Welcome to Brainstorm's Corner, a monthly springboard showcase. A springboard, basically a one-page prose summary of a comic book story, is the format used for submitting stories to companies such as DC Comics. In one page, a writer must describe the plot while also trying to make it as intriguing as possible. It's quite a challenge!
Brainstorm's Corner gives YOU, the reader, the chance to critique the story before a writer sends it off to every editor at DC. So let Fanzing know would you pay to read this? If not, why not?
by David R. Black
This Brainstorm's Corner proposal features the return of Africa's greatest hero, B'wana Beast! Really! No, I'm not kidding. Hey, stop laughing for a minute and read the proposal!
Welcome to the Dark Continent. A land of many cultures, wildlife, natural resources, and extreme opposites -- extreme wealth/abject poverty, urban cities/rural villages, raging war/tranquil peace, and lush jungles/barren deserts. The Dark Continent has them all, and it is a land where these opposites clash violently. It is a land in need of a hero.
You, Dominic Mnawe, will become that hero. A simple photographer from South Africa, you have been chosen by the spirits of the past to fulfill this heroic need. You will be granted great powers -- super strength, great endurance, and an ancient helmet that gives you control over animal life. It's a difficult and enormous task to care for an entire continent, Dominic. Are you up to the challenge? Are you ready to inherit the mantle of the Beast?
Don't worry too much, though. You will have allies in your fight. Mike Maxwell, the former Beast, will act as your mentor and guide. But you will need to guide and care for him as well, Dominic. Maxwell endured great hardships and personal loss during his time as B'wana Beast. He will teach you how to be a hero, and you must show him that he is not a failure.
Other allies will aid you in your times of need. Africa's heroes are few, but you will meet them all, Dominic -- your countryman Impala, the beautiful Vixen, and the legendary Congo Bill. Other heroes from abroad will assist you, and new heroes will rise to help the Dark Continent in its time of need.
There will be enemies too. There are those who would stand to gain from the oppression of our peoples and the plundering of our resources. Foes come in all forms Dominic -- cruel dictators, unethical businessmen, street gangs, supervillains, racists, and the intolerant. Natural disasters, disease, and the supernatural are also out there, lurking in the shrouded corners of the Dark Continent.
Be brave Dominic Mnawe. The tasks you face are many and enormous in size. But you will rise to meet the demand. You will protect all the innocents of the Dark Continent, whether they be human, animal, or something alien. They are counting on you -- counting on the legend of the Beast! You can help them Dominic.
Go forth, our chosen warrior! Go forth and protect your homeland! Go forth . FREEDOM BEAST!
By now, I'm sure many of you have said "who?" I admit that neither Freedom Beast nor B'wana Beast are well known, and together they've appeared in only six story arcs (seven if you count Who's Who). Here's a little background info;
B'wana Beast, secretly Mike Maxwell, first appeared in Showcase #66 in 1967. The word "b'wana" is Swahili for "master" or "guardian." So, our hero's name means "guardian of the beasts." As such, B'wana has a helmet which allows him to communicate with all forms of animal life and merge two or more animals into a combination of the two. For example, he could merge an ostrich and a zebra together to get a flying horse-like creature with a long neck. Additionally, when he drank magical cave water from Mt. Kilimanjaro, B'wana Beast gained super strength and super endurance for a limited time.
B'wana Beast lasted only two issues in Showcase before disappearing into limbo. The strip not only failed because of poor art and a patronizing story, but I think it tried to combine too many different concepts into one character. B'wana was part sci-fi, part Tarzan, and part Phantom. For instance, the Phanton is the "ghost who walks," and B'wana is sometimes referred to as the "beast who walks."
The unique supporting cast of the strip is what attracted my attention. Mike Maxwell's best friend, and the only one who knew his secret identity, was a black African man named Rupert "Ken" Kenboya. Even though the 1960's were the time of the civil rights movement, very few black characters appeared in comics at that time. How many can you think of off the top of your head? Not many, I'm sure. Mike's love interest was Eve Carstairs, and let me tell you, Eve was not the typical Lois Lane/silver age ditsy female. Eve actually proved that Mike was B'wana in less than two issues! And instead of a kid sidekick, Mike had a purple gorilla named Djuba! Pretty cool!
After Showcase, B'wana Beast languished in comic book limbo for 18 years. He reappeared in DC Challenge #2 and #3 in 1985, Crisis on Infinite Earths, and in 1987's Swamp Thing Annual #3. He was then revamped slightly during Grant Morrisson's tenure on Animal Man in the late 1980's and early 1990's. Maxwell was revealed to be one in a long line of African heroes to call himself the Beast, and we learn what happened to the supporting cast over the years. It's not pretty. Ken had been killed in a clash between two warring ethic groups, Eve wasn't mentioned at all (my reasoning for her "vanishing"), and Djuba had been kidnapped by scientists from STAR Labs who wanted to test the intelligent ape's resistance to anthrax.
