Mighty Thor: The Ballad of Beta Ray Bill

By Walter Simonson with John Workman & George Roussos (Marvel)
ISBN: 0-87135-614-7

For many older fans Thor was the comic that truly demonstrated the fevered and unfettered imagination of Jack Kirby – at least until he relocated to DC at the beginning of the 1970s and really let rip. Living galaxies, the conquest of Evolution: gods, heroes and aliens, machines with emotions and humans without, the strengths and liabilities of family ties and the inevitability of creation itself, all played out on the pages of the Thunder God’s action-packed comic-books.

After The King quit the series Thor floundered as everybody who followed laboured in the master’s largest shadow (and many in his style), but high points were few and inspiration was non-existent.

Until Walter Simonson arrived.

Or more accurately, returned, as he had for a brief while been one of those artists slavishly soldiering to rekindle Kirby’s easily synthesis of mythology, science fiction and meta-humanist philosophy, but with as little success as any other. When Simonson assumed the writing and drawing of the title in November1983 with issue #337, deeply invested in Kirby’s exploratory, radical visionary process, free to let loose and brave enough to bring his own vision to the character, he produced a body of work (#337-382 plus the Balder the Brave miniseries – and which can most easily be found in the Marvel Visionaries series of trade paperbacks) that actually moved beyond Kirby’s Canon and dragged the title out of a creative rut which allowed his own successors to actually introduce genuine change to a property that had stagnated for 13 years.

This particular volume is one of Marvel’s earliest trade paperback collections, with bold vibrant colours on good paper stock, and collects that first iconic story-arc from The Mighty Thor #337-340, which shook everything up and made the Thunder God a collectible sensation for the first time in a decade.

Moreover the entire tale is but the prologue to a stupendous larger epic which actively addresses the over-used dramatic device of the Doom of the Gods that had haunted this series since the mid-1960s…

The story revolves around a spell inscribed on Thor’s hammer and seen in the character’s very first appearance. When crippled Don Blake was first transformed into the Thunder God he saw on the magic mallet Mjolnir the legend “Whosoever holds this hammer, if he be worthy, shall possess the power of Thor…”

The saga begins when Blake is asked by super-spy outfit SHIELD to intercept a fleet of starships headed for Earth which refuel themselves by absorbing suns! Hurtling off into deep space the Storm God boards a vessel only to be defeated in combat by its alien protector, an artificially augmented warrior named Beta Ray Bill. Moreover, as they crash to Earth the alien somehow activates Mjolnir’s magic and transforms itself into a warped duplicate of Thor! And then Odin mistakes Bill for his son and whisks him to Asgard to defend the Realm Eternal from another monstrous threat!  And then…

Enough tomfoolery: suffice to say that the action and surprises pile one upon another as the alien reveals that he is the guardian of his people, the Korbinites, who are fleeing from a horde of demons that destroyed their civilisation and are hunting them to extinction. And now they’re heading towards Earth…

After the mandatory big fight Thor and Bill – each with his own hammer – team-up to investigate the demons, with confused love-interest Lady Sif along for the bombastic ride, and discover a threat to the entire universe. Worse yet, it’s generated by an Asgardian foe destined to defeat the Gods themselves on the Day of Ragnarok!

Brave, bold and occurring at a breakneck pace, with fresh concepts wedded to the most fundamental elements of Marvel mythology, this short appetizer is the perfect cosmic storm, infinitely rewarding and impossibly re-readable. Art, story, concept and design in perfect harmony – this is an unbeatable Marvel Tale…
© 1988 Marvel Entertainment Group Inc. All Rights Reserved.