A Tribute to the of

I continue to draw inspiration from the new season of Justice League.  When I caught "This Little Piggy," the name alone took me aback a bit and then shortly after it began our favorite Amazon princess was transformed via the sorcery of Circe into…a pig.  A pig with indestructible bracelets.  Uh…yeah.  Of course soon enough our heroic co-star Batman did what he does best, which is to think ahead, plan and execute.  In fact, the way he went about it put me in mind of the marvelous "Liberty and Justice" (+ back cover) book, which had a decidedly Silver Age feel to it with art by the amazing Alex Ross. Go figure on the parallels, since Paul Dini was involved with writing both the book and this episode, but in any case, Batman did a call-up of some heroic allies in both instances.  Thus, I had the great pleasure of seeing some old friends show up, some in animated format for the first time.  Guest stars in this episode were the mistress of magic, Zatanna, The Elongated Man, The Red Tornado, B'wana Beast and the Crimson Avenger.  The Crimson is a very old character and I've actually got one of his adventures as he also appeared in Detective Comics #27 and since that wasn't his first appearance in the magazine, he predates the Batman.  Zatanna was involved from start to finish.  The Elongated Man, Red Tornado and Crimson Avenger were briefly involved and B'wana Beast was on the scene for a little while and was recruited primarily for his expert tracking abilities.  I've had B'wana Beast's first appearance waiting in the wings for awhile and this seems like an opportune time to review it, so let's do just that.  He came on the scene in Showcase #66, the January/February 1967 issue, (on sale November 22, 1966) edited by George Kashdan.  Cover art is actually acknowledged for a change and was done by Mike Sekowsky of JLA fame and Joe Giella; George Roussos inked Sekowsky's interior pencils.  The story by Bob Haney is entitled, appropriately enough, "The Birth of B'wana Beast!"

The splash page shows an African man in a uniform pointing to another man, astride what appears to be a rhino and a water buffalo, wearing boots, a leopard-patterned pair of trunks and a sort of striped loin cloth along with that helmet, shouting some sort of call like "Ki-ueeeee!"  "Jambo!  Hello from Africa!  Rupert Kenboya, Zambesi tribe, State University '61 speaking!  Meet my Africa of today—and yesterday!  And welcome to the origin story of the outlaw-hero who is already a living legend—the man whom I, against my will, must hunt—or die!  Begin it here—the greatest adventure safari of them all, from Kilimanjaro to the mountains of the moon!"

We now join the Zambesi tribe, who are in full celebration mode, perhaps due to the presence of that same Rupert Kenboya, son of the tribal chieftain, Kilo Kenboya.  Father and son are discussing the upcoming movement of copper ore from their mines over the mountains, past Zambesi falls and to the coast.  Kenboya is in the uniform of the Police Commissioner while his father wears the more traditional tribal garb.  Kilo summons the tribal witch doctor, Mondoko, to come and read the bones.  Mondoko doesn't have the best news to relate:  "They tell, great chief, of danger beyond the "Place Where the Rain is Born"…of two strange giant beasts fighting…of deadly danger to your people and your son!"  Kenboya, the Harvard graduate, scoffs at the prophecy and orders the truck drivers to begin their journey.  Nonetheless, Kilo presents his son with the golden spear for protection.  Reluctantly, Kenboya accepts and is on his way. 

Meanwhile, several miles ahead of the convoy in the Zambesi game preserve, we meet Mike Maxwell, game ranger.  He's peering through the elephant grass with the aid of binoculars and sees someone, causing him to quickly board his helicopter and head for Kilimanjaro, the highest mountain in Africa.  Maxwell flies to the summit and into the ancient crater, where a shaggy, gorilla-like creature awaits.  As Mike exits the helo he addresses the creature:  "Waiting as usual, faithful Djuba!  Quick now—there is little time!  The serum, Djuba—that's it!"  Maxwell drinks from the stone cup offered him and then does a Bruce Banner, shredding his uniform.  Finally, Djuba places the helmet upon his head, causing the transformed Mike Maxwell to cut loose with a piercing cry:  "Ki-Ki-Kuuuuueeeee!"  He is now the dreaded jungle master, B'wana Beast!

