Monday, July 20, 2009

Godhunter: Part Two (Marvel)
Beta Ray Bill: Godhunter #2 When: September 2009 Why: Kieron Gillen How: Kano

The Story So Far...
After escaping an infernal parallel dimension to be briefly imprisoned by a Skrull invasion fleet; Beta Ray Bill renews his efforts as a Norse empowered hero with greater fervor than ever before. Driven to avenge the eradication of the last survivors of his Korbinite brethren, Bill accepts the burden of hunting Galactus -- the omnipotent cosmic being whose insatiable appetite claimed his people's second home planet during his absence.

Against the advice of allies such as the mighty Thor himself, Bill uses his Norse given powers, and those of his own people's sciences, to take to the stars. He has faced Galactus before, however, and is not nearly naive enough to believe himself capable of destroying the ancient devourer. Thus, Bill takes upon himself the burden of what is necessary to destroy Galactus...

Threatened with the prospect of having every world destroyed from beneath his hungry gaze by Beta Ray Bill, Galactus deploys his most legendary herald to succeed where his other, Stardust, had failed. Thus, the Silver Surfer emerges to face his former ally, with the purpose of ending his violent scheme.

Tale of the Tape...
Strength: Draw 6 (Invincible)
Intelligence: Silver Surfer 5 (Professor)
Speed: Silver Surfer 7 (Lightspeed)
Stamina: Draw 6 (Generator)
Agility: Silver Surfer 3 (Acrobat)
Fighting: Beta Ray Bill 6 (Warrior)
Energy: Silver Surfer 7 (Cosmic)

- Once an inhabitant of the paradise world Zenn-La; Norrin Radd was forced to enter into a faustian pact for his soul in order to protect his planet and beloved, Shalla-Bal, from the endless hunger of omnipotent world devourer, Galactus.
Pledged to serve as herald to the devourer and seek out planets to satisfy his sustainance, Radd was bathed in the Power Cosmic, transforming him into the chrome-coated space rider and harbinger of death, the Silver Surfer.

When first leading Galactus toward Earth, the Silver Surfer was engaged by the Fantastic Four, who were aided by The Watcher. During battle with Thing, the Surfer was knocked into the studio appartment of a blind artist, Alicia Masters. The kind touch and concern of the sculptress was key to reawakening the spirit of Norrin Radd, who then chose to use his powers against his master. Galactus spared Earth, but exiled his herald to the confines of the Milky Way Galaxy. As a result, he briefly held membership with The Defenders, along with adventuring many more times alongside the Fantastic Four.

The Power Cosmic grants Silver Surfer a near limitless array of abilities, many of which are rarely explored. At the outer limits of his skill, the Surfer has been shown to adapt telepathy, convert matter into alternate substances, and even time travel. More typically, he possesses greatly enhanced strength, stamina, and endurance sufficient enough to withstand even the harshest of environments unphased. He channels cosmic energy into projectile bolts as a means of combat, and can also control all aspects of his board, upon which he travels. The board is an extension of his being, but does not have any inherent baring on his power.

- Emerging from the destruction of their home in the Burning Galaxy; survivors of the Korbinite race travelled through space to escape their demonic destroyers. Championed by the scientifically enhanced warrior, Beta Ray Bill, they travelled in suspended animation in a fleet of warships led by sentient vessel Skuttlebutt, designed to aid Bill in his battle against the demons that pursued them to the Milky Way Galaxy. There, Bill was met by Thor, who he hastily bested in combat and accidentally replaced when clutching the mythic hammer, Mjolnir.

Mystic enchantments prevent any but those whose spirit is truly worthy to wield the hammer of Thor. Beta Ray Bill was quickly able to prove his nobility to Odin, ruler of Asgard, and earn the same blessings as Thor when granted a mythic hammer of his own, dubbed Stormbreaker.

The weapon enhanced his already impressive strength and durability, granting him much the same powers of flight, strength, and weather manipulation as Thor. Beta Ray Bill was able to wield these powers against the mutual enemy of both the Norse Gods and Korbinites -- the fire demon, Surtur. He remains a champion and ally to those in Asgard, Earth, and countless other worlds.

