Beta Ray Bill continues to be such a good time going into its second issue as its titular hero looks for Odin to gift him with a new weapon so that he can change back into his humanoid form and be able to romance his love, Sif. Writer/artist Daniel Warren Johnson, colorist Mike Spicer, and letterer Joe Sabino bring both a high level of energy and vulnerability to Beta Ray Bill #2 with their attention to detail, smooth storytelling, and cool sound effects. Johnson uses this second issue to introduce Beta Ray Bill’s supporting cast and their motivations as well as give him some kind of long term goal to achieve by the end of the miniseries.
With down to Earth dialogue and striking images, any back story or exposition fits seamlessly into the story and lets us get to know the characters more. For example, in a similar way to watching Hook over and over again in the first issue, Bill playing ping pong against himself shows his loneliness, and how he’s gotten good at self-soothing or entertaining himself. This feeling segues nicely into Daniel Warren Johnson’s cutaway, double page spread of his sentient ship Skuttlebutt that seems to be the only one to have his back. This spread also establishes a key location in the series that is a home, source of transportation, weapon of war, and even friend.
As befitting an epic quest narrative, Johnson gives Bill companions to help him out and fend off the loneliness. A bored with Valhalla, Skurge the Executioner appears fairly early on and brings a sense of humor and empathy towards Bill. After making jokes about Valhalla not having guns, he gives Bill a big ol’ hug and takes on the role of wingman going foward. Also, Skurge knows where Odin likes to hang out. Bill’s other companion is Pip the Troll, who looks up to him as a hero and hopes to learn to be okay with his own outward appearance as the journey progresses. Even though they’re species that don’t exist in the real world, there’s a real humanity behind Skurge and Pip’s actions, and their motives of boredom and self-growth are relatable.
Whether reuniting old friends, setting up an epic quest, or depicting a bar room brawl, Johnson is a master of body language in his artwork for Beta Ray Bill #2. I’ve mentioned his double page spread, but he also uses lots of small panels to let a scene breathe and sink in instead of going to the next battle, planet, or obstacle. Early on, Johnson shows that Skurge really cares about Bill and isn’t a threat by including beat panels of him putting down his beer glass (He already feels at home.) or affectionately patting Bill on the shoulder to show their bromantic bond. The principles of this almost dance of conversation apply to the issue’s one fight scene that show wrestling moves like Bill spinning his opponent by his arm across the page before being taken by surprise by another brawler because he and Skurge are definitely outnumbered. Speed lines, sound effects, big fists, and a punchy color palette from Mike Spicer show that Skurge and Bill needed to get some steam off until Odin put things to a stop. He may be in total retirement mode, but his presence still commands a room.
And it’s in Beta Ray Bill #2’s conversation between Odin and Bill about finding a new weapon that Daniel Warren Johnson’s no bullshit approach to dialogue really shines. The artist formerly known as All-Father is about to wax poetic about inner beauty when Bill immediately undercuts him and says a fancy speech won’t make him human again. Like a lot of people, especially those living in a neo-liberal, pandemic-ridden police state, action is preferred over conversation, and Johnson brings that out in the character of Bill, who gets Odin to provide a concrete solution to his hammer/mortality problem. Achieving these things will be difficult as the last third of the comic shows, but it also provides a real focus and goal for Bill. He’s not just traveling the Nine Realms willy-nilly although with Daniel Warren Johnson’s chops, I would be fine with that.
Beta Ray Bill #2 is a rare opportunity to see an auteur cartoonist put their mark on an in-continuity, mainstream comic, and Johnson makes me both emotionally connect with Bill’s personal journey while also rocking my socks off with his approach to humor, page design, and fight choreography. Bring on the next three issues as well as the latest addition to Bill’s space adventure party.
Story/Art: Daniel Warren Johnson
Colors: Mike Spicer Letters: Joe Sabino
Story: 8.8 Art: 9.2 Overall: 9.0 Recommendation: Buy
Marvel Comics provided Graphic Policy with a FREE copy for review