Back at the convoy, the Zambesi police chopper, with commissioner Kenboya aboard, is observing its progress.  They are then distracted by an S.O.S. near the falls, so they go to investigate.  Soon the trucks are rounding a bend in the trail when they encounter the shrieking B'wana Beast.  In response, a massive black elephant appears.  The jungle master continues his Ki-Ki-Kiuuuueee bit going and a horned buffalo and a rhinoceros arrive.  Soon they're tipping the ore truck over.  The Zambesi warriors flee and B'wana Beast instructs the bull elephant, Tembo, to wrench the truck cargo hold from its chassis and load it onto its massive back.  The strange procession then melts into the jungle, ending Part I.

As Part II opens, the Zambesi warriors are returning to their trucks when a huge colorless face wearing Arab headgear looms through the jungle.  They call him the evil one…he who never dies.  A few shots from rifles are fired, but otherwise it's full retreat.  The next panel reveals a large, mechanical crocodile, controlled by the ghost like figure.  He states that he can indeed be killed, but has lived for almost a thousand years and has learned every trick and ruse of survival.  His name is Hamid Ali and his followers call him the Immortal One.  After discerning that his greatest enemy, B'wana Beast, has been in the area, they load back into the mechanical crocodile, ram the ore trucks into a ravine and then work their way into the jungle. 

A short while later, Commissioner Kenboya arrives to hear what has happened.  He orders his pilot to pursue Hamid Ali and B'wana Beast. 

We zip ahead to where B'wana Beast and his animal brigade are moving forward.  He soon discovers that Hamid Ali is pursuing him, so he orders the bull elephant, Tembo, still laden with the truck bed, to proceed while he, the rhino and "Old Shatterhorns" engage "He Who Never Dies."  The Jungle Master, riding the rhinoceros, places both hands on his helmet as the animals charge and again bellows out his cry.  As he wails the two animals merge and transform into one giant green-colored hybrid of the two and smash into the mechanical steed of Hamid Ali.  The two titans clash and the police helicopter observes as The Immortal One takes the opportunity to take a potshot at Kenboya.  B'wana Beast orders his steed to smash into the croc again; spoiling the aim of He Who Never Dies and Kenboya surreptitiously returns the favor by nudging the stick of the helicopter, keeping his pilot from dropping a grenade on the Jungle Master. 

By way of explanation, we now flash back a few years ago to a "great American university" where graduation ceremonies are taking place and both Michael Payson Maxwell and Rupert Zambesi Kenboya are receiving their diplomas with highest honors.  One of their classmates comments that the two friends have been neck and neck all through school, whether on the athletic field or in the classroom.  As the two friends ponder the future, Ken looks forward to helping bring his people into the modern age.  Mike isn't certain what he's going to do, so his friend suggests he come with him to Africa where he can use his skills in Zoology as a game ranger.  Mike accepts and soon they're on their way, courtesy of Mike's millionaire father's private plane.  Unfortunately the trip is cut short as they encounter a storm that shears off part of a wing, causing Mike to struggle to a crash-landing on Kilimanjaro.  In the final panel of Part II, the shaggy figure of Djuba is advancing on the wreckage. 

Part III finds Ken pulling his unconscious buddy free from the plane with the gorilla in pursuit.  He heads into the crater to seek shelter and finding a stone cup with what he presumes is rainwater from the cave walls, gives it to Maxwell to help revive him.  Suddenly the gorilla appears and it's speaking some sort of strange dialect.  Ken tries to fight it to protect Mike, but is soon tossed like a rag doll.  Maxwell then appears, but he's bigger and stronger than before and has soon bested the beast.  Beating upon his chest he utters that cry again and tells Ken that the drink he'd received somehow has given him acute, animal-like senses and abilities.  The gorilla then returns with an odd helmet and he places it upon Maxwell's head.  Mike discovers it endows him with the ability to read the gorilla's mind and even direct it.  He even learns its name is Djuba and he responds to Mike's commands.  The duo speculates that the helmet could have been left by some ancient civilization and that the cave water somehow endowed him with special abilities as well.  They decide to use Mike's new powers to help make Africa a better place and that they'll continue to hide the helmet in Kilimanjaro and use it as a center of operations, with Djuba acting as caretaker.  Soon his exploits become known across Africa and he is christened B'wana Beast by the natives.  His identity is known only by his friend Ken and of course the Jungle Master has made enemies along the way, particularly Hamid Ali, whose illegal operations are being destroyed.  He Who Never Dies begins to frame B'wana Beast and his efforts begin to pay off as the President orders Ken, the national Police Commissioner, to bring in the outlaw B'wana Beast.  Ken discusses matters with Mike at his ranger station and he assures him that he can protect the Jungle Master despite his orders. 

