Beta Ray Bill


Listening to podcasts has very much replaced listening to music in my life. Amongst others, I listen to the hardcore (Apple) tech podcasts like The Talkshow and Accidental Tech Podcast, but also to the always interesting tech-business podcast Exponent, the just hilarious Just The Tip (sadly no new season for a while now), the lovable Hello Internet and The Incomparable. The latter is great for listening to surprisingly insightful discussions about movies, books and other contemporary topics (the depth and passion in the Star Wars episodes is second to none).

As much as I like The Incomparable, it is yet often a gap filler for me when my other regular shows don’t have new material. And so I randomly downloaded some episodes from summer ’15 where they ran several episodes of a pretty much pointless but of course highly relevant “Who’s the best superhero?” competition with 64 superheroes, which is more enjoyable than you’d think (if you are at least a little bit into the subject).
In one of the matches, where different hosts advocate verbally for given heroes, a character called “Beta Ray Bill” was one of the competitors.

I had a no idea who this was. Or so I thought.

As Beta Ray Bill was described (“horse skull faced alien cyborg”, “only being who can lift the hammer besides Thor”, “beats Thor in a fight”, …) I went like: heck! – I know this guy!

Memories from around +/- 25 years ago rushed through my head: back then I must have been tired of the Mickey Mouse and Donald Duck comics we normally read at home – or maybe it was a tiny bit of rebellion – and I secretly bought a few Marvel and DC superhero comics. “Secretly”, because these comics were frowned upon in our household (well, my mom frowned upon any comic, but the keeper of the flame what is an acceptable comic and what not was my dad).
Back then I made the acquaintance of Batman, Spider-Man and others. I also bought a Thor comic collection which told a curious story: Thor met a super powerful horse skull faced alien cyborg, who in a first fight lifts up Thor’s hammer Mjolnir and eventually was beaten by this creature in a fight for this very hammer, arranged by Odin.

This was Beta Ray Bill.
I recalled that the art of the comic always bothered me a bit in terms of how the lines were drawn and how it was colored, but the story was captivating and had several exciting story arcs, including demons, dwarves, dramatic space fights and what have you. At the time I did not think this was the best story I’ve had ever read, but something about it was compelling enough that it nested itself in a hidden corner in my brain. And it made itself heard in later years. There is a scene in that story where Thor jumps from a cliff to finish off Beta Ray Bill and I used this image as inspiration for my Carton Man’s leap in a comic I drew 10 years ago (the drawing I refer to is in panel 3).

Maybe when I moved together with Lamia, but certainly when we moved to Singapore that old Thor comic was trashed or donated. After being reminded of it during The Incomparable, however, I had to re-read it. And luckily, nothing could be easier than this in today’s world: I fired up Comixology, found the relevant issues and downloaded them to my 12.9″ iPad Pro.

As it turns out, the iPad Pro is a perfect reader for comics. You can read them full page (something which is a challenge on the regular sized, 9.7″ iPads).

I was pleasantly surprised that the art looked just stunning and realized that the colors of these comics had obviously been reworked some time in the past decades. I even wondered whether the inking had seen a refresh, but most likely it’s just the coloring – I recall the printed comic was pale and flat and some of the characters looked as if they were sketched in a rush. This new version is just a joy to look at.

I bought a few more issues than I had originally read, so I could learn how the story ended. And even though Thor is definitely not one of my favorite superheroes, this story has a special place in my heart – even the rather ugly horse guy – and I am delighted I have it now on my iPad.

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