In Animal Man #1-4, which is a great story, Mike frees Djuba, and roughs up the scientists. Unable to save Djuba (his only friend left alive at this point) from anthrax poisoning, Mike goes berserk and extracts revenge on the scientists. Animal Man eventually stops Mike, but he realizes that Mike is no villain, just a man who has lost everybody he ever loved. (I just realized that this sounds exactly like Hal Jordan and Coast City, except this story happened a few years before and has a happy ending).
In coping with the loss of his friends, Mike decides to give up being B'wana Beast. Mike passes the mantle of the Beast to Dominic Mnawe, a South African, in Animal Man #13. Dominic calls himself Freedom Beast, and Mike decides to become a mentor to Dom, helping Dom become the great hero Mike believed he could've, but never did, become. Since then, I believe Dom (Freedom Beast) has only appeared in Day of Judgment #4. My proposal essentially picks up from where Animal Man #13 left off -- with Dom as the young hero and Mike as his mentor.
List of Story Arcs
Some of the following are multi issue story arcs, others are single issues. Regardless, this is what's planned for the first year and a half to two years worth of Dark Continent.
1) "Bentama and the Beast" - Dominic's origin as Freedom Beast is retold in flashback form while he and Mike are travelling to Mozambia to confront Anmu Bentama, the country's dictator. Filled with a combination of optimism and naivete, Dominic believes that he can overthrow Bentama, Africa's most tyrannical despot. Dom views this as the first step towards ridding the Dark Continent of oppression. Mike, having refused to involve himself in politics when he was B'wana Beast, is leery of Dom's plan, but agrees to help.
Freedom Beast begins stirring up pro-revolution fever among the Mozambian people, and soon decides to personally remove Bentama from office. But things go terribly wrong. Dictators can afford to hire the best bodyguards around, and things hit the fan when Bentama unleashes the Brotherhood of Evil on Freedom Beast and Mike.
2) "Gorillas in Our Midst" - Battered and beaten, Dom and Mike flee Mozambia. With the help of some animal friends, they escape into the jungle and begin making the trek back to Mt Kilimanjaro (their headquarters in Tanzania). While in the jungle, they encounter a force field barrier which prevents them from going any further. Managing to penetrate the field, the two find themselves in Gorilla City! And the city's inhabitants aren't too happy about being discovered by two nosy humans ..
3) "The Homefront" - Back in Tanzania, Mike and Dom take a break from superheroics for a bit. Dom returns to his family's home in Soweto, South Africa, and Mike returns to his park ranger job. We meet Dom's family, and learn that Freedom Beast's recent exploits have created hope that this new "beast who walks" will be more active than the last one. Dom's father speaks of an old family tale which says that one of their ancestors was the Beast in the 1700's. Dom also learns that he has been fired from his photographer job because his boss couldn't find him
Meanwhile, Mike discovers an epidemic sweeping through the park's animal life. It's nothing like Mike has ever seen
4) "Water, Water, Everywhere!" - Sudden heavy rains are creating serious flooding along the banks of the Vaal and Orange Rivers. With villages along the riverbanks in great danger, Dom leaps into action as Freedom Beast. While rescuing villagers from the rising waters, Dom runs into South Africa's other hero -- the former speedster Impala. Despite having mysteriously lost his powers, Impala still plays the role of hero. But when the two heroes discover that the Weather Wizard and New Wave are behind the flooding, they're going to need all the help they can get .
5) "Who Will Stop the Rain?" - The battle against the Weather Wizard and New Wave reaches its climax. When Impala is captured and about to be killed, Freedom Beast can only watch in horror! But before he can blink, a red blur -- the Flash! -- rescues Impala. Joining forces, the three heroes defeat the villains.
Meanwhile, continuing the subplot from issue #3, Mike traces the mysterious disease to Cypher International, a European bioengineering/cybernetic research company that has labs in neighboring Kenya.
6) "Heroes Reborn" - After helping clean up flood damage, the Flash helps Impala regain his connection to the Speed Force. Afterwards, Freedom Beast convinces Flash to leave the Weather Wizard and New Wave in South Africa. Despite being wanted in the USA, the villains must answer to the South African justice system first. Flash and Freedom Beast depart, but with Impala's powers returned, South Africa has its guardian back. Impala swears to help Freedom Beast in his quest to cure the Dark Continent's ills.