So, back to the current situation where Tembo lurches along with his burden and two huge beasts, one mechanical and one magical continue to do battle under the control of their respective masters, Hamid Ali and B'wana Beast.  That ends this issue, but not the story, which is continued in Showcase #67 a couple of months later.  It's the March/April issue and is entitled "Track of the Immortal One!" Cover art by Sekowsky and Frank Giacoia; interior action executed by the team of the previous issue.

We see that the battle of titans is continuing with the helicopter continuing to surveil the scene.  Hamid Ali's band of criminals tries machine guns on the Jungle Master, but he moves too swiftly and the combined rhino and buffalo are impervious to them.

The scene briefly changes back to Tembo, who continues to move toward his destination with his cargo of copper ore despite the great weight and the perils in his path that include fording an alligator infested river.  Back to the battle.

As Ken and his pilot observe, the treacherous Immortal One releases a smokescreen from his mechanical beast and retreats.  The Police Commissioner orders his pilot to descend on the pretense that they will try to capture B'wana Beast while in reality he's using the rotor wash to clear the smoke away.  The huge, shaggy green beast retreats into the forest and the helicopter cannot follow due to a leaking fuel tank from a stray bullet. 

Mike Maxwell is now pursuing his enemy when, to his puzzlement, he realizes he cannot hear the mechanical monster.  Using his power over the jungle creatures, he utilizes his helmet again (why do I keep hearing Elmer Fudd singing "Spear and magic helmet…"?) to contact Galak the buzzard to do a reconnaissance flight.  The bird discovers that the mechanical crocodile is floating down the river, but not before he is spotted and wounded by one of Hamid Ali's henchmen.  Galak manages to get back to B'wana Beast and report.  Soon the Jungle Master is again in pursuit, riding his hybrid beast into the river where it swi ftly swims beneath and attacks the criminals from below.  In moments, to their dismay, they discover they are going over a waterfall, which ends Part I.

Part II reveals Rhino and Old Shatterhorns divided once again at B'wana Beast's command so that they have a better chance of surviving the fall.  After everyone has crashed to the bottom, Maxwell is stunned and floating, leaving him vulnerable to Hamid Ali.  Before they can reach him, however, thousands of vampire bats from the nearby cavern swarm over the mechanized croc to protect the jungle master.  In frustration He Who Never Dies submerges and decides to continue his effort to intercept Tembo:  "No matter…he will die down here!  We must catch that elephant.  The Zambesi must not fulfill the contract!  They must remain poor—discontented—so I can exploit them!"  Hmmm.  Sounds familiar…  Anyway, Mike has floated up onto the riverbank with the help of a couple of the bats and he regains his wits long enough to realize he is weak and needs another shot of the potion that gives him his powers.  He sends a telepathic summons to Djuba, the gorilla guardian at Kilimanjaro.  Djuba has a vial of the potion around his neck and like the old St. Bernard's that used to rescue lost winter sportsmen with their keg of rejuvenating elixir, the beast makes his way to B'wana Beast via vine and even a dugout canoe! 

Meanwhile, back at the village of the Zambesi tribe, Chief Kilo is hearing a report of all that has transpired and decides that the tribe must reclaim what is theirs.  He orders his warriors to assemble and soon the war canoes are making their way down the river.  Ken spots them from his chopper high above, but has to land to refuel.  When he arrives he learns the President is there, waiting in the commissioner's office.  The president chastises his police commissioner for failing to capture B'wana Beast, who has obviously stolen the ore, placing the contract in jeopardy.  Ken responds that he believes the Jungle Master merely took it to keep it from the hands of Hamid Ali, but the president is unconvinced.  He orders Ken anew to capture B'wana Beast. 

Soon the helicopter is aloft again and Ken wonders how he's going to protect his friend Mike Maxwell and still keep his job.  It is then he notices someone at Mike's ranger camp.  He orders his pilot to land so he can investigate and discovers the lovely Eve Carstairs, a newspaperwoman from the All Africa Press.  After they introduce themselves to one another she states she's on the trail of B'wana Beast to learn his real identity.  Ken asks why she's there and she speculates that there is a connection between Mike Maxwell and B'wana Beast, based on notes she's found in a book belonging to Mike.  The police commissioner takes the notebook back from her, citing it's being private property and orders her away.  She gives voice to the fact that he could be trying to protect his old college chum, but leaves anyway.