Math: Silver Surfer Ranking: Silver Surfer (#35)

What Went Down...
Running in pursuit, Silver Surfer attempts to quell his former ally's firey attitude with a verbal request. The Surfer's pleas are met with a bolt fired by the hammer forged for Beta Ray Bill by order of Odin himself: a shot that does not strike it's chromed target, but creates diversion enough to allow the sentient ship, Skuttlebutt, to continue toward the target planet which Galactus intends to devour -- I'Than Prime!

Driven by a zealous determination, Beta Ray Bill again defies the Silver Surfer's attempts to rekindle their alliance of previous trusts. Without a hint of forgiveness he rises Stormbreaker above his head and strikes down at the herald of Galactus, callously judging him for his compliance, "... You serve Galactus. Thus your hands are bloody red."

The hammer leaves a crackling trail of electric energy as it knocks the Surfer clean off his board! The blow proves powerful enough to send the herald smashing into the beseiged Skuttlebutt -- he emerges with a blast of the power cosmic, requesting an opportunity to explain his renewed affiliation with Galactus. Stormbreaker absorbs the energy blast as effortlessly as Bill does the Silver Surfer's attempts to resolve the conflict peacefully.

In his staunch opposition, Beta Ray Bill does not notice the Silver Surfer's board circling around behind him. Controlling remotely as an extention of the Silver Surfer himself, it delivers a crushing blow to the base of Bill's skull!

The Silver Surfer follows his ambush attack with a rare strike from his fist.
It is a demonstration of the power his otherwise unassuming form contains, the gift the impossible power cosmic! Repeat blows spatter Beta Ray Bill's blood into space, left to drift until an opposing force slows it down.

Burning with cosmic energy, the Silver Surfer commands a battered Beta Ray Bill to remain defeated. He asks why he would defy the inevitable, to which the hammer-wielding hero retorts with the tale of the extinction of the Korbinite people. The tale of loss is one Norrin Radd -- the man the Surfer once was -- can understand all too well, as is the plight now faced by the I'Than race. The Surfer, though clearly troubled, is rendered inert by the conflict his renewed pledge to Galactus inspires. It is a moment easily capitalized upon...

Skuttlebutt fires upon the unsuspecting Surfer, unleashing a volley of blasts that send him drifting limply. The distance allows Beta Ray Bill to be reunited with his ship with the purpose of reaching the nearby planet before his opponent.

Skuttlebutt is forced to negotiate a dense field of floating space mines, sure to be easily maneuvered through by the lithe Silver Surfer, who quickly recovers and resumes his pursuit. Skuttlebutt endures the mine's explosions, but I'than attack drones prompt the Silver Surfer to flee the airspace. It is a distanced conclusion to their battle.

The Hammer...
Ladies and gentlemen; I "ummed" and I "ahhed," but in the end, I felt I had no choice but to declare this cosmic kerfuffle a draw. A less than impressive debut for Beta Ray Bill in the Infinite Wars rankings, but none the less, accurate.

Since starting The Comic Book Fight Club way back at the end of 2005, I've been hatching different schemes to get Bill in on the action. What can I say? If you're a long time reader, you know I have a soft spot for some of the so-called "unimportant" secondary characters that popular the Marvel and DC universes. I think it's fair to say that, in the grand scheme of the pseudo league this site maintains, that these characters are also what makes ranking comic book fights a lot of fun. Afterall, we all know Superman, Batman, Spider-man and the like will dominate the upper rankings. (Or so we assume).

At the time of this writing, we're well into mid-March, so I've had about half a year to get my hands on the first issue of Beta Ray Bill: Godhunter that I initially overlooked. I'm glad I did. Like so many comics these days, it was easy to read on without the set-up provided by the first issue, but it added a little bit of texture to what led to a big ol' cosmic brawl between two classic Marvel heroes.

I have to admit to being skeptical about the depth the three-issue mini-series would demonstrate under writer, Kieron Gillen. Best known for his independent Brit-pop fantasy series Phonogram, Gillen is clearly a talented writer, but in a few interviews I'd read [namely for X-Men Origins: Sabretooth], he'd given the distinct impression that he was largely unfamiliar with the superhero universes.

