Beta Ray Bill: Godhunter
written by Kieron Gillen
illustrated by Kano and Dan Brereton
You may not know a lot about Beta Ray Bill—upon first glance, you may ask yourself, “Why is that weird horse thing dressed up like Thor?” And such a question is completely acceptable, especially for the casual comic-book reader. And although the character is unfortunately steeped in mainstream obscurity, he has been a fan favorite for over 25 years and recently has finally been getting some much-needed attention.
Created by legendary writer and artist Walt Simonson in the pages of Thor, Beta Ray Bill is one of the few creatures in the universe deemed worthy enough to wield the hammer of Thor. Seeing the nobility in the alien, Thor’s father, Odin, bestowed upon Bill the weapon known as the Stormbreaker, equal in power to Thor’s mighty Mjolnir. Bill, along with his sentient spaceship known as Skuttlebutt, uses his newfound power to protect his people, the Korbinites. But what happens to the protector when he no longer has a people to protect?
In the pages of Beta Ray Bill: Godhunter, which collects both the prologue one-shot Beta Ray Bill: The Green of Eden by Kieron Gillen and Dan Brereton and the Beta Ray Bill: Godhunter miniseries by Gillen and Kano, we find out the answer to that disturbing question. Bill, seeking vengeance against the space god Galactus, is determined to destroy the planet-eating entity that has wiped out Bill’s people—everyone he has ever known and cared about. Bill must switch from protector to avenger, and, as the last of his race, he will not rest until he destroys Galactus for what he did to his people.
In this collection, writer Gillen successfully displays his knack for storytelling. His characters all have a unique voice—from the vengeful Bill to the zealous Stardust to the ever-hungry Galactus—whomever Gillen writes, whether they have pages of dialogue or a single line, comes off as real. Gillen grounds his characters by giving them clear motives, emotions, and, most importantly, flaws. Although this is a story about gods and aliens, Gillen makes them all seem so human.
But while the characters are well written, Gillen is not without his flaws. First and foremost, he does not write Godhunter for the uninitiated; one who doesn’t have a grasp on Marvel events—both past and present—most likely will not find this an enjoyable read. Much of Beta Ray Bill’s back story—who he is, where he comes from, how he got his power—is hinted upon but never fully explained. The same goes for such characters as Silver Surfer and his master, Galactus. And this is great for longtime fans; they are already familiar with Bill and company and don’t need a history lesson. That said, if you’re a fan of the cosmic side of Marvel or are familiar with Bill’s exploits from his time in Thor, then this is certainly the story for you. But if your knowledge of Marvel is limited to what you’ve seen in the movies, then my suggestion is to go with something that is a little more new-reader friendly.
As far as the art goes, Brereton, artist of The Green of Eden, is competent but unsuited for the story. He definitely has talent—the splash page of Bill fighting a monster atop a spaceship proves that—but his overall style is too scratchy and muddled. It’s a style that’s better suited for a more urban-toned book such as Daredevil or Punisher, but it unfortunately feels out of place for a space adventure. However, Kano, who pencils the main Godhunter miniseries, really knocks it out of the park. His art is crisp and fluid, and it is a perfect complement to Gillen as—much like the writer—his art helps the reader empathize with the characters on the page. When Stardust proclaims to the I’thans that their world is doomed, one look at the creature (who almost looks as if he’s a skeleton on fire) is enough to send chills down the reader’s spine. When Bill loses his way at the climax of the story and is no longer worthy enough to wield the Stormbreaker, no words are needed as Kano’s pencils are enough to express Bill’s grief. He is truly a gem, and it’s a crime that he hasn’t gotten more high-profile work.-- Stephen Giordano