Showcase #66

Showcase #66, Jan-Feb 1967

“The Birth of B’wana Beast”

The birth of B'wana

And so, with a jaunty “Jambo!” Rupert Kenboya welcomes us to this first outing of the remarkable (some might say, ridiculous) B’wana Beast. Kenboya is the US-educated son of a Zambesi chieftan. He’s also a Police Commissioner. He’s very much of the opinion that Africa has to embrace the modern world, whereas his father thinks the old ways were best. As such, Dad likes nothing better than to listen to the doom-filled predictions of the tribal witch doctor.

A transformation

As Mike Maxwell, a game ranger, watches the Zambesi truck their first shipment of ore to the coast, he spots something awry. He jumps into his helicopter (or “whirlybird” as it says here — do they still call them that these days?) and heads for the summit of Mount Kilimanjaro. There, a giant purple gorilla hands him a goblet of liquid and pops a weird helmet on Mike’s head. Mike grimaces as his clothes rip, just like an angry Bruce Banner’s. His transformation complete, the muscular B’wana Beast now stands revealed in all his leopardskin trunked glory.

B'wana Beast and his rhino

From his perch atop a rhino, B’wana Beast orders a huge black bull elephant to overturn the Zambesi trucks. As the drivers flee, B’wana Beast commands the bull elephant to pick up the cargo of ore and they head off into the jungle.

Hamid Ali's Crocodile-tank

As the scared Zambesi return to the mangled remains of their trucks they are attacked by a huge crocodile-like tank controlled by Hamid Ali, a thousand year-old bad guy who’s bent on destroying B’wana Beast. He uses the croc-tank to shove the remaining trucks and their cargo over a cliff. A few minutes later Rupert Kenboya arrives to investigate. As Commissioner he’s not impressed by these events, especially as the Zambesi seem to treat Hamid Ali as a supernatural threat. “You’re all just ignorant children!” he cries, none too sympathetically.

Meanwhile, B’wana Beast is moving along with his jungle buddies. Hamid Ali is a short distance behind. Seeing him, B’wana Beast gives another of his strange yells and the rhino and the bison in his entourage merge together to form a huge super-beast. The creature and Ali’s croc-tank crash together “with titanic impact!”

Super-beast

Kenboya flies overhead in his whirlybird, and his pilot pulls the pin of a grenade. Kenboya grabs the copter controls and wrenches them, spoiling the pilots aim. The explosion misses the mark, saving B’wana Beast. Just what is the connection between Kenboya and B’wana Beast?

In a flashback, we find out: they were college buddies, both top of the class. At a loose end, Maxwell accepted Kenboya’s offer to go to Africa to help his people get modern. Flying over Kilimanjaro in a light aircraft, the pair were stuck by lightning and crashed. As Kenboya pulled Maxwell from the wreck, the purple gorilla menaced them. Finding shelter, Kenboya gave Maxwell a drink from a goblet filled with what he assumed was rainwater. The gorilla attacked, throwing Kenboya over his head. Maxwell’s shirt tore away as the potion took effect for the first time, much to Kenboya’s surprise. The newly-mighty Maxwell wrestled the gorilla to the ground.

Drink this

B'wana beats his chest

Maxwell realised that the drink from the goblet must have changed him. “You don’t walk now — you prowl!” sums up Kenboya. The gorilla, now compliant, handed a weird helmet to Maxwell. The helmet, which Maxwell surmises must be a remnant of some ancient super-advanced civilization, gave him the power to control animals. Kenboya then suggested that it might be good if Maxwell became a super-hero to help Africa. And so, B’wana Beast was born.

B'wana Beast on a giraffe

Unfortunately, not everyone was impressed by the newcomer: the President thinks that B’wana Beast is a menace, and has ordered his Police Commissioner — Kenboya — to track him down to face justice. Kenboya has, reluctantly, promised to do his best…

To be continued!

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“His very name invokes TERROR..!” screams the cover — and for once they’re right: I know I was horrified reading it!

Showcase was created as a tryout book for new ideas. Each editor in turn got to edit an issue or two before passing it on to the next. In its time, Showcase had seen the debut of the Flash, Green Lantern, Hawkman and the Atom. An impressive line-up. Sadly, by 1967 we’re reduced to B’wana Beast…

Seemingly scripted by Bob Haney, upon whom you can always rely for a wacky story, and drawn by the almost ubiquitous Mike Sekowsky, B’wana Beast is one of the daftest characters ever. His powers and origins go almost completely unexplained, with Mike Maxwell merely guessing where they came from. It’s frankly bizarre that an intelligent, educated man like Rupert Kenboya would just give his buddy a drink from a mysterious cup he just found sitting next to him. And are all modern Zambesi kids given names like “Rupert”? Clearly Haney’s inspiration was running on empty the day he came up with this. Sekowsky, too, is having an off-day and there are a lot of anatomical howlers in there. It looks like something he just dashed off in a lunch hour one day.

B’wana Beast made one more appearance in the next issue of Showcase and then sailed off into much-needed obscurity.