We've had a couple of Sundays now with no new Avengers cartoon (it's not until nearly the end of the month that we're supposed to pick up again with new episodes, starting with "Nightmare in Red" which introduces the Red Hulk to the cartoon world. As far as I know, for the first time.) But I forgot that I never made an update/review for "The Ballad of Beta Ray Bill" which aired a few weeks ago! So--fashionably late--I thought I'd add one. Since my DVR isn't recording new episodes for a while (but is recording older ones) maybe I'll get carried away and start reviewing the rest of season 2 older episodes while I'm at it, but don't hold your breath on that one.
Beta Ray Bill is an interesting character. He's kind of a fan favorite of sorts; an anthropomorphic alien with a very horse-like face who's inherent nobility meant he could wield Thor's hammer. Bill--which is quite a silly name for an alien, but I think that was kinda the point when he was first created--is the only member of his entire race, the Korbanites, who isn't in suspended animation. The rest of the surviving population of his planet slumbers in the bowels of his talking spaceship, Scuttlebutt (another banal name) looking for a new home after their planet is destroyed. In this cartoon version of the story, they are destroyed by Surtur's fire demons, who are set loose by the Masters of Evil (and others) using the Norn stones to break the seals that keep Muspelheim separated from the rest of the Nine Realms. Along with the ongoing Skrull invasion, the imminent arrival of Surtur is being played up as one of the major challenges for this season, clearly.
Thor, who continues to be stuck in Asgard this season (if I remember correctly, this is the first time he's appeared yet) goes to investigate Scuttlebutt because it's reading that Surtur's demons are on board (actually, they were attacking.) In the time-honored superhero tradition, Beta Ray Bill and Thor mistake each other for enemies, have a big fight, realize that they're both on the same side, and reconcile. In this case it's a little bit more complicated; Bill is dragged back to Asgard, and about to be set upon by Odin and the rest of the Asgardians before Thor steps in. They get Bill his own hammer made by the dwarves (who are especially surly this episode, although not without reason) and they go back and fight some more fire demons. The Enchantress is with them, possessed by Surtur. On the few occasions she can break free and speak as herself, she begs Bill and Thor to kill her--which of course they don't--but which further sets up the notion that Surtur is really bad, kinda disturbing, and that when he finally makes his appearance it's gonna be really tough to get rid of him.
Sif also goes along with Bill and Thor to fight the fire demons, and at the end, she is very impressed with Bill's heroism, as well as having an understanding of why Thor finds so much satisfaction in "hanging" with the mortals, and being their protector, which touches on another long-running plot-thread with regards to Thor specifically.
Thor continues to play a very small role this season so far, though--which is unfortunate. I've always been a fan of the character, and back when I was still buying comic books, Thor was one of the few that I bought regularly--along with a brief run of Iron Man, the Avengers themselves, The Uncanny X-men, X-Factor and the New Mutants. Despite being seen as a b-level character in terms of popularity until recently, the success of the Thor movie last summer, and his subsequent major rise in status at Marvel means I thought he would show up more. It is, however, nice to see him have an episode dedicated just to him, at least. In fact, in the opening splash where it shows the silhouettes of the characters, he's actually all alone.