Meanwhile, Mike goes up against Cypher International's cybernetic guards to get the vaccine needed to cure his animals. Even without his powers, Mike succeeds and realizes that deep down, he was always a hero despite his failures as B'wana Beast.
7) "Dark Continent Defender" - A times past story set during Mike's time as B'wana Beast. A prose version of this story appeared in the April issue (#26) of Fanzing.
8) "Photo Opportunity" - Still without a job, Dom takes photographs of the South African floods to All Africa Press. The newspaper's editor, a man named Janu Bill hires Dom on the spot. Dom doesn't know it, but Janu's body is inhabited by the mind of Congo Bill (see the character profile section for an explanation of this situation).
Janu gives Dom his first assignment; confirm the existence of and take photos of a golden gorilla rumored to live in the jungles of Uganda. If possible, Janu also wants the ring the golden gorilla (Congorilla) wears on its finger. Dom tracks down Congorilla as Freedom Beast, and learns the truth behind the Janu/Bill/Congorilla body snatcher triangle. But will the powers of Freedom Beast be enough to recover the magic ring from Congorilla and his simian allies?
9) "Bentama, Brother Blood, and the Beast" - The Church of Blood, which preaches a cult-like religion worldwide, has been gaining in popularity in Africa. As the number of converts grows, Islamic countries such as Mozambia are feeling threatened. To regain some lost standing in the African community, Bentama declares a jihad (holy war) on the Church of Blood. Religious wars break out in Mozambia and neighboring Islamic countries.
Freedom Beast decides to get involved since innocent Africans are suffering and dying because of the war. But how can one hero stop a war? And even if he can, whose side (if any) should Dom assist?
10) "Street Gang Goofiness" - Janu sends Dom home to Soweto to take photos of an odd street gang which has been terrorizing both Soweto and Johannesburg. While investigating the gang, Dom learns that they're more of a comical nuisance than a threat. Dousing unsuspecting pedestrians with cold water, dropping thousand of banana peels in the streets, and other comical pranks can't be that bad, can they? When the Mod Gorilla Boss steps forth as the gang's leader, things go from goofy to farcical.
Meanwhile, Mike is being haunted by the spirit of a long dead, previous Beast. What does the spirit want? And is it friendly?
11) "(Cat)Man vs. Beast" - Thomas Blake, an American zoologist who is secretly the villain Catman, pays a visit to the Zambesi National Park where Mike works. Initially suspicious of Blake's request to study the behavior of the park's lions, Mike confronts Blake when he finds him stealing relics from one of the park's historic sites. In true form, Blake reveals his alter identity and his plans to steal any relics, such as the helmet of the Beast, which might give him power. Catman then sics two of his pet lions on Mike intending to kill him. Will Freedom Beast arrive in time to save Mike?
12) "The Secret of the Beast!" - As Freedom Beast and Catman battle, the mysterious spirit of the former Beast materializes. Mike and Dom watch in amazement as the spirit -- now in her true form, that of a young black woman - causes Catman to simply vanish! The woman reveals that she is Nisa Mnawe, an ancestor of Dominic and the first woman to be given the mantle of the Beast. Nisa tells them that Cyper International is close to discovering the secrets behind the origins of the first Beast and the animal controlling helmet.
After Nisa mystically whisks them to the Palace of the Beast in Africa's Great Rift Valley, she, Mike, and Dom confront Victor Cypher and his cronies. Will the experience of three generations of Beasts be enough to stop Cypher's sinister plans for power?
13) "Legacy of the Beasts" - Empowered by an artifact that allows him to control the spirits of Beasts past, Victor Cypher turns Nisa against Dom. Meanwhile, Mike is confronted by the only other white man to don the mantle of the Beast -- a British deserter from the Boer War! Mike falls from the physical and psychological strain of the battle, but Dom prevails and frees the spirits from Cypher's control. With Beasts past and present united, Dom defeats Cypher and keeps the legacy intact!
14) "The Vixen and the Vexed" -- Returning to Kilimanjaro with the artifact, Mike is troubled by prophecies revealed to him during his fight with Boer Beast. Powering up the artifact, Mike learns that Eve Carstairs, his former fiancé, may still be alive!
Meanwhile, All Africa Press assigns Dom to cover a fashion show given by international star Mari McCabe -- a.k.a. the heroine Vixen! After photographing the lastest fashions -- and the models ("What a great job," thinks Dom) -- Mari asks Dom to dinner. Is there romance in the air? Sparks fly when a Vixen meets a Beast!
