M’Baku is a curious character. Early on he was cool. He’s remarkably dangerous, and “jungle adventures” were still a popular genre (Tarzan, Ka-Zar, Shanna, etc.). But as decades passed a big guy wearing a gorilla skin became ridiculous.
And then, Black Panther writer Christopher Priest made him cool again by showing — but never quite explaining — the background of the White Gorilla Cult. Our one writeups.org contributor with first-hand experience in African political conflicts found him sympathetic.
This profile is current as of 2012. This means it has all the Silver Age material and all the C. Priest material, but not the later evolutions. Such as the Ta-Nehisi Coates stuff and the post-movie stuff. Which is better covered in a separate entry, anyway.
M’Baku has been around for 50+ years, and this profile summarises the Jabari people issues. Since this ends up being a bit long for slower readers, we’ve cleft this entry in two for convenience. There’s only one game stats block, since the Priest era doesn’t change Man-Ape’s abilities.
- Man-Ape (M’Baku) part #1.1 – Context, Silver Age, Bronze Age.
- Man-Ape (M’Baku) part #1.2 – The Priest era.
- Real Name: M’Baku.
- Other Aliases: “M’Burger”, “Magilla”, “Binky”.
- Marital Status: Unrevealed.
- Known Relatives: Ce’athauna Asira Davin (aka Chanté Brown, aka Queen Divine Justice, cousin), Damola (cousin, deceased).
- Group Affiliation: Jabari tribe, former member of the Lethal Legion and the Masters of Evil.
- Base Of Operations: Wakanda.
- Height: 7’ Weight: 355 lbs.
- Eyes: Brown (though he can make them glow a fierce red-orange or a duller yellow when he wears the pelt). Hair: Brownish black.
Powers and Abilities
M’Baku gained superhuman physical might and prowess when he ritually ate the flesh of the sacred white gorilla. He can withstand blows delivered with peak human strength, uproot and hurl trees, shred metal between his fingers, etc..
Even prior to that he was recognised as one of the greatest warriors in Wakanda. Man-Ape is fast and agile enough to fight even the Black Panther (T’Challa) or Captain America (Steve Rogers) toe-to-toe.
Though those who have never seen him fight tend to dismiss him as ludicrous, this is a mistake. M’Baku is a truly formidable opponent unless met with strong superhuman power.
Gorilla warfare, part 1
M’Baku is a good tactician. Although his fighting style (and his acrobatics style) are reminiscent of how a gorilla moves, he actually makes good use of his environment.
He also has no problem using all sorts of devious ruses de guerre. These include playing possum, pretending to surrender, taking hostages and booby-trapping their cell, etc.. M’Baku favours sudden, unexpected distractions.
When he attacks he is relentless. He seeks to keep his opponent on the defensive and to maintain initiative. Since his gorilla-like moves lead his opponents — even experienced ones — to underestimate him, he will frequently perform indirect attacks. Such as hitting a high-pressure water main right behind his opponent while feigning a clumsy strike.
M’Baku is also a competent jet fighter pilot. He is also surprisingly good at infiltration and stealth despite his gigantic physique. Perhaps he learned these skills during his career as a mercenary.
Gorilla warfare, part 2
M’Baku is a fearsome, world-class fighter… except when he’s part of a group. In such circumstances, he performs noticeably below his normal level.
No explanation is given for this. It might be the result of pride and honour, or of a highly mobile fighting style. It might also be a mystical weakness having to do with the Gorilla God.
The difference in combat skill is stark, and has been consistent over the decades. In fact M’Baku seems to become less redoubtable as the size of the group he is a part of increases.
Whilst Man-Ape is inexplicably much weaker when he works as a part of a group, he still uses sound, team-oriented tactics in those circumstances. So even then he shouldn’t be underestimated.
Faithful N’Gamo of the Gorilla priesthood
He’s a sort of alchemist. He has brewed tasteless sleeping potions which made all the Avengers (including the synthezoid Vision !) fall asleep within seconds when mixed with their food. He also revived and evacuated M’Baku after he had been trapped under tons of rock, through undisclosed means.
N’Gamo proved to be a good getaway driver and pilot. When spiriting away M’Baku from Avengers’ Mansion, he was piloting a high-tech Wakandan aircraft. He even managed to daze Giant-Man by dropping the rapid extraction rig intended for the Man-Ape onto Pym’s head.
He also seems handy with a spiked mace (Weaponry (Melee): 04, possibly 05). N’Gamo may have been the person who built a realistic mannequin of Monica Lynne that fooled even the Panther.
It is unclear whether N’Gamo remained M’Baku’s henchman after the first Lethal Legion was defeated. He presumably was arrested, deported to Wakanda and imprisoned. Since faithful N’Gamo started working with Man-Ape again shortly after Malice snuck M’Baku back into Wakanda, it is possible the Man-Ape sprang his loyal henchman out of prison once he returned in-country.
