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Beta Ray Bill

Marvel Legends
by Monkey Boy

The bad thing about a long-running series like Marvel Legends is that it inevitably has to start mining the depths for character choices. The good thing is that amid a throng of characters you don't care about, there's bound to be a semi-obscure character you've secretly been waiting for. For me, it was Beta Ray Bill, for his sheer wackiness.

Born of an extraterrestrial race from a doomed planet, Bill Walters was scientifically transformed into the powerful protector of his home world's survivors. Now known as Beta Ray Bill, he triumphed in a chance battle with Thor, proving himself worthy of the enchanted hammer Mjolnir. Instead of claiming Thor's birthright for himself, Odin bestowed the mystical hammer Stormbreaker upon him, giving him many of the Thor's fabled powers. Now, Beta Ray Bill fights with the power of a Thundergod!

In a nutshell, Beta Ray Bill is the champion of a dying race of aliens, hand-picked from among the best and brightest of his species and subsequently subjected to horrifying, disfiguring experiments until he was deemed fit to combat the "demons" that plagued his kind. But who really cares about all that? Growing up, I just always called him "Horse-face Thor".

I loved the crazy look of the guy, even though he's always been written as a fairly serious character. I mean, come on! An alien horse wearing a Thor costume, and his name sounds like something out of a cheap cowboy/sci-fi crossover. What's not to love?

Remarkably, this is not the first Bill action figure. Back in the old Silver Surfer line, Bill got a pretty decent figure, which had an okay sculpt, but in the end it was a product of its time. Its biggest shortcoming was the fact that it simply didn't move like it should have, and in the days of Marvel Legends, you know that's not going to be a problem with Bill's excellent update in Series 15.

The sculpt is very nice. Bill's a very muscular guy, but he thankfully lacks the monstrous proportions of his previous figure. His costume is very similar to Thor's, obviously, and it makes sense. After battling with the Thunder God (it was all a big misunderstanding), Bill grabbed Thor's hammer after the latter reverted back to his mortal form, unconscious. At this point, Bill was proved to be one of the few entities capable of wielding Mjolnir, and he was given the power of Thor, which also apparently includes the fashion sense of Thor. There are some minor differences; for example, while Bill's Thunder God digs feature the same torso circle motif as Thor's, Bill's are connected by little zigzags. Bill's costume also features more mechanical-looking elements, especially around the boots. He looks great standing next to Thor from the Giant-Man (Wal*Mart) series.

Oddly, Bill's flowing red cape has a hole in it, most likely to accommodate a Doop stand, since he's also got a hole in his back. However, not only does the figure not include a Doop stand, but the cape is flexible enough to allow a Doop stand to fit between it and the figure's back without any hassle. It's much more awkward to try to fit the stand through the hole in his cape. A strange move on ToyBiz's part.

His paint scheme is serviceable, if unsurprising. Most of the aforementioned torso motifs are thankfully sculpted, but the circles on his hips are painted elements for the sake of articulation. It's not a big deal and doesn't alter the look of the figure. The figure looks a bit more "toy-ish" than fans might be used to due to its lack of any real paint wash or dry-brushing, save for the weathering of his golden boots. This will probably be viewed as a positive to some and a negative to others, thanks to the vastly differing opinions on the benefits of paint wash among fans. To me, it doesn't really affect much.

One area you'll want to inspect before purchase is the figure's teeth. To date, I have not seen a Bill figure with decently painted teeth. The way the figure is packaged causes the tip of bill's prominent face to rub against the plastic of the clamshell package in most cases, and that seems to affect the painted teeth. Try to get the Bill with the fewest number of scratched teeth, and it shouldn't be too much of an ordeal to touch-up the problem areas.

Bill moves like a Marvel Legend should, but since he's a little on the large side he lacks the double-hinged elbows we all know and love. However, that shouldn't cast a shadow over what the figure does have: a balljoint at the neck, a hinged jaw, lateral hinged pectorals, balljoints in the shoulders, peg biceps, hinged elbows, peg forearms, hinged wrists, a hinged left knuckle, hinged torso, peg waist, balljoints in the hips, peg thighs, double-hinged knees, peg shins, hinged and pivoting ankles, and a hinged midfoot. Nothing to sneeze at, certainly. The joints are nice and tight, and I'm glad ToyBiz omitted the right finger joints, so that Bill can better hold his hammer. I'd also like to note that an articulated jaw is way up there on my list of things I love to see on action figures, right under removable helmets and working holsters.

For accessories, Bill gets his hammer, Stormbreaker. Thor's father, the Norse God Odin, accidentally called Bill to Asgard instead of Thor after the previously mentioned battle. Odin honed in on the greatest power source in the area, and at the time it was Bill. Incidentally, Odin had intended to call Thor back to Asgard to fight the very same demons that plagued Bill's alien species. Seeing that Bill was worthy to wield the mighty hammer Mjolnir, Odin later set up another battle between his son Thor and Beta Ray to decide who most deserved to wield the power of the Gods. The battle ended in a stale-mate, with both combatants unconscious. However, Bill recovered first due to his alien physiology, and thus was declared the winner. Knowing as he did that the hammer was built specifically for Thor, Bill was hesitant to take it, but asked instead for Odin's help. Odin then bestowed on Bill a sister hammer to Mjolnir, known as Stormbreaker, which provided Bill with nearly the same godly power.

The head of Stormbreaker, unlike that of Mjolnir, features a flat surface on one side and an axe-like wedge on the other. Bill's hammer is molded in gold plastic, with a brown painted handle. It's a simple affair, but it looks nice. Bill also includes a comic which recounts part of his origin story, as well as a diorama backdrop with a little plastic dealy to hold it up. Bill's scene seems to be a view of the Earth from the deck of his sentient spaceship called Skuttlebutt.

Bill is part of the MODOK Build-A-Figure series, so he also gets a piece of the disgusting robot monster with a bulbous human head. Bill basically gets MODOK's butt, with a blast of translucent orange plastic fire serving as a supportive base. Surprisingly, MODOK's hindquarter piece is probably the least disturbing section of this figure, and this is definitely not a figure I'm going to rush out there to build. Still, kudos to ToyBiz for giving fans the opportunity to build this hideous bastard.

Bill is a great figure of an interesting character, and aside from the weird hole in his cape, I wouldn't change a thing. He's proof that eventually, even those who pooh-pooh the obscure character selection of recent Marvel Legends is bound to find one he has a soft spot for. Go, Horse-face Thor!

-- 12/18/06

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