Thursday, March 22, 2012

1984 Red Tornado Postcard by George Pérez

An android created by T.O. Morrow. In a scheme to destroy the JLA and JSA, the Tornado joined the League following Morrow's defeat to fight crime and to learn about human emotions. He can create tornado-velocity whirlwinds.

Despite my routine tongue-in-cheek references to hating Red Tornado, that isn't the truth of the matter. In all honesty, I could never muster an emotion as powerful as hatred over such a sorry excuse for a character.

Since Red Tornado wasn't a Super Friend, my introduction to the guy was probably the cover of Justice League of America #217, on which he came in second only to Elongated Man as worst designed/least visually interesting. Even in my youth, I thought his design was juvenile, especially that ridiculous arrow on his forehead. I'd see him here and there afterward, associating him with the JLA's bait & switch practice of getting my attention with a glorious George Perez cover, only to crack it open to find the likes of Don Heck, George Tuska or Dick Dillin on interior art. In 1985, Red Tornado joined the Super Powers Collection. I bought something like 80% of that second wave of action figures, including friggin' Desaad, but not RT. His action feature was to do the twist, which reminded me how one-note his actual comic book powers were. See, he makes tornados of various sizes, and flies by having his lower body disappear into a tornado. I never liked the Flash because all he does is move fast, and his 95% red costume is too simple for my taste. Red Tornado only has one of Flash's various speed effects as his entire power, has the same shade of yellow as his highlight color, and the parts of his suit that aren't red are awkward and laughable.

Did you know Red Tornado had a back-up strip in 1980s issues of World's Finest Comics? I sure as hell didn't. It apparently ran for seven issues before getting bumped by Plastic Man. Usually, it's Plas getting thrown out of a book. That says something. Anyway, Red Tornado got a four issue mini-series in '85. It had a very striking house ad where the robot was disassembled, but when I tossed through an actual issue, it had thoroughly unappealing old school art by Carmine Infantino and Frank McLaughlin. For the most part, I got through the 1980s without giving the character another thought.

Possibly my first direct exposure to RT in an in-continuity story was Primal Force #0, where he was the only recognizable face on a new and deeply underwhelming team. As a robot, he'd devolved into a less human form, and by extension was remarkably more boring than ever. In 1998, a more classical RT became the mentor of Young Justice, which was the first time I noticed that he was doing pretty much the exact same thing Martian Manhunter had been doing in Justice League Task Force. I was struck by how visually similar the two characters were, especially since J'Onn J'Onzz had started popping the collar of his cape like RT, while the Tornado had begun folding his collar down like J'Onzz. Both had blue capes, appeared to be bald humanoid males with prominent brows, wore trunks and cavalier boots, and had aloof personalities. The parallels didn't stop there. Both were named John, with generic surnames (Jones and Smith,) and both took on human guises. Doing a bit of research, I came to realize Red Tornado joined the Justice League within a few years of Martian Manhunter's departure, played a similar role as outsider observer of human culture, hung around until the mid-80s, and didn't leave until being ousted by the return of the Alien Atlas. When J'Onn J'Onzz stopped being a member of any JLA team after 22 years of continuous service, thanks to a Satellite Era fanboy writer, he was replaced by the Red Tornado. For this reason, I often refer to him mockingly as "The Usurper."

RT was another one of those weird dual analogue characters popular in the 1970s. That is to say, both he and Marvel's The Vision revival came out around the same time, and involved androids created by established evil scientists to infiltrate and destroy a super-team from within, but both turn good and develop a penchant for crying. Both characters took up sexual relations with human women, both adopted children, both have a tendency to get ripped to pieces or turn temporarily evil, and they even look alike.

Going further back, this Red Tornado was preceded by Ma Hunkel, one of DC's first costumed heroines, albeit played for laughs. The original Red Tornado was a tough husky woman of the Golden Age who made up for her lack of abilities and resources with moxie. The android Red Tornado was yet another fit white male in appearance to come out very late in the Silver Age with incredible inborn powers he used to be a whiny, ineffectual "hero" granted near immediate access to the JLA. While few would count him as the first Bronze Age super-hero, John Smith certainly anticipated the worst tendencies of "feet of clay" heroes the fan-writers of the "Me" decade adored.

There's a lot more to Red Tornado's origins. Besides being built by T.O. Morrow, he somehow got possessed by an old Adam Strange space villain, I think. That whole Tornado Champion/Tyrant thing always confused me. Later still, he became Earth's Air Elemental, but that fell by the wayside along with Firestorm, Naiad, and somehow even Captain Atom ("Quantum Elemental?") horning in on Swamp Thing's act. A few years back, we learned there were a bunch of other androids, like Red Torpedo and Red Volcano, that most folks would love to see introduced to Red Rum. It was all part of DC trying to pretend Red Tornado had lore worth exploring and a fan base-- as if.

I genuinely feel that the Red Tornado embodies much of what was and continues to be wrong with comics books. He has a terrible set of origins dependent on ties to impenetrable continuity, a lousy personality, lame powers, an ugly costume, he wipes his rust hole on his legacy status, and exists in opposition to racial and gender diversity in comics. Red Tornado is a character who makes a comic book worse simply by being in it, but is perfectly willing to actively push a book over the abyss with his distasteful activities. The Red Tornado as it stands is an irredeemable abomination, begging to finally be destroyed to make way for a better use of the trademark. If nothing else good comes out of the New 52, it would be nice to see an entirely new female Red Tornado abolish the memory of this hunk of junk forevermore.

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