The best-known Wakandan religion is close to ancient Egyptian faiths. It incorporates stories about the extradimensional gods known as the Heliopolitans and as the Ennead. In particular the god most associated with Wakanda, the Panther God, has been established as being the feline Ennead, Bast (occasionally “Bastet”).
Another major Wakandan god is the Gorilla God. Though some have speculated it might be Toth , who does have an ape form, the Gorilla might not be of the Ennead. One gets the impression that the Gorilla God is native to Wakanda (or the Great Lakes region in general) whereas the Panther God/Bast is an import from the North, as adapted to local tales and traditions.
In Wakandan myths, the Gorilla God is the enemy of the Panther God. This might reflect an history of conflict between two tribes or factions. When the Panther God cult is ascendant the Gorilla God cult tends to be outlawed.
The Gorilla God is closely associated with the Wakandan white gorillas. It is chiefly worshipped by the Jabari tribe.
Both the silver-pelted apes and the Jabari have found refuge in the Crystal Forest. This is a strange area of Wakanda where the trees seem made of glass and with Arctic weather. Jabari refugees settled there as it was considered uninhabitable.
There are 12,000 Jabari tribespersons, chiefly armed with longbows and spears. The Jabari, who adopted clothing reminiscent of Lapp or Inuit folk traditions to endure the cold, are reputed as fighters and raiders. The sacred white gorillas accompanying them on the battlefield seem to have abnormal size, strength and durability.
(This area is the Savage Land in reverse – an inexplicable Arctic area amidst a tropical area. It might have similar origins, involving the Nuwali alien engineers. Howbeit, something more local likely is the cause for this anomaly. If only because “cool stuff in Africa was made by aliens” has a bad history.)
King T’Challa’s edict
During the reign of T’Chaka, father of T’Challa, the Panther worshippers dominated the nations and tribes making up Wakanda. They even had the Jabari officially renounce the Gorilla God to be converted to the Panther cult.
However, T’Chaka died at the hand of Dutch criminal and physicist Ulysses Klaw. Wakanda was cast into turmoil and civil war, and the Jabari revolted once again. They resumed worship of the sacred white gorillas, to the furore of Panther fundamentalists. This made the Jabari the linchpin of the civil war.
Meanwhile, canny King T’Challa leveraged the anger of the Panther-worshipping conservatives about the sacrilegious Gorilla-worshipping conservatives. While these were all caught in the controversy, he could deploy his pro-technology agenda.
The Panther worshippers had the upper hand during the civil war. T’Challa ordered the dissolution of the Jabari tribe. Presumably, this was part of his horse-trading with Panther conservatives as well as an honest attempt to put an end to the perpetual war between the two religious currents.
According to T’Challa’s edicts, the Jabari were to scatter and join various other Wakandan communities. They were to leave their traditions and the Gorilla way of life behind.
Hounded by the Panther faithfuls
However, Panther fundamentalists interpreted this as a licence to kill. The Jabari, outnumbered and without allies, had to flee and become outcasts.
Chief Damola of the Jabari vanished. It was later discovered he had fled to the US where he secretly fathered a little girl. But Panther fanatics found Damola and his wife, and murdered them.
Their infant girl survived. American police eventually identified her as a Wakandan national and brought her to the consulate. True to form, T’Challa son of T’Chaka came up with a cunning long-term plan involving the orphan.
Ce’athauna daughter of Damola was not just the rightful Queen of the Jabari. The Gorilla priests had a prophecy where the child of Damola would be Asira Davin, a peacemaker between the gods and in particular Panther and Gorilla.
Chief Damola’s daughter
T’Challa’s functionaries in the US received orders not to tell Ce’athauna Asira Davin of her parentage. She was given the African-America-style name Chanté Brown. Ms. Brown was only vaguely aware that she was of Wakandan descent, never mind a Jabari.
King T’Challa further ensured that Ce’athauna would become a Dora Milaje upon coming to age. As a Dora Milaje (“betrothed to the King”), the Jabari Queen would be part of a cadre of women symbolically wedded to the ruler of Wakanda. Thus establishing a bond of marriage between the Wakandan and Jabari tribes.
Between a symbolic marriage between a Jabari queen and the Chosen of the Panther, and the Asira Davin prophecy, this would be a solid shot at a lasting union between tribes.
Meanwhile the outcast and decimated Jabari tribesmen, abandoned by Chief Damola, turned to the high priest of the Gorilla God. That was M’Baku, who became the de facto Jabari leader. To prevent further killing between Panther and Gorilla militants, T’Challa made M’Baku a close associate of his so he could keep him under control.
M’Baku couldn’t be acknowledged as the leader of a forbidden cult. Nevertheless, he was made interim tribal leader by the Wakandan throne. T’Challa made a big show of entrusting the Jabari with important responsibilities and of being his friend. This culminated with a deal where M’Baku would run everyday affairs during the King’s frequent absences.
