In our continuing series and our exploration into Thor material and specifically who got the hammer, we’ve finally come to the one guy the fans have been looking forward to seeing in live-action for quite a while now. Heck, they’ve probably wanted to see this guy on screen more than Chris Hemsworth. I know I’ve talked about it.
In the live-action Marvel Cinematic Universe films, we’ve seen hints of the character in Thor: Ragnarok. Everyone probably remembers the tower of the Grandmaster. It had a head-statue of what looks to be Beta Ray Bill on the side of the building. We also found out that there were plans for incorporating the character in the film. Whatever happened, those plans were dropped and we got what we got.
At Bounding Into Comics, we recently wrote about Christian Bale possibly playing the alien warrior in Thor Love and Thunder, based on reports of mocap and some other stuff extrapolated from Tessa Thompson and Taika Waititi. It’s still a possibility although those chances are slim given Thompson described Bale’s character as the villain of the film.
In the comics, Bill is the first creature to pick up the hammer Mjolnir other than Thor in the main 616 universe storyline. (Captain America picks it up sometime later in The Mighty Thor #390 in 1988.)
Bill is introduced in The Mighty Thor #337 in November 1983. The Korbinite was created with the intent to subvert the expectations of the reader. The comic book audience would debate where the character belonged to the good or evil scale.
Creator Walt Simonson described Bill as the everyman for the Korbinite alien race, modeled after a skeletal horse. The cover depicted this evil looking creature wielding Thor’s hammer, and smashing through the title.
The response Simonson got was what he expected. Fans were confused why a villainous looking creature would be able to pick up Mjolnir.
Bill in the Short Run
The run introducing Bill was only for four issues. We’re introduced to a massive spacecraft absorbing a star. Monitoring the situation is Nick Fury, and he employs Thor to investigate the vessel. As Thor enters the ship, he finds it’s mostly empty, save for one containment unit. A hand bursts out of it- and out pops a misshapen orange horse-like creature, formidable enough to take on the warrior god.
There was an enchantment on Thor’s hammer at that point in the comics where if Thor was separated from it for more than 60 seconds, and he was on Earth, he would revert to his Dr. Donald Blake form, with all his strength sapped from him. And though in space, Bill’s ship came close to Earth. So Thor essentially became like a normal human.
Bill takes advantage of the situation and knocks him out. Afterward Bill looks for the hammer and only finds a stick. And this is the stick that Mjolnir turns into when Thor goes into his Donald Blake form. Bill randomly strikes the stick against a surface in frustration, and changes into an alien version of the Asgardian hero, complete with cape and armor. The horse face still present.
Then Odin calls for Thor and because Bill has the hammer, the All-Father accidentally brings Bill to Asgard, Thor eventually gets called back to that realm as well, and Odin sees that Bill was just as worthy as his son to carry Mjolnir.
The History of the Korbinite
We eventually get a bit more of Beta Ray Bill’s background. He is the warrior protector of his people. His planet had been attacked by some demon creatures and they are chasing after the remnants of his race through space.
Bill was seeking shelter and another planet for them to inhabit and feels that with the hammer, he might be able to save his people from the demon horde. Odin makes a wager, that the two (Bill and Thor) should enter into battle for Mjolnir. He sends both to a fiery planet to compete.
Since the atmosphere is much like Bill’s home world, the alien has an upper hand on the Asgardian and eventually wins the battle. However, Beta Ray Bill refuses to deal the finishing blow to the felled Thor, and carries him back to Odin.
And to shorten it up, Odin had planned this all out as a sort of humbling lesson for Thor, and had made an arrangement with Eitri the Dwarf and his kin to create a new hammer for Bill. This being the Stormbreaker.
Thor and Bill go off to save the remnants of Bill’s race in space and fight off some demons. We find out they’re actually fire demons under the auspices of Surtur, the big fire creature who threatens Asgard every now and then with destruction.
Bill finds out that Surtur plans to lay waste to Asgard just like he did with his people, and he helps Thor this time in fighting against the large fire demon to prevent Ragnarok.
At some point in that story we get to learn that the Korbinites don’t actually look like Bill. The scientists of his homeworld mixed some of his genetic material with that of a carnivorous equine-like beast. The result being a formidable warrior who looks more beastly. The selection process required subjects to undergo grueling tests. Those same tests killed subjects by the hundreds. Bill, being the sole survivor, was found worthy of his people to undergo the transformation.
A Continuing Story for Beta Ray
Notwithstanding the first impressions of Beta Ray Bill, he’s gained popularity throughout the years. He shows up at various instances to help Thor with some greater threats. And sometimes Bill has gone on some adventures of his own.
He teams up with Thunderstrike and Dargo Ktor, Thor from the future, as well as modern day Thor in a limited series titled Thor Corps by Tom DeFalco and Pat Olliffe. Bill has also been part of a larger Thor group during the Thor Corps /Battleworld /police force of God Emperor Doom run in the comics.
He teamed up with Silver Surfer, Quasar, Xenith, and Morfex once upon a time to form the Star Masters. And that lasted for about 3 issues.
There’s a time in the comics when he teams up with Silver Surfer, Nova, Quasar, Gladiator, Ronan the Accuser, and Ikon, also known as Rom the Space Knight. The teamup came to be called The Annihilators. They initially formed up in The Thanos Imperative: Devastation in January of 2011.
There’s also this comic book run where he takes on a more human form and joins Alpha Flight for a short while. Then there’s this weird story where Bill goes to hunt Galactus because the Eater of Worlds devoured a planet he found for his race to settle on. Beta Ray Bill: Godhunter had only three issues in 2009.
He is also in the Unworthy Thor title, offering Stormbreaker to his fallen Asgardian friend. Not Thor, because he goes by Odinson in this comic book run, which.. ok. We’ve talked about that weirdness already.
Beta Ray… Who?
At some point in the comic, Odin calls Bill – Beta Ray Thor. But because of narrative confusion writers dropped that title for the most part. Maybe because it was easier for audiences to identify him by his everyman name. Bill.
And on Simonson’s part, it was brilliant. Bill’s story was that of elevating an every man of another race to a point of worthiness. Where instead of the blond-haired blue-eyed chiseled god of perfection, we get all the nastiness of villainous looks and fervor. And they are just as worthy to the standards of the hammer’s enchantment as Thor.
There’s probably some other great things to be learned from this run of comics that we haven’t picked up on. Did we miss something? Let’s talk about it. Comment below with your thoughts or let’s have a discussion over social media!