Beta Ray Bill kicked things off with a brilliant first issue, but knowing it’s only five issues is a bit of a bummer! The penultimate issue is out this week and it continues to trend upwards as it blends beautiful art by Daniel Warren Johnson and Mike Spicer with a sorrowful story. Beta Ray Bill has faced off against fire demons, fought in a bar fight alongside Odin himself, and now faces his darkest enemy yet: himself.
This series has largely been about the shame Beta Ray Bill feels when in his cyborg-horse form. He can’t stand to look at himself and as we discovered in the first issue he’s in a constant state of disgust now that he can no longer change into his humanoid form. This issue opens by reaffirming that by showing Beta Ray Bill look into a mirror in a dreamlike sequence and witness his humanoid face turn into the horse form. This is a dark and cinematic way to set up the main premise of the book as Beta Ray Bill and Skuttlebutt must encounter their nightmares in real life. Or at least it feels that way.
The sci-fi nature of the story works wonderfully here visually and thematically. Skuttlebutt and Beta Ray Bill attempt to come to grips with their inner feelings by being swallowed up by a giant creature that has infected the ship. Skuttlebutt has a vibe, not unlike the robot in Metropolis and there’s plenty of space fighting action too. It’s a good visual palette that works with the Viking look of the title character and brutish nature since everything around him is so advanced, and yet he solves problems by hacking at things with his bulging muscles.
The action and nightmarish elements go full tilt at times, but Johnson never lets you forget the inner sorrow or pain Beta Ray Bill is going through. There are key close-ups of Beta Ray Bill in clear visual pain due to his memories and a visual theme that pops up is a room nearly all in dark except for select elements to heighten the focus on what we’re focusing on. There are also two excellent double-page splashes that reveal the scale of war, or the scale of the McGuffin Beta Ray Bill has been after all along. It’s impressive how Johnson can make you feel entirely empathetic for Beta Ray Bill in one moment, or you’ll be in complete awe the next.
Colors by Spicer are bright and vibrant casting the fires around Beta Ray Bill in a warm glow complete with cool embers. Or in another scene, the purple flesh of the alien has an otherworldly feel thanks to the soft pink glow. The colors truly shine in the starkly black scenes further helping to create a stunning memory come alive in Beta Ray Bill’s nightmares.
Beta Ray Bill #4 is dark, sorrowful, and truly epic. As the story gears up for its big climactic finish it continues to blend sci-fi visuals with a moving story you can’t put down.
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