Wednesday, January 15, 2014


Learn the astonishing true origin of the Red Tornado for this week.

V3.0 – 10 Stack shit upon shit 20 goto 10

"I'm Ed Tornado, nice to meet you."
At this point in Red Tornado’s colorless yet convoluted history, he’s been a Trojan Horse robotic jinx sent to destroy the heroes of two worlds, then a mopey, bright red Pinocchio longing to become a real boy while walking around in a peach-colored gimp suit and trenchcoat, mentally scarring his unfortunate girlfriend and adopted daughter.

Having spun his wheels – figuratively and literally, I suppose – for the subsequent decade, Red Tornado more resembled a broken record player than a whirlwind super-hero. His character arc was permanently stuck in first gear because, unfortunately, that was the only gear his motivation gave him -  a lachrymose longing to be human, for nebulous reasons, while effectively being human in every way except he wasn’t meaty, squishy, and getting cancer from diet sodas like the rest of us.

So, jump ahead to July and August of 1981 in the pages of Justice League of America (vol.1) numbers 192 and 193, where writer Gerry Conway and artist George Perez promised “The astonishing true origin of Red Tornado” and “Red Tornado Revealed”, one of which sounds like that specialty video I mentioned last time.

The story opens in the Justice League’s satellite headquarters where the regular members are having a meeting and Red Tornado apparently wasn’t invited – when will he take the hint? 

Responding to an unscheduled meeting the only sane way possible – namely destroying the meeting room and throwing everybody involved around with a robot hurricane, just as I’m sure we’ve all felt like doing at least once or twice at the office – Tornado is overcome and seemingly destroyed by his overeager teammates (who seemed a little too enthusiastic to take Tornado apart, to be honest). Hospitalizing a quarter of the League in a shocking display of sudden competence, it’s revealed that the offending Red Tornado is one of a pair of duplicate Red Tornado robots created and sent to destroy the League by Tornado’s original creator, the presumed dead scientific genius T.O.Morrow (“D.E.Main” in the bande dessinée version, “D.O.Mani” in the fumetti). Yes, by popular demand of nothing nowhere, T.O.Morrow made more Red Tornados. Boo.

Primarily with your tailor, I'd say.
Ultimately, the surviving Red Faux-nado abducts the original and returns him to Morrow’s lair, at which time we’re treated to just way too complicated a backstory on Morrow’s behalf about some apparently contradictory appearances the villain had made in a couple of largely unread DC side properties, Super-Team Family and DC Presents Some Other Book I Forgot Which. Then, literally, after several exposition-heavy pages explaining a continuity error about which surely no one outside of an insane asylum or the modern-day internet could possibly care, the conclusion to Morrow’s tale is “So anyway, I’m the real T.O.Morrow”. Thank you for confirming.

Morrow’s exhaustive retelling of a story no one wanted to hear explaining a problem that probably three people even noticed represents this entire two-issue arc in miniature, as the larger story goes on to further tie up loose continuity into what was probably intended to be a nice, neat package but is actually more like a handful of warm potato salad flung into an open wallet.

TO DIGRESS A MOMENT: The appeal of so many older comics – books which predated our limitlessly accessible, forever available, preserved in light for eternity exhaustively complete modern-day comics marketplace – really lay in their disposability.

I like the way your master thinks.

The fact that any particular issue of a comic would appear on the racks for – at best – a month, and then effectively vanish lent them a trashy, dynamic sense of immediacy where creativity and craft collided under the mandates of a monthly schedule for the purpose of entertaining the reader and, ideally, bringing them back next month. At this point in the very early Eighties, trade paperback collections were exceptionally few and generally limited to historically exceptional stories, comic shops were present but thin on the ground, and neither the digital marketplace and “phone book” collections even existed. The monthly book was the peak of a story’s exposure, and that month was the time to be excited about it.

