There’s a lot of emotion wrapped up in Daniel Warren Johnson’s new Beta Ray Bill mini-series. In fact, it’s what stands out despite a giant set-piece fight in Asgard against a Fin Fang Foom bearing the mark of the King in Black. What’s at the heart of this comic is a very aesthetically charged look at beauty and self-worth, one that takes place amidst perfectly chiseled Vikings and Norse gods.
Beta Ray Bill #1 is basically a character study of the titular Korbinite (whose origin story sees the character transformed into the cybernetic creature he is today after the destruction of the Burning Galaxy by the hands of Surtur). Set within the events of The King in Black, Beta Ray Bill is tasked with protecting Asgard as its Master of War, wielding every weapon available to him except Stormbreaker, his iconic hammer. Thor broke Stormbreaker during a disagreement with Bill.
The story is adamant on getting to Bill’s insecurities and frustrations quick. Without spoiling much, his battle with Foom doesn’t go all that well and he’s upstaged by Thor. Bill thinks he’s at a disadvantage in these cosmic battles given Stormbreaker isn’t available to him, which makes him feel somewhat unprepared, inadequate even, to uphold the title given to him by Thor.
Daniel Warren Johnson, who also scripted the comic, portrays Bill like an exposed nerve, a powerful being that—regardless of being considered one of the strongest heroes in the galaxy—is still destined to lead the life of an outsider based on the way he looks. Johnson takes full advantage of this characterization to set him almost completely apart from the Asgardians, all of which are gloriously sculpted to physically embody the very concept godhood. Bill, on the other hand, looks uncomfortable in his own skin, self-aware. The comic points to making this type of self-perception the crux of its narrative, seemingly with the intent to challenge it.
Along with Mike Spicer on colors, Johnson’s art is outstanding. The energy he brings to all his stories have a deeply metal feel to it, almost as if you could hear Iron Maiden or Dio blasting in the background as the story unfolds. Beta Ray Bill is no exception. If anything, the book forms a certain kinship with another of Johnson’s books: Murder Falcon.
In Murder Falcon, heavy metal and giant monsters clash in a story that’s also about the emotional composition of a person’s sense of self, about how people feel in terms of regret, time, and death. That story’s approach to raw emotion seems to carry over somewhat to Beta Ray Bill, as does its contemplation on relationships and how they can be both restorative and destructive. For Bill, this aspect comes up with through his relationship with Lady Sif.
This is where the comic finds its most heart-wrenching moments. The degree of honesty behind them result in a series of emotionally harrowing sequences that make Bill questions his feelings as to his place in Asgard, among those he’s either befriended or expressed a more intimate kind of love to. By the end of my first read of this first issue, I felt my heart give a heavy pound or two as certain intimate things came to the fore. It’s a testament to how well-crafted Johnson’s script is and how good he is at capturing emotions in his comics.
Beta Ray Bill #1 is primed to be an emotional adventure with a mind to keep things cosmic both inside and outside its main character. To say that it’s exceptionally illustrated and colored is to state the obvious. Johnson and Spicer are a formidable storytelling team and if there’s one guarantee in all this is that the comic’s visuals will settle for nothing less than unforgettable. While that is special in itself, it’s the story’s heart where new narrative possibilities spring forth to entice readers. Expect this journey to tap into your entire emotional spectrum and remember to take your time enjoying each panel. Wondrous things abound in every one of them.
Script/Art by Daniel Warren Johnson Colors by Mike Spicer
Story: 9.0 Art: 9.0 Overall: 9.0 Recommendation: Buy and keep a box of Kleenex close by.
Marvel provided Graphic Policy with a FREE copy for review