20 times Thor was the best Marvel superhero

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Image via Marvel

17. That time he befriended a terrifying horse-faced alien

In the words of legendary comic book artist and writer Walt Simonson, “Perhaps the most powerful lesson I learned from those comics was that if you kept a straight face, you could do anything”.

That very concept is perhaps best illustrated in Simonson’s very first Thor storyline, in Thor #337 (November 1983). Simonson wanted to break free from what had become something of a ho-hum storyline. You know, Thor flies around, beats up a bad guy with Mjolnir, gets into a fight with his dad, Odin, etcetera, etcetera. That kind of thing, with generally small variations, had been going on for more than three hundred issues. Clearly, a shakeup was necessary.

Just take a look at the cover of Thor #337 to see what Simonson did. There’s a Thor-like figure wielding Mjolnir and wreaking havoc (to the point where the tiny Thor portrait beneath the Marvel logo is knocked out of frame). Yet… that clearly isn’t Thor.

Instead, we’re looking at the one, the only Beta Ray Bill. So, how does he figure in to the story, and why does he have Mjolnir instead of Thor?

Bill, who looks like a bodybuilder with orange skin and horse skeleton for a face, first comes off as a serious villain. He flies in on a sentient ship called Skuttlebutt, seemingly the advance guard for an alien fleet, and fights Thor. Eventually, Bill manages to get hold of Mjolnir and, with a mighty sound effect, takes on Thor’s costume and powers. Odin, understandably confused, transports Bill back to Asgard, thinking he’s the real Thor (and clearly not looking too closely at his son’s terrifying new horse skull face).

The rest of the story is a little too involved to cover here – seriously, get thee to a comics store and read this first Beta Ray Bill story – but eventually, the two become friends. It helps that Bill is actually the defender of his people, who are in a kind of cryogenic sleep while they flee, seriously, a giant cloud of demons. Bill, clearly worthy enough to wield Mjolnir, eventually gets his own hammer, named “Stormbreaker”.

Thor, Bill, and the Lady Sif go to town on the demons and save Bill’s people. They save the day, and thus a new and clearly awesome version of Thor is established in the Marvel canon.