15) "Cubic Zirconia" - Investigating a rash of thefts from diamond mines in Botswana and South Africa, Freedom Beast runs into Zirconia, a female thief with a diamond hard, invulnerable body. Stopping one Zirconia is tough enough, but when she splits into three carbon copies of herself, Dom's in big trouble ..
Meanwhile, Mike begins his quest to find Eve, but to do so he needs the help of Lord Shillingforth -- an old enemy of Mike's during his days as B'wana Beast. Shillingforth knows the area around where Eve disappeared better than anyone, but can Mike trust him?
Dominic Mnawe -- a young black man from South Africa, Dom was a photographer before becoming Freedom Beast. Just as his photos exposed many of Africa's injustices to the world, Dom will continue his battle for truth, justice, and the African way as Africa's newest hero. Indeed, some Africans already believe that Dom will become the Dark Continent's greatest hero - just like the legends say.
Mike Maxwell -- Emigrating from the USA to Tanzania after graduating from college, Mike became a park ranger - and the hero known as B'wana Beast. After the tragic deaths of his friends, Mike passed the mantle of the Beast to Dominic Mnawe. Mike is haunted by his failures (real and imagined) as B'wana Beast, and he will help Dom become the hero he never believed himself to be.
Anmu Bentama -- Cruel dictator of the country of Mozambia, Bentama seized power after his brother Edward was killed in a confrontation with the Outsiders. The crafty Bentama has remained in power despite civilian revolts, assassination attempts, and pressure from other nations. He may be Freedom Beast's most troublesome enemy.
Brother Blood -- High Priest of Zandia and leader of the cult-like Church of Blood, Brother Blood's mind was shattered during a battle with the former Teen Titan Raven. Now having recovered his sanity, Blood has launched an extensive missionary campaign to attract more followers to his church. Spreading into Africa, his plans for gaining converts anger Islamic leaders and politicians -- including Anmu Bentama.
Brotherhood of Evil -- Finding that fighting superheroes doesn't put food on the table, this group of villains found employment as bodyguards/enforcers for Anmu Bentama. As long as Bentama pays them on time, they're happy ..
Catman- Thomas Blake is a former zoologist, who in his identity as Catman, has battled Batman numerous times. Blake's costume is made from ancient African cloth which supposedly has mystic life saving powers, and he has come to Africa wanting to find more power giving relics so he can defeat Batman once and for all. Too bad he doesn't count on running into Freedom Beast!
Cypher International -- Headed by CEO Victor Cypher, Cypher International is devoted to bioengineering, cybernetic, and electronic research and development. With laboratories scattered around the world, Victor has used his company as a front in his quest to gain worldwide power. Uncovering the secrets of the Beast just might give him that power .
Lord Shillingforth -- A British aristocrat and big game hunter, Shillingforth's criminal endeavors were thwarted by Mike Maxwell during Mike's time as B'wana Beast. Years later, Mike must depend on Shilling if he's to uncover the truth behind Eve Carstairs' disappearance. Prison hasn't changed the pompous Shillingforth one bit though
Mod Gorilla Boss -- An intelligent ape who is fascinated by American pop culture and reruns of 1960's and 70's era sitcoms, the Boss left his home in an American zoo with one mission: Make the world a hipper and more fun place to live. But real life isn't like a sitcom, and Gilligan dropping a coconut on the Skipper's foot isn't as funny in real life -- as the victims of the Boss's pranks soon find out. Can Freedom Beast stop this well intended but misguided effort, or will he end up with coconut cream pie on his face?
New Wave -- Former leader of the Masters of Disaster, New Wave escaped from prison and teamed up with the Weather Wizard. Having a volatile temper and the abilities to control water and turn her body into any form of water (i.e. steam, ice), New Wave is a dangerous foe.
Weather Wizard -- This former foe of the Flash fled the USA in search of a place less populated by meta-humans. Settling on Africa as his newest criminal stomping grounds, he's developed a extortion racket of "protecting" countries from bad weather. Forget to pay, and the Weather Wizard will make sure cyclones, floods, drought, and other such disasters find you.
Zirconia -- Not much is known about this female thief other than she can split into three identical beings (a la Triad) and is seemingly invulnerable. She also is obsessed with precious gems ..
The Supporting Cast
Boer Beast -- Paul Winthrop deserted from the British Army during the second Boer War, and he eventually became the first white man to become the Beast. A pacifist at heart, his time as Boer Beast was short and came to a violent end. Now inhabiting the spirit realm where the souls of former Beasts rest, Winthrop is bitter and wonders why he was chosen to be the Beast in the first place.