Remind me to mention how
Firestorm is just a huge dumb
jackass throughout both of
these issues.
Nonetheless, there was a solid decade of stories crafted, originally for Marvel and later for DC, by writers like Conway, Wolfman, Wein, Engelhart, Thomas and others which were – while enjoyable on the whole for any number of reasons – incredibly obsessed with connecting dots across continuity. These stories – now available in a variety of formats which would have seemed like pipe dreams to the writers at the time – baffle your humble editor and always have. Only diehard fans even had back issue collections back then, and it would take a collector of tremendous resources and an arguably obsessive level of detail to have collected not only the Justice League issues necessary to understand this level of continuity accounting, but the ancillary and rarely read comics which additionally tied in. These seemed to have been intended for a very specific crowd. Casual readers were left in the cold.

That being said, I can’t pretend that there wasn’t something personally exciting about reading these dense tomes that were, by far, more concerned with flashing back to arguably relevant and increasingly obscure errata than framing a story, but then again your humble editor was a fucking nerd, and letting nerds have their way is how you guys got Agents of SHIELD swirling the drain of the primetime network schedule. 

Still, this is the currency of an entire decade of comic book storytelling - if not more – and this story is so resplendent in the bounty of such that it’s practically the Fort Knox of getting into the weeds of dumb comics.

Because we discover in short order that what we know as The Red Tornado is not just a robot with spinny mitts, but is in fact TWO SENTIENT ALIEN TORNADOS! And just because it’s comics, two sentient alien tornados we’ve seen before back in the day! Flashing al-ll-ll the way back to Justice League of America (vol.1) #17, the League was recruited by a nearly-omnipotent man-sized tornado creature calling itself The Tornado Champion to battle its evil other half, the Tornado Tyrant, a monster who had plagued Adam Strange over in his Mystery In Space title.

The original story of the Tornado Champion had been that the seemingly omnipotent alien being had tried to play hero by turning a barren planet into a perfect duplicate of Earth and splitting itself into perfect duplicates of the Justice League of the era, but then had to recruit the actual Justice League to defeat its evil half, the Tornado Tyrant. All of these sound like sandwiches. 

Mm, delicious sous-vide Aquaman.

After the defeat and the closing panels of JLA #17, we’re informed that a string of untenable coincidences occurred wherein the Tornado Champion, no longer interested in merely PLAYING hero, traveled into a different universe and happened to wander into T.O.Morrow’s lab just as Morrow was making a robot that happened to be tornado themed, and then the Champion tried to take over the robot but instead had its personality subsumed beneath Morrow’s programming. Apparently.

He has a purpose??
That is an all-you-can-eat buffet of unlikely happenstance, which is a pretty good way to describe Red Tornado right out of the gate. This story represents the first stage of Red Tornado becoming a tall stack of shit sandwich in lieu of developing an arc, and in a lot of ways is where the trouble really begins. Instead of having his existing character arc expanded, moving him to the next likely stage of his relationships and raison d’etre – frankly, the one thing that wouold have saved Tornado as a character, inasmuch as it’s how characters grow-  the decision is made to make him more interesting by chucking more stuff into him.

Which would be valid if the NEW content to his character is allowed to inform the character in any way, but it doesn’t – at the very least, the Tornado Tyrant is ridiculously powerful and the Tornado Champion has the power to give life to barren worlds and split its personality across homunculi of its own creation. Red Tornado, rather than incorporating any of these wildly new elements into his character, continues to merely suck the air out of rooms.

From here on out, Red Tornado becomes a character whose arc is forever stuck in first gear and yet continues to have more and more stuff added to his (upcoming) Who’s Who entry without any of it meaning much of anything. So he’s currently (a) the android invention of an evil genius and (b) a transfer from a parallel earth who is (c) a robot who longs for humanity and (d) a family man who (e) is also two space aliens. Why stop there? Why not also (f) a cross-dressing (g) cello student at Julliard (h) who gets adopted by the man who invented Donkey Kong and (i) competitively grows novelty mustaches (j) for the amusement of his neo-nazi wife and (k) wisecracking dog sidekick?

Who knows, maybe he will!

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