Beta Ray Bill #5 is a fittingly primal conclusion to this heavy metal thunder cloud of a miniseries from writer/artist Daniel Warren Johnson, colorist Mike Spicer, and letterer Joe Sabino. This issue is all about the final showdown between Surtur and Bill for the fire demon’s sword Twilight, but each member of the small ensemble cast get a moment to shine before taking their final bow from Skurge getting a very big fun to Pip being heroic and resilient and Skuttlebutt doing her tech thing while also growing closer to Bill. This is kind of a romance, but there’s lots of punching.
And speaking of punching, Beta Ray Bill #5 reaches new heights with its action sequences as Johnson’s fight choreography and use of sound effects immersed me into the epic struggle between Bill and Surtur. Spicer lays down a kind of covering fire with his palette and helps the battle flow with a hellish palette and burst of flat colors any time a character has a big moment in the action. With a full-page splash of Surtur punching Bill into the stratosphere, the stakes are sky-high for our protagonist, and Daniel Warren Johnson doesn’t shy away from showing him struggle in the smaller panels of kicks and holds throughout the comic. He also wisely lays off the narration and lets the actions during the fight dictate the story’s momentum while occasionally cutting away to Bill’s friends ready to help him out with a last-minute save.
Beta Ray Bill #5 is definitely a comic about revenge and ultimately self-actualization (The final panel is a humanoid Bill looking in the mirror and seeing his horse form.), but found family is an ongoing thematic thread that gives the miniseries its heart. Bill picks up Pip and Skurge throughout his quest and has been with Skuttlebutt all along, and they are integral in his fight against Surtur. Pip risks his life firing away at Surtur while Bill lays wounded, and Johnson pours on the gritty facial expressions, shell casings, and later gore to show this is truly a moment of self-sacrifice. On the other hand, Skuttlebutt is the brains of the operation using the shockwaves of Bill and Surtur’s clash to power up the ship again and giving Skurge the chance to do what he does best: be a one man firing squad. Skurge gets a truly redemptive moment during the climax of Beta Ray Bill #5 that also allows Daniel Warren Johnson to draw a really gnarly and detailed gun. (Think banned Transformers toy!) He and Bill had a fun, bro-ish vibe in this comic, and nothing is better than beating the shit out of a 100 foot fire demon with your bro.
To some, the most controversial element of Beta Ray Bill is the very close to romantic relationship between Bill and his ship turned female robot, Skuttlebutt. With characters like Cortana and Brian Michael Bendis and Frank Cho’s sexy female Ultron, female A.I. have been a part of recent pop culture for better or cringe. Skuttlebutt falls more on the better side because she has an actual rapport with Bill during the action and flying scenes and loves him in both his humanoid and horse form. (Bill went on this quest to get a magic weapon that could help him return to his human form so he could be with Sif, initially.) This is a loud, explosive comic, but Daniel Warren Johnson chooses to end it on a quiet note of Bill and Skuttlebutt holding hands and watching his favorite movie, Hook. Skuttlebutt has seen Bill at his best and worst so maybe she really is the woman or A.I. for him. It’s a little weird, but Bill is an alien with cyborg parts doing his best to be human and Skuttlebutt is a ship/artificial intelligence doing her best to be human so it works.
Beta Ray Bill #5 is a glorious finale filled with wrestling holds, airbrush on the side of your van-worthy splashes, and some heart and friendship too as Bill’s quest comes to a satisfying close. Daniel Warren Johnson and Mike Spicer helped me fall in love with a character that I wasn’t super familiar with and also demonstrate how sound effects and the use of color can help turn a fight scene into a story. I look forward to their next project, Marvel or otherwise.
Story/Art: Daniel Warren Johnson
Colors: Mike Spicer Letters: Joe Sabino
Story: 9.0 Art: 10.0 Overall: 9.5 Recommendation: Buy
Marvel Comics provided Graphic Policy with a FREE copy for review