Tuesday, July 12, 2016

He Could Have Been A Contender by Dave Goode

Showcase No.66 told the origin of B'wana Beast.After graduating from an American university,Rupert Kenboya the son of the great Kilo of the Zambesi tribe of Africa is determined to return home and go into government service to help his people. Kenboya's friend and classmate Mike Maxwell declined his millionaire father's offer to join the family business to go to Africa with his friend to become a game warden.When the private plane Maxwell is piloting is struck by lightning it crashes on Mt.Killmanjaro. Kenboya drags the injured Maxwell into the cavern home of an oddly colored gorilla. Kenboya tries to aid his friends recovery by giving him rainwater that had been filtered through the cavern walls. Attacked by the gorilla Kenboya attempts to protect Maxwell from the creature and gets tossed around the cave like a rag doll for his trouble. A recovered Maxwell,who has mysteriously grown six inches and gained ninety-five pounds of muscle,subdues the gorilla with the same wrestling hold he used to win a college championship with.

Acknowledging the American as his master the gorilla retrieves a stylized helmet from deep inside the cave and places it on Maxwell's head. Through the helmet Maxwell can now communicate with the animal and learns his name is Djuba.He also finds that through the helmet he can communicate with and control all animals. Maxwell theorizes that the helmet was created by "some ancient civilization with knowledge and science beyond ours". The helmet also gives Maxwell the strange ability to combine two animals of different species into one large mutated creature which exhibits the greatest strength of both. Kenboya and Maxwell agree that Maxwell's new abilities should be used for the good of the African continent and Maxwell creates the costumed identity of B'wana Beast to become Africa's super-powered trouble-shooter. In his only Silver Age appearances in Showcase No.66 and 67 he battles villain Hamid Ali and his minions. By the end of issue 67 he also acquires a Lois Lane-like romantic interest in the person of Eve Corstairs,a reporter for the All-Africa Press. 

The sci-fi aspects made the story different enough from other jungle heroes to make B'wana Beast interesting. But the story seemed kind of rushed.And felt like like they were making it up as they went along.And then there was Mike Sekowsky's art which is an acquired taste.I've grown to appreciate his style over the decades. But the ten year old me really wish the story had been illustrated by Carmine Infantino and Murphy Anderson.If nothing else it would have given Infantino the opportunity to draw Djuba the mutant gorilla. To a lot of comic book readers B'wana Beast is pretty much a joke.But I kind of like him .Even if he never got the chance to fight gladiator style in an arena. He had a really cool costume. And his alliterative name had a ring to it. It fairly sings. Given a better story and a different artistic team he could have been a contender.

Funny thing is as a ten year old I thought the name B'wana Beast and his costume would have been perfect for a professional wrestler. Years later when the character's origin was revamped for the Batman:The Brave & The Bold television series the writers in fact made Mike Maxwell a pro wrestler before he became the Jungle Master.

1 comment:

  1. B'wana Beast is easily my all-time favorite D-List super-hero.I wonder if others would have taken him more seriously if those first stories had been illustrated by say a Neal Adams?