WARNING: This article contains spoilers for this week’s episode of DC’s Legends of Tomorrow, “Freakshow,” which premiered tonight on The CW.
When the trailer for the third season of DC’s Legends of Tomorrow was released in July at Comic-Con International, many fans of Silver Age comics were surprised — excited, even! — to see cult-favorite hero B’wana Beast in what promised to be his live-action debut. Just in time to celebrate his 50th anniversary, the offbeat superhero was finally about to catapulted from relative obscurity to mainstream stardom — or as close to that as an appearance on one of The CW’s Arrowverse dramas could take him.
However, when his big moment came in this week’s episode of Legends, B’wana Beast fell well short of stardom. In fact, he doesn’t speak a word of dialogue, and isn’t even mentioned by name; on IMDb, he’s listed only as Carny #3. But if you squint, you can see “B’wana Beast” written in red letters on a banner in P.T. Barnum’s circus. We’re getting a little ahead of ourselves, though.
Introduced in 1967 by Bob Haney and Mike Sekowsky in DC’s Showcase #66, B’wana Beast is Mike Maxwell, who turned down a job offer from his billionaire father and instead choosing to join his college roommate in Africa as a ranger on an animal preserve. But, because this was the Silver Age of comics, their plane was struck by lightning en route to their new adventure, and crashed on Mount Kilimanjaro, where the two injured men took shelter in the cave of a mutant red ape. Drinking rainwater infused with minerals from the caves walls, Maxwell grew larger and stronger, enabling him to defeat the red ape.
Acknowledging the man’s dominance, the ape then … gave him an ancient helmet that enabled Maxwell to read its mind, because, again, this was the Silver Age. Now gifted with superhuman strength, speed and stamina, and armed with the mask that enabled him to exert telepathic control of animals and merge two animals to create a more powerful chimera — because, y’know — B’wana Beast became a protector of Africa, with help from Djuba the red ape. Although his Silver Age career was short-lived, the character nevertheless emerged as a favorite of writers, earning him the occasional guest appearance over the years, a prominent supporting role in Grant Morrison’s early issues of Animal Man, and cameos on such animated series as Justice League Unlimited, Batman: The Brave and the Bold and Teen Titans Go! Which brings us to his rather inauspicious live-action debut on Legends of Tomorrow.
Heading back in time to 1870 Wisconsin to fix an anachronism, the Waverider crew ends up at a struggling circus operated by P.T. Barnum (guest star Billy Zane), who’s spent his dwindling money on a saber-tooth cat (aka the anachronism) in the hope the new star attraction will change his fortunes. It doesn’t, but only because it’s inadvertently set free by Ray Palmer (Brandon Routh), Jax Jackson (Franz Drameh) and Nate Heywood (Nick Zano) as they try to capture the creature and complete their assignment. While Sara Lance (Caity Lotz) and a reenlisted Amaya Jiwe (Maisie Richardson-Sellers) track down the creature, the other three tie one on at a local saloon, and a whisky-soaked Nate publicly displays his power, while bragging on those of his teammates, providing Barnum with potential prime replacements for the escaped saber-tooth.
Enter B’wana Beast, or Carny #3, if you prefer, who’s little more than a sideshow strongman (which works well enough in the episode’s setting) and Barnum’s hired muscle. Never far from the showman’s side, he ambushes Ray and Jax on their way back to the Waverider, and then, with the aid of a bearded clown, subdues Amaya and a hungover Nate with tranquilizer guns. But while the B’wana Beast of DC comics might have been an interesting opponent Amaya, on Legends of Tomorrow, she channels the strength and ferocity of a grizzly and tosses him aside like a rag doll. And that was that for B’wana Beast’s live-action debut.
There’s always a chance the series could return to that setting — Zane is certainly entertaining as a desperate and slightly sinister Barnum — and offer B’wana Beast a shot at redemption (or, heck, a line of dialogue). But it’s slim, which probably the first and last time we’ll see Carny #3 in live-action.
Airing Tuesdays at 9 pm ET/PT on The CW, DC’s Legends of Tomorrow stars Victor Garber as Martin Stein, Arthur Darvill as Rip Hunter, Dominic Purcell as Mick Rory/Heat Wave, Caity Lotz as Sara Lance/White Canary, Franz Drameh as Jefferson “Jax” Jackson/Firestorm, Brandon Routh as Ray Palmer/Atom, Maisie Richardson-Sellers as Amaya Jiwe/Vixen, and Nick Zano as Nate Heywood/Steel.
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