The Man-Ape (M’Baku) is one of the main enemies of Marvel’s Black Panther (T’Challa). Like his foe, he is both a tribal ruler and a religious figure empowered by an animal god.
He debuted in 1969.
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, and the political struggles around it.
This profile is current as of 2012. This means it has all the Silver AgeSuper-hero comics from the late 1950s to the early 1970s material and all the C. Priest material, but not the later evolutions. Such as the Ta-Nehisi Coates stuff and the post-movie stuff. With one clearly noted exception.
M’Baku has been around for 50+ years. Furthermore, this profile also 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.
- Man-Ape (M’Baku) part #1.1 – Context, Silver Age, Bronze Age.
- Man-Ape (M’Baku) part #1.2 – The Priest era.
There’s only one game stats block, since the Priest era doesn’t change Man-Ape’s abilities.
- Real Name: M’Baku.
- Other Aliases: “M’Burger”, “Magilla”, “Binky”.
- 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’ (2.13m). Weight: 355 lbs. (161 Kg.).
- 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.
(My personal hypothesis is that there’s a link between the flesh of the white gorillas’ empowering properties and the Altar of Resurrection, as we’ll discuss in the character profile for Sombre. But this never was stated in the material).
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.
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 guerreA trick to deceive enemy soldiers. 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. And surprisingly good at infiltration and stealth despite his gigantic physique. Perhaps he learned these skills during his career as a mercenary.
No “ape” in “team”
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.
However, 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
The theology of chest-beating
(This section was written in 2021, many years after the bulk of the entry.)
Before they called themselves Jabari, M’Baku’s ancestors were a small clan with many enemies. It is possible that they yet had to migrate to Wakanda. For protection they struck a compact with a gorilla god named N’Gi. This created a champion that was part-man, part-gorilla.
(I’ve been pointed toward a link with purported Cameroonian tales of N’Gi, but the Wikipedia material is odd. There exists no “Yaoundé people” TMK – the name of the city of Yaoundé is thought to come from a German misunderstanding of a Béti phrase.
I do not have access to the McLeish book quoted as a source, but it’s possible it actually describes one tale of the Ewondo folks.)
The champion was a great boon, but increasingly became bestial and uncontrollable. The proto-Jabari cast another spell, attracting to the area a man capable of slaying their champion. The trick was, the slayer (no relation) would then became a new, fresh gorilla-man champion. And the cycle would begin anew.
Over the centuries there were many champions. Most came from Africa, others from even further. By 1954, the mantle was taken over by an American, Ken Hale a.k.a. Gorilla-Man.
N’Gi still exists on some spiritual plane, and Jabari magicians still use rituals involving him. However, he doesn’t seem to be as important in their rites as he once was.
Now, before the next part we need a primer about the “young gods” of Wakanda.
The land of Wakanda has specific magical properties. In the distant past it attracted a number of non-human settlers, some coming from other dimensionsOther realms of existence that are not our universe. They lived peacefully and had their own religions. Which would be the old gods of Wakanda.
Humans eventually came in and, of course, messed it all up. This escalated into a war between the non-human settlers, and the other-African-lands newcomers. The Humans eventually had several of their champions exalt into gods – the “young gods” of Wakanda. These eventually prevailed.
The young gods of Wakanda also feature in other myths. Presumably, their tales were told far and wide and they were adopted as mythological figures by other folks across the continent.
- Bast (the panther god), Ptah and Toth became notable figures in Ancient Egyptian myths. They are thus both members of the Ennead (the Ancient Egyptian divinities of Heliopolis) and tutelar spirits in Wakanda. The Panther God eventually became the dominant cult in Wakanda.
- Kokou clearly evokes the Yoruba orishas. Whether the stories about him resemble the actual Nigerian myths is unrevealed.
- Mujaji looks more Southern to me (Botswana ? Zimbabwe ?). Her mask has impala horns, which also strongly says Southern Africa.
These are also called “Wakandan orisha”. However, they have exalted through faith from their people. They have not been created by a higher god, as is (I *think*) the case in Yoruba cosmology. This suggests that Wakandan use the Yoruba term “orisha” to signify “gods, but the kind that interact with mortals rather than the distant cosmos-creating type”.
An important point is that none of these Wakanda orishas is a white gorilla.
The white Gorilla God
The white-furred Gorilla God is the pivotal figure in Jabari religion. He is a different figure than N’Gi. Perhaps the Jabari found a better way to have a mightier champion to protect them, in association with a more powerful orisha.
For decades, the Gorilla-God was hypothesised to be the same as Toth (who has an ape form in Egyptian tales). Another, intriguing hypothesis was that he was the same spirit as Gullah, a gorilla god worshipped back in the days of Conan the Cimmerian.
More recent sources identify him with Ghekre. This is a figure in the myths of the Baoulé-speaking Akan cultures of Ghana. These stories are part of the matrix that formed the vaudou religions, then their descendants in Haïti, in Brazil, etc..
It is thus possible that, while the stories of Wakandan orishas travelled abroad, the Jabari “imported” the Baoulé myths.
Or perhaps the Jabari originally are from Western Africa, and travelled East to Wakanda after the war with the old gods was over. But one notes that :
- Wakanda has a species of silver-furred gorillas, which are sacred to the Jabari.
- Some of the non-human predecessor folks in Wakanda were horned white ape-ish creatures, depicted as living on snowy mountains. This sure evokes the Jabari’s silver-furred gorillas.
In modern days, there is a long history of antagonism between the Panther God (the religion of the King of united Wakanda) and the Gorilla God (the patron orisha of the Jabari people). This may be an actual enmity, or a metaphor about the bitter and longstanding conflicts between the Jabari and other Wakandan politiesGeneral term for an organised group (a tribe, a democracy, a theocracy…).
When the Panther God cult is ascendant the Gorilla God cult tends to be outlawed.
The Crystal Forest
This is a strange area of Wakanda where the trees seem made of glass, and with Arctic weather. It also seems to be the native habitat of the white-furred gorillas. 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 crafts 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 baaaad 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 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-American-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 throne 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 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 on 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 Avenger the 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 – or resurrected him, it’s not clear.
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 set 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.
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..