Eve Carstairs -- Red haired beauty, reporter for All African Press, and Mike Maxwell's fiancée, Eve was presumed killed while she was covering a military conflict between Uganda and Tanzania. When Mike learns that Eve might still be alive, he'll stop at nothing to find the woman he loves ..
Gorilla City -- Located in the jungles of Congo, the city is home to a civilization of super-intelligent gorillas. Few humans know of the city's existence, and the city's inhabitants prefer to keep it that way. Nonetheless, Freedom Beast has sworn to protect all of Africa's peoples - even sentient apes.
Impala -- A South African Zulu, Impala used his superspeed and leaping abilities to serve his homeland as a member of the Global Guardians. Not the fastest speedster on the planet, Impala was nonetheless Africa's most active hero until his powers faded away. Still a hero at heart, Impala will aid his country when it needs him - powers or no powers.
Janu Bill -- After entrusting his magic mind swapping ring to his former sidekick Janu, legendary explorer Congo Bill decided to live out the rest of his life in the body of the golden gorilla named Congorilla. Months later Janu was involved in an accident which left his body nearly crippled, and then before hiding the magic ring, he rubbed it - transferring his mind into Congorilla's body and Congo Bill's mind into Janu's devastated body. After extensive rehabilitation and taking the name Janu Bill, Congo Bill became the editor of All African Press and he wants nothing more than to get his (gorilla) body back.
Nisa Mnawe -- A female ancestor of Dominic, Nisa was the first woman to wear the mantle of the Beast. During her time on Earth in the 1600's, Nisa was her tribe's healer/sha-woman, and she adopted the name Bedeswoman Beast. Now in the spirit world, she watches over Dom much like a guardian angel.
Vixen -- Her Tantu Totem gives Mari McCabe the ability to mimic the powers of any animal (i.e. the speed of a cheetah). Formerly a member of the Justice League, Suicide Squad, and Ultramarines, McCabe has retired from superheroics (for the moment) to focus on her international career as a fashion designer. While showing her latest fashions in South Africa, she meets Dom and the two eventually become romantically involved.
So Why Freedom Beast?
Asides from the fact that I think he's a cool character, here are my reasons;
1) Location, Location, Location: Think about how many superheroes are based in North America. There's got to be thousands. Now think about the other six continents. They all have a handful of superheroes, but they're all terribly underpopulated in terms of meta-human activity. How many other heroes are based in Africa besides Freedom Beast? Well, lets see .Vixen . Congorilla .. Impala .umm .hmmm .that's about it. Not very many! Heck, Freedom Beast has a whole continent to protect and not much help! The story possibilities are endless!
2) One Superhero, A Continent Full of Problems: Let's face it, in the modern day DCU it's superheroes, not ordinary heroes like policemen, firemen, etc, who solve problems. Got a forest fire raging out of control? No problem, Superman is there in a minute. Have a problem with inner city crime? No problem, Batman or Black Lightning is on the scene. Supervillain wreck your city? No problem, the Flash can rebuild it before dinner time.
Freedom Beast has 800 million people, thousands of animal species, and natural resources such as diamonds and gold to protect. How's one man to do all this? He can't. He has to pick his battle more carefully, rely on the aid and good will of ordinary people, and must realize that solving some problems are beyond his abilities. These three themes (everyday heroics, fallibility, and harsh reality) are the cornerstones of my proposed series, but I won't beat you over the head with them. They'll be mixed in along the way.
3) Established Characters with Room to Grow: I didn't choose B'wana Beast and Freedom Beast just because they're blank-slate characters who would be easy to mold into the individuals I want them to become. They have already have a background, a solid foundation of past stories.. All they need is someone to build upon that foundation, and turn a blank slate into a gleaming house full of wonder.
John Ostrander's work with Suicide Squad, and to a limited extent The Spectre and Martian Manhunter, provides the best illustration of this. Ostrander takes established characters who we know relatively little about (despite having hundreds of appearances in some cases) and makes them into well rounded characters we can identify with. Deadshot, Rick Flag, and Captain Boomerang from Suicide Squad are three great examples. Each one appeared numerous times over the years, but were essentially one dimensional, blank slate characters. Ostrander used the few existing characterization building blocks, added a slew of interesting personality traits, some background, and voila! Suicide Squad became a fan favorite.
I'm hoping that will become the case with Dark Continent as well. So, what do you think?
David R. Black is Fanzing.com's magazine editor and chief archivist. A big fan of "The Warlord," he has a cat named Shakira and is looking for a girlfriend named Tara....
This proposal is © 2000 by David R. Black
All characters are DC Comics
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