Officially, M’Baku and T’Challa were thus closer than brothers. In reality, M’Baku hated what T’Challa had done with Wakanda. He had always planned to abuse the King’s politically-motivated trust. He cultivated allies among the discontents, focusing on fellow traditionalists opposing the high technology now pervading Wakanda.
Flesh of the silver beast
M’Baku also performed a forbidden ritual of the Gorilla God. This was the equivalent of the heart-shaped herb empowering the Black Panther. Secretly entering the strange Crystal Forest, M’Baku ritually stalked, killed and ate one of the sacred white gorillas.
Completing the ritual as his god bestowed superhuman strength on him, M’Baku fashioned a sort of hooded vest with the pelt. He kept it hidden.
In 1969, while the King was away, fighting along with the Avengers and Doctor Strange, M’Baku made many unauthorised changes in Wakanda. Most of the new policies centred on getting rid of the technology which had the most impact on traditional ways of life.
The Gorilla coup
When T’Challa came back, M’Baku had his henchman N’Gamo poison the King and the Avengers. He took everybody prisoner while they were knocked out by the toxins. The Gorilla priest then challenged T’Challa to a duel.
The vengeful M’Baku was now openly wearing his white gorilla pelt. He called himself the Man-Ape. M’Baku also unveiled a large statue of the Gorilla God, with which he intended to replace the main statue of the Panther God at the royal palace.
The two master fighters clashed, and the Man-Ape won.
M’Baku tied T’Challa to the giant Panther God statue. When the King woke up, the Jabari started pounding the Panther statue so it would collapse and crush the Black Panther. However, instead of toppling the statue crumbled, burying M’Baku and seemingly killing him.
This was probably the result of the super-strong Vision battering the walls of his cell under the statue to break free. But most Wakandans attributed the events to the will of the Panther God.
The Lethal Legion
N’Gamo secretly rescued his chief and healed his wounds. In 1970, yearning for vengeance, M’Baku flew to New York City to find a way to attack the Black Panther. This was difficult, since the Panther had joined the Avengers.
Needing allies to take on the Avengers, the Man-Ape joined the Lethal Legion. The members were the Living Laser (Arthur Parks), the Swordsman (Jacques Duquesne) and Power Man (Erik Josten). They were commanded by the Grim Reaper (Eric Williams), who was plotting to kill the Avengers.
M’Baku’s new allies forged a note from Black Panther to Captain America. They then sent the Jabari priest to ambush Cap. The Man-Ape prevailed and threw the unconscious Cap from a rooftop. However, other Avengers came in in time to catch the Sentinel of Liberty.
With faithful N’Gamo’s help M’Baku evaded the Avengers. He then went straight to kidnap Monica Lynne, a Harlem singer and activist with romantic ties to King T’Challa.
Another ambush was thus set for the Black Panther. A mannequin of Monica Lynne laced with explosives was used to finish T’Challa off after M’Baku dominated their duel. M’Baku wanted to execute T’Challa, but the Grim Reaper refused him.
The Legion attacked the Avengers and overcame them, with M’Baku again performing well against Captain America. However, they fell into a trap orchestrated by the Vision and were captured. The Black Panther was unwilling to let American authorities take custody of M’Baku. He thus decreed that the Jabari could go free but would be killed if he set foot in Wakanda.
The angry priest then wandered the world and worked as a mercenary. His crimes and adventures during that time are unchronicled.
The new Lethal Legion
In 1985, the mercenary M’Baku joined the Grim Reaper’s new Lethal Legion. Other members included two voodoo priests — the Black Talon (Samuel Barone), and the Reaper’s companion Nekra — plus the robotic Ultron. The technophobic M’Baku disliked and severely underestimated Ultron.
The Reaper sent Ultron and Man-Ape to recover Goliath, another alumni of the first Lethal Legion. Goliath was held at the West Coast Avengers’s compound.
After breaking in, Man-Ape fought Tigra (Greer Nelson) until Ultron blasted Nelson unconscious from behind. This angered M’Baku, and Ultron summarily blasted him too to demonstrate his power. Nevertheless Man-Ape, Ultron and Goliath captured Wonder Man (Simon Williams) and Doctor Pym, then left.
M’Baku had become less proud during his mercenary career. He could now accept taking orders and the like. But this wasn’t sufficient to work smoothly with the Grim Reaper, whose racial bigotry was a problem for Man-Ape and the Black Talon (an Haitian of African ancestry).
M’Baku nearly came to blows with his employer several times. But his wariness about the Reaper’s deadly scythe helped stay his hand. The Talon and M’Baku eventually left the team over the Reaper’s racism. This left the Legion short on manpower, and led to its defeat when the Avengers escaped.
Continued in part #2
The second half of this profile summarises M’baku returns to XXIst century Wakanda. Plus the usual – Description, Personality, Quotes, Game Stats, etc..