July 13, 2024

Gabbing Geek

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Slightly Misplaced Comic Book Heroes Case File #135: B’wana Beast

And here we go: another case when standards change and characters become outdated relics of a bygone age.

A few weeks ago, I covered Congorilla in this space.  Part of the thing that makes a character like Congorilla a problem is the idea of a white man being Africa’s designated superhero, instead of someone who might have, you know, actually come from Africa.

Well, at least Congorilla didn’t have, say, command of local wildlife as his superpowers.  For that, we need to look at B’wana Beast.

He’s the one on the giraffe.

B’wana Beast was one Mike Maxwell.  First appearing in the January 1967 issue of Showcase, Mike and his college roommate Rupert Kenboya found their private plane crashing in the wilds of Africa.  Injured, they made their way to a cave inhabited by a giant red ape.  Mike drank some rainwater filtered through the cave’s minerals and found himself growing larger, stronger, and more ferocious.  He also found a helmet that allowed him to communicate with the ape.  Using the helmet as a means for his powers to work, Mike discovered he could communicate with, command, and control animals.  Taking the name B’wana Beast, he vowed to fight evil as people do in these sorts of situations.

Oh, he had one other power, too:  he could combine two animals into one.  Later, he could separate the two and neither would be the worse for wear.

Like here, where he made a living battering ram out of a rhino and a water buffalo.

Now, today, the idea of a white man having complete dominion over the continent of Africa itself as represented by its animals would be seen as, well, problematic at best.  It’s not as if B’wana Beast was a hugely popular character to begin with.  Seeing as how he basically wore boots, a loincloth, and that helmet, he’s ridiculous-looking even by the standards of the Silver Age.

That means when Grant Morrison was doing his very-meta Animal Man series, he addressed that issue.  When Buddy “Animal Man” Baker had a mission in Africa, he encountered B’wana Beast and the story ended with Mike giving up the power and the title to a native African.  That man, South African political activist Dominic Mndawe, didn’t want to be known as “B’wana Beast” and changed the name to Freedom Beast.

These panels make more sense in context.

However, B’wana Beast hasn’t entirely disappeared.  A lookalike character appeared briefly on the CW’s Legends of Tomorrow, while the original B’wana Beast popped up in episodes of Justice League Unlimited and Batman: The Brave and the Bold.  The latter actually used the animal combination powers to humorous extent and allowed B’wana to be a real hero at the end of a two-parter featuring Starro and the Faceless Hunter almost conquering the world.

Here he is riding a horse-spider. A spider-horse?  Do I need to ask Jimmy?

But in the end, characters like B’wana Beast are probably better off extinct.  He may be goofy, but the political implications these days are a bit too much for too many.  Besides, looking up here, I didn’t have much to say about the guy.  Maybe that should tell you all you really need to know.