B'Wana Beast vs. He Who Never Dies. Artists: Mike Sekowsky and Frank Giacoia.


Medium: Comic books
Published by: DC Comics
First Appeared: 1967
Creators: Bob Haney (writer) and Mike Sekowsky (artist)
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Showcase, where DC Comics introduced the majority of its new series from the late 1950s through the '60s, had a lot of successes — just in its first year, it launched The Flash and Challengers of the Unknown. But it also had its share of failures. After a couple of minor hits in 1966 (the Spectre revival, Inferior Five), it started '67 with B'Wana Beast, as notorious a flop as it ever had. And yet, "The Jungle …

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… Master" (as he was subtitled) is a perfect illustration of the maxim that in a major modern comic book universe, no superhero is ever quite left behind.

The word "B'Wana" is heard in old movies about the African jungle, and apparently means "white guy in charge of us natives". It's actually a Swahili word, usually translated as either "master" or "guardian". By February, 1967 (the cover date of Showcase #66, where B'Wana first appeared), it was no longer used as much in jungle movies as it once had been, because the natives tended to be less servile. Be that as it may, the character was created by writer Bob Haney and artist Mike Sekowsky. Haney's propensity for wonkiness in superhero creation had already been demonstrated by Metamorpho and his role in Doom Patrol. Sekowsky, aside from his well-known work on The Justice League of America, would, within the next two or three years, introduce wonky but short-lived new takes on Wonder Woman, Supergirl and Metal Men.

B'Wana Beast started out as game warden Mike Maxwell, who got stuck in a cave on Mount Kilimanjaro, where he got super. First, he drank water that had reached the cave by being filtered through rock, which made him suddenly bulk up like Bruce Banner turning into The Hulk, ruining the clothes he'd been wearing. Then his pal Djuba, a gorilla, gave him a helmet that enabled him to order beasts around like The Jaguar, or like The Fly could command insects. He's frequently been compared to Aquaman, who did that with underwater fauna.

The helmet also gave him a unique super power — the ability to fuse any two nearby animals into one. Little consideration was given to the poor creatures thus fused, which must, at the very least, have been an extremely disconcerting, if not painful, process.

Showcase try-outs occasionally, like Tommy Tomorrow's, lasted as long as five issues. Some, like The Creeper's, were as short as one. B'Wana Beast was apparently scheduled for the usual, three. But reportedly, Sekowsly quit after two, citing racism in the concept as his reason for wanting no more to do with it. He suggested another artist be found to continue it, but DC failed to do so. B'Wana's third Showcase issue was never published, and the character certainly never graduated to his own title. His trial run ended in a cliffhanger, which was never resolved.

Almost 20 years later, B'Wana Beast was spotted in DC Challenge, probably just to demonstrate that absolutely any DC character could turn up there. Then he appeared briefly in Crisis on Infinite Earths, no-doubt for the same reason. But the quality of his appearances got a little better after that. He was in the 1987 Swamp Thing Annual, then a few early issues of Animal Man, where he was later turned into a villain, killed off, and replaced with a new B'Wana Beast. He's even made it into animation, with a few appearances in Justice League Unlimited. There, his voice is done by Peter Onorati (Robotman in a couple of Teen Titans episodes).

In neither medium is he a credible candidate for stardom.


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Text ©2008-10 Donald D. Markstein. Art © DC Comics.