Today sees the launch of the new Red Tornado mini-series so I thought I’d take a look at the origin of the Red Tornado. Once a year during the 1960s the JLA of Earth-One would team-up with their older counterparts the JSA of Earth-Two. The 1968 team-up introduced a new character to the JSA, the android Red Tornado, a Trojan Horse designed by the scientist T.O. Morrow.
The android Red Tornado first appeared in the 1968 JLA/JSA crossover present in JUSTICE LEAGUE OF AMERICA (Vol 1.) #64/65 (August/September 1968) and written by Gardner Fox, illustrated by Dick Dillen and Jack Abel, and edited by Julius Schwartz. This particular story is notable because it the first story after the original JLA penciller, Mike Sekowsky, had left the series.
The first issue of the crossover (JLA #64) doesn’t even feature the JLA. It opens with the sudden appearance of the Red Tornado at a Justice Society meeting claiming to be one of their original members. And indeed there was a Golden Age character called the Red Tornado who has a claim, albeit a rather dubious one (as acknowledged by the JSA themselves), of being a member of the JSA. She was a character called Ma Hunkel who dressed up in a makeshift costume, with a saucepan on her head, and called herself the Red Tornado.
Any readers interested in Ma Hunkel should be directed towards Richard Meyer’s excellent piece on “Red Tornado and the Cyclone Twins.” On the issue of Ma’s membership of the JSA Richard tells us that:
A lot of sources and people contend that this [single appearance] means that The Red Tornado was never a member of the Justice Society. She’s been shown in a few of team pin-ups sitting with them, and she did appear in that pivotal first issue (well third issue, if you’re a stickler). [...] As far as this writer is concerned, The original Red Tornado was a member of the Justice Society of America. So there. PBBBBTTT!
Well that tells us then! I guess the original Red Tornado has as much right to claim membership of the JSA as ol’ Phantom only-when-it-suits-him Stranger has a right to claim membership of the JSA. And while I’m on the subject check out Joel Priddy’s re-imagining of the Golden Age Red Tornado on Project Rooftop.
Now where was I, ah yes JLA #64… The JSA don’t really know what to make of this interloper. He clearly isn’t a dumpy middle-aged woman with a sauce pan on her head, but he does know their secret identities. The Society’s deliberations are cut shot by a forecast of an emergency at the The 20th Century Museum and they’re forced to take the Tornado along with them. The Flash (Jay Garrick) warns him “Okay! But the mystery about you isn’t solved yet, Red Tornado — not by a long shot!” The JSA fight a group of faceless thieves at the Museum, but the Red Tornado’s help is disastrous. His attempts to help are well intentioned, but he inadvertently causes each hero he teams up with to be killed!
Needless there is more to this new hero than meets the eye. He was actually created by futurist and cyberneticist T.O. Morrow (Thomas Oscar Morrow) as a trojan horse with which to attack the Justice Society. A computer he’d stolen from the future with a “fourth-dimensional grapple-beam” predicted that Morrow could only defeat the JSA by adding another member “by using the humaniztron to create such a member — called the Red Tornado! After suitable programming with knowledge I have of the Justice Society, he will be allowed to team up with them.” Morrow was so uninterested in his new invention that he didn’t even bother to give him a face beneath his armoured mask.
The Red Tornado isn’t even aware of his creator until after half the JSA are “dead.” The Tornado’s attempt to turn on Morrow only results in the “deaths” of the other half of the Society. In the second part of the story, Morrow turns his attention to the Justice League on Earth One, however, this time his computer warns him that “the only way your plan to overcome the Justice League can fail — is if the Red Tornado intervenes.” Morrow uses the same future technology to “kill” half the Justice League with doppelgängers of their loved ones, before setting doppelgängers of their worst villains on the survivors. Morrow has always been rather odd.
For his part the Red Tornado awakens to discover that Morrow’s Earth-Two laboratory is empty. He follows his creator’s trail across to Earth-One where he discovers the bodies of the Justice League. He has also discovered that Morrow’s secret is that he’s using a form a future energy to incapacitate his enemies in a death-like state, but that they can be reawakened if the polarity of the energy is reversed. Doppelgängers of the League’s loved ones had killed them so the Tornado recruits their real loved ones to deliver the wake up kiss, Sleeping Beauty style (he couldn’t have kissed them himself… no lips!)
Once the Red Tornado has revived the Leaguers its a fairly quick jaunt for them to jump back to Earth-Two, defeat Morrow, and for the Red Tornado to awaken the JSA members using the gun that killed them (no lips needed this time). The old Gardner Fox written Justice League comics could be rather non-linear at times. The heroes would jump through all sorts of convoluted hoops for almost the entire story and then defeat the villain in a matter of a few panels on the last couple of pages.
In gratitude for saving them, the Justice Society gives the Tornado full membership, but even then he’s not happy.
Beside that panel is a call to the 1960s readers for their opinions of this new JSA hero.
Will the Red Tornado, product of a machine, achieve his goal? Can he live as a human being — or is he fated to exist only as a super-humanoid? If you would like to see further adventures of the Red Tornado in his quest for a place in the sun — please write and tell us so!
By the time of the 1969 JLA/JSA team-up the job of writing the Justice League’s adventures had passed to a young Denny O’Neil. He interjected more characterisation into the Leaguers and has the Atom nickname the Tornado “Reddy.” In the opening pages of JUSTICE LEAGUE OF AMERICA #72 (June 1969) the Tornado come whirling into the JLA headquarters knocking over a statue of the Martian Manhunter. Hr gets insulted by the Atom (twice) and to add insult to injury the JLA don’t even bother to stick around to hear his urgent message from Earth-Two.
However, the Tornado gets the last laugh as he’s the one who saves the day when his non-human body proves invulnerable to the magics that have laid the League low. Even the Atom tells him that “Reddy, pal, you are the most beautiful lobster-red android on Earth” (no wonder Jean went psycho if that’s a genuine reflection of Ray’s preferences).
The League still keeps him waiting for two weeks until JUSTICE LEAGUE OF AMERICA #73 (August 1969) when he’s able to tell them about the rogue star Aquarius who has imprisoned the Justice Soceity and erased all life on Earth-Two. Reddy doesn’t play too much of a part in the conclusion in JUSTICE LEAGUE OF AMERICA #74(September 1969). Again it’s the Atom who tells the Red Tornado to stay behind with the women (I kid you not) while the Green Lanterns manage to defeat Aquarius by getting him to visit the Anti-Matter Universe without any sunscreen (instant matter/anti-matter explosion).
We next encounter the Red Tornado during the 1970 JLA/JSA team-up. He hasn’t cheered up much, despite being separated from the Atom’s bullying for a year. In JUSTICE LEAGUE OF AMERICA #82/83 (August/September 1970) he’s off mooching around deep space when he’s captured by the villain of the week.
The villain called Creator 2 uses the Tornado’s vibrational powers to cause Earth-One and Earth-Two to align and slowly merge. Defeats of a hero on Earth-Two cause their doppelganger on Earth-One to be similarly afflicted. Reddy spends the entire two-part story stuck between the universes as a plot device for the bad guy. Ultimately its the Spectre who has to separate the Earths.
So far the Red Tornado has almost killed very member of the Justice League and Justice Society, been so timid he took two-weeks to convince the JLA to help the JSA, and nearly caused the destruction of Earth’s One and Two. Maybe the Atom is correct, maybe this android truly is as bloody useless as he appears.