer to make him a space hero.
This reinvigorated the character for a few years, and ultimately made him an attractive choice for Donny Cates to add to his version of the Guardians of the Galaxy in 2019. Bill wound up being one of Cates’s favorite toys, so he also made him a recurring character in his subsequent 2020 run of Thor. And, because Cates continued to progress Bill’s character development, that also made room for Daniel Warren Johnson to deliver a totally rock-n-roll Beta Ray Bill mini-series in 2021 with deep ties to all of his Walt Simonson original history.
Beta Ray Bill no longer confounds me, and now I think he’s even cooler than I did before. You can hardly go wrong with any of his appearances – every single one of which is summarized in this Beta Ray Bill guide. And, if you just want the best-of-the-best with no cameos, I put together a list of all of his greatest hits so you can get the entire condensed history I’ve described above in as few issues as possible.
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