I'm a firm believer that a good writer can transcend his familiarity with material by being a master of his craft, and doing a little bit of research. Assuming Gillen was indeed ignorant to the characters that appear in this series, then he's a shining example of the successful side of that philosophy.

Part of Gillen's success lies in the fact that Godhunter isn't a complicated story.
The tale is a universal one, dealing chiefly with the consequences and morality of being a hero. By borrowing from some of the simple and best known mythology from the Marvel universe -- the enchantment of Thor and Bill's hammers, as well as Galactus' status as a devourer of worlds -- the story gains an additional level of resonance and poginant context that other versions couldn't have. It's a type of storytelling that confirms other philosophies I personally hold, such as the notion that corporate comics like those at DC and Marvel are rendered inherently unique by the tapestry of context their years of publication has created.

It's nice to see the Silver Surfer back in action.
Where once the Kirby/Lee creation stood equal with many of Marvel's greatest icons, in recent years he's well and truly lost his lustre. It disappoints me that the character has fallen into such obscurity, many younger fans would find it difficult to imagine the character supporting his own series. Something he did do, with mixed results, for a couple of decades.

It doesn't seem starring as titular pseudo-villain in a commercially successful film has helped much either, probably because comic fans regard the Fantastic Four films [re; Rise of the Silver Surfer] with such relative disdain. Maybe Super Hero Squad will do some him good, particularly as the series recently ended with the big unveiling of Galactus and some of the key backstory of the character. I can't say I'm a huge fan of the renewed association of herald/master over here in the comics, but I did recently read that part of the thinking behind that decision is to leave the character idle until a strong solo direction can be conceived.

Part the Surfer's downfall comes inadvertently from the general loss of interest in comics and by extention, more complex comics, throughout the nineties. The cosmic corners of the Marvel Universe have been gradually expanding, however, since their exciting resurrection in Drax and then the cosmic mini-event, Annihilation. Marvel's cosmic connections have been maintained ever since, through rebooted titles like Nova and Guardians of the Galaxy, as well as subsequent mini-events, like Annihilation Conquest and War of Kings.

It was a lot of fun jumping back in with Beta Ray Bill and I hope we get a chance to see more from the character in the future (without any lasting damage)!

Each issue reprints a chapter of Walt Simonson's original three-part introduction of the character, which only serves to remind how well the classics did it. I must admit to being somewhat cynical about Marvel's 2010 announcement for a "Heroic Age" of Marvel Comics, regarding it as something of a response to DC's five-year strength with classical renditions of their catalogue of characters -- but if nothing else, it will be nice if some of the energy and indulgence of these Simonson issues of Thor can be recaptured!

Kano -- artist on Godhunter -- certainly lacks Simonsons's bombastic cartoon energy, but shouldn't go without a mention before I wrap this up. He exhibits a good sense of drama, getting particularly good emotion out of the horse-faced Bill on the last page shock of this issue, which reveals the Stormbreak enchantment has rendered him unable to lift his hammer -- unworthy of it's power for his decision to fight Galactus by denying him sustainance (by destroy each world he targets).

At times, Kano's space scapes feel a little sparse, and I do question some of the direction of scenes. At times, his panels appear awkwardly close or distant from the action, which seems to work counter-intuitively to the spacial nature of a fight like the one between Bill and Silver Surfer.

The last time Kano appeared in the Infinite Wars action, he was contributing some sort of embellishment to David Lafuente's beautiful pencils [Spider-man Family #2]. His rise as penciller of Ultimate Spider-man Comics probably says it all, but the benefit of Lafuente's direction in that issue becomes all the more apparent in the first-credited Kano's work.

The Issue: 4.5 The Fight: 4

Beta Ray Bill: Godhunter is a three-part mini-series published by Marvel Comics. It is also currently available in collected format and can be purchased using the Amazon links provided. You'll find plenty more collected editions based upon the issues reviewed in the Secret Archives, by checking out the Online Store. Using links provided by the site helps sponsor future entries! The Infinite Wars are running on low power in 2010, but be sure to vote in the 2009 Annual DC vs Marvel Fantasy Fight polls at the top of the right menu.

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