The Jungle Master, meanwhile, has revived and quickly mounts a giraffe to catch up to Tembo, who is in danger, by B'wana Beast's reckoning.  Djuba mounts an accompanying giraffe and the pair thunder across the plains.  Soon enough, he's at it again with the "Ki-ki-ki-kiueeeeee!" cry.  We soon see that his fears are justified as Tembo is caught in quicksand and a canoe with armed men is approaching…  End of Part II.

Part III opens with B'wana Beast and Djuba riding to the aid of Tembo and between the efforts of Jungle Master, Elephant and Gorilla, the boat is destroyed and the occupants subdued.  An enraged Hamid Ali projects his ugly mug to urge his followers on.  In the next moment the police helicopter arrives and accidentally dumps Ken out and into the alligator-infested river.  Ken swims furiously toward the scene of battle and Maxwell pulls him out of the water, just ahead of the pursuing 'gators. 

We then see Eve Carstairs, perched in a nearby tree, capturing the action on film.  The Immortal One then discovers the arrival of the Zambesi tribe.  The gang's all here!  He opens fire on them and picks off a couple of the boats, but they continue their charge and soon overwhelm the forces of the Immortal One, forcing a retreat beneath the surface of the river. 

There are other matters to attend to, however and Djuba, Ken and Maxwell are fighting to extricate Tembo from the quicksand.  They succeed, just as the triumphant Zambesi party arrives.  Ken explains to his father that B'wana Beast defeated Hamid Ali and took custody of the ore to keep it from He Who Never Dies.  The Zambesi tribe hails the Jungle Master.  The job, however, is not finished and Tembo, with B'wana Beast astride his massive back is soon at the rendezvous point on the coast, delivering the ore and fulfilling the spirit of the contract with the remainder to come by truck shortly. 

In the closing scenes of the story, the President acknowledges the help B'wana Beast gave to the Zambesi's to Ken, but maintains he is still wanted for crimes and insists his police commissioner continue to hunt down the Jungle Master.  That same Jungle Master, in his everyday identity of Mike Maxwell is back at his ranger station, attending to a wounded Impala when he receives a visitor in the form of Eve Carstairs.  She announces to him that she has B'wana Beast on film and that her ability to lip read revealed his conversation with Commissioner Kenboya, revealing that Mike Maxwell is, in fact, B'wana Beast.  Abruptly, a monkey swings by, snatching up the film and dropping it into a nearby fire.  The indignant Eve says that Maxwell ordered it, but before she can protest further, she finds herself engulfed in a passionate kiss with the African ranger.  The story ends with the following text:  "Careful Jungle Master!  There may be more danger in those beautiful lips than in all of Africa!  And dangers there shall be—a whole safari of them—when B'wana Beast again thunders into your life!"                

B'wana Beast, however, did not reappear after this story for nearly 20 years when he was spotted in the "Crisis on Infinite Earths" series, but you had to pay attention to see him.  By all indications, he survived the Crisis, as well.  That tracks as far as the Justice League Unlimited series goes, too as they seem to be following current continuity, i.e. the single, collapsed DC Universe.  In more modern comic continuity I understand he made the odd guest appearance in storylines with Animal Man.  That had to be a match made in heaven.

So what exactly is B'wana Beast?  A helmeted Tarzan with a little bit of the supernatural thrown in?  He certainly had the odd signature cry, even if it didn't sound much like Johnny Weissmuller.  He's a touch like a landlocked Aquaman on the continent of Africa.  In fact, a couple of things that make this character unique are his location of Africa and the introduction of a major character who isn't Caucasian.  Rupert Zambesi Kenboya, or "Ken" broke the color barrier of the day.  I can't think offhand of another significant character in the comics of the day that was black.  Maybe in more able hands or perhaps in a less dorky outfit, B'wana Beast could have been more interesting, but obviously the concept was met with a collective yawn.  I know it sure didn't trip my trigger.  I rate the Jungle Master a 4 on my 10-point scale.  Maybe his current resurrection will come to something, but this two-part story really didn't cut it.

I always appreciate hearing from you, faithful reader, so take a minute and tell me how I'm doing at professor_the@hotmail.com.  The next edition of this feature hits the World Wide Web in about two weeks, so be sure to join us.

Long live the Silver Age!

© 2000-2004 by B.D.S.

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