Here is the latest in our year-long look at one cool comic (whether it be a self-contained work, an ongoing comic or a run on a long-running title that featured multiple creative teams on it over the years) a day (in no particular order whatsoever)! Here‘s the archive of the moments posted so far!
Today we look at the first story arc in the legendary Walt Simonson Thor run, featuring the debut of Beta Ray Bill!
Really, I don’t know if there has been a more perfect first issue to a writer/artist taking over a long-running title. I suppose Miller’s first issue of Daredevil would count – but Miller had been the artist on Daredevil for quite awhile at the time, so that seems a bit more like an inevitability than anything. And as amazing as John Byrne’s Fantastic Four was as a whole, his first issue wasn’t necessarily as good as the rest of the run (Diablo stories rarely are). Now Walt Simonson’s first issue of Thor, however, was three significant things…
1. Most importantly, it was well-written and well-drawn
2. It was catchy/shocking
3. It was a clever enough concept that it made people really think, “Oh yeah, why HAVEN’T they done that before?”
It’s rare to see a writer look at a book’s history and pull out a concept that should be so obvious, but has not been used yet, and Simonson’s take on the whole “If only those worthy can lift Thor’s hammer, there’s got to be someone ELSE out there who is worthy, right?” idea.
And that brings us to Beta Ray Bill (and one of the most famous comic covers of the 1980s)…
Isn’t that just the best cover ever if you’re trying to say, “hey, folks, new start here!”
The first issue also opens with the legendary slow burn on the run up to the reveal of Surtur, the big bad of the first year of Simonson’s run. Simonson and lettering demi-god John Workman set up Surtur’s reveal beautifully…
So the issue involves SHIELD enlisting Thor in a strange fleet of spaceships that have passed by Earth. Thor investigates, and the main spaceship wakes up its “cargo,” the protector of his people (who have been decimated by attacks by “demons”), Beta Ray Bill!….
During their battle, Thor loses his hammer and turns into Don Blake (naturally, he gets knocked out a few seconds after that turn of events). Meanwhile, Beta Ray Bill thinks that SHIELD is part of the “demons” that have plagued his people (what he and his ship are actually sensing is that the REAL bad guy, Surtur, has enough of the same magic as Thor that Thor’s presence reads as being like Surtur), so he quickly looks for a weapon…
Pretty impressive sequence there by Simonson, huh? What a game-changer!
I also like how Simonson uses SHIELD and Nick Fury in this issue. It’s the classic “use your shared continuity without being a slave to it” deal that writers should embrace more often.
So Odin calls Beta Ray Bill and Thor up to Asgard, and has them fight it out for the right to wield Mjolnir…
I love the way that Simonson manages to give both guys “hero” moments, and also the little bit about how Bill has been genetically altered to specifically be able to withstand heat, so the “victory” is not a matter of, like, Bill kicking Thor’s butt or whatever.
So anyhow, after a talk with Odin, Bill realizes he really doesn’t want Mjolnir, not if Odin and the Norse Gods will help him fight the demons (I don’t believe we know yet that the demons are from Surtur, so that Odin would have a vested interest in helping Bill regardless of whether it was the right thing or not).
And we get the breathtaking sequence where Odin creates a new weapon for Beta Ray Bill to wield…
Pretty amazing opening for just three issues into his run, huh?
And the next issue shows Bill and Thor teaming up to kick demon behind.
The artwork is fantastic, the storytelling is wonderful, the story is bombastic and thrilling – this was one remarkable comic book run. Luckily for you all, it’s all available in trade collections – go get ’em!!!