DC First Issue Flashback – Justice League of America #64: The Red Tornado
Hello there! Thank you for joining me once again for DC First Issue Flashbacks! In this series, we will be looking at the first appearance of many of DC’s great characters, from A-List All-Stars to D-List Dorks.
Today, we will be looking at a member of the Justice League that I feel is often overlooked, despite his extensive tenure… Red Tornado!
Justice League of America (vol 1) #64
Story by: Gardner Fox
Art by: Dick Dillin and Sid Greene
We open with a meeting of the Justice Society of America on Earth-2, where currently, there is nothing to do. Hourman brags that he can use a machine that he has invented to predict when crimes will happen (sounds a bit Minority Report), but as he is demonstrating his machine, a crimson whirlwind rips through the JSA headquarters. Just as suddenly as it had begun, the tornado stops to reveal a red figure in a purple cape standing in the center of the room. This character reveals himself to be Red Tornado, former member of the JSA! The assembled heroes are in disbelief. The Red Tornado they all know and love is a woman with a pot on her head named Ma Hunkel. The new Red Tornado proves that he belongs in the JSA by telling each of the members details about their personal lives. As an act of good faith, Red Tornado allows them to remove his mask, revealing that he has no face at all. The JSA members decide to give this Red Tornado a shot, and just in time! Hourman’s machine predicts a crime at the 20th Century Museum and the JSA (with their new member) rush off to confront the criminals.
The JSA (Flash, Black Canary, Doctor Fate, Hourman, Starman, and Red Tornado) arrives to find a gang of faceless crooks vaporizing the museum with ray guns and absorbing the vapor into a space ship. This fact makes the JSA even more suspicious of Red Tornado, whom they know also has no face. However, there is no time to lose and the team launches into action. One by one, each of the JSA members is taken down, despite Red Tornado’s best efforts to save them all. The rays that have struck each member seem to have killed them, leaving only Red Tornado and Doctor Fate as the survivors of this mission. Red Tornado rushes off in an attempt to find the boss of the faceless gang, but feels himself drawn to the lab of T.O. Morrow (a recurring villain in Flash and JLA stories at the time). T.O. Morrow used a future predicting machine to learn that he needed to create the robotic Red Tornado in order for his crimes to succeed. Red Tornado bursts in and the two have a brief exchange before Reddy is blasted with a ray. Morrow learns that Red Tornado must be involved in the next crime for Morrow to succeed, so he reverses the energy on the ray and brings Red Tornado back to life.
With knowledge on how to revive the JSA members he was unable to save, Red Tornado rushes off to stop the next attack by the faceless gang. The remaining members of the JSA (Atom, Sandman, Green Lantern, Dr. Mid-Nite, Hawkman, and Mr. Terrific) soon arrive to find Red Tornado laying down the law on these crooks. The JSA cheers on Red Tornado and calls him a fellow member, which makes him feel a sense of belonging. He then takes one of the ray guns and shows the members that the gun can be reversed. However, this gun was a trap set by Morrow and when Red Tornado touches the controls, a blast shoots out, knocking every member of the JSA unconscious. Morrow escapes and learns that the only way he can return to Earth 1 and defeat the JLA is if Red Tornado does not interfere. (This story is continued in the next issue.)
This story is actually a bit of a surprise coming from Gardner Fox. Fox wrote the Justice League of America title from Brave and the Bold 28 until Justice League of America #67 (only sitting out an issue or two). Throughout his nearly uninterrupted run, Fox tended to lean on a lot of tropes. Most of the stories used the Scooby Doo formula of splitting up, failing, getting back together, and succeeding. The early JLA stories also had absurd twists of fate, which would somehow save the heroes. This story, however, is more reminiscent of the stories that make the JLA in the “Satellite Era” so excellent. The characters could use a bit more of a unique voice, but Red Tornado himself really stands out in this issue. Right from the start, we see that Red Tornado will be a character that struggles with his identity, his humanity, and his somewhat desperate need for approval. As for the art, this issue features the first time Dick Dillin draws for the Justice League of America title. It is this reviewer’s humble opinion that the Justice League’s look is defined by Dick Dillin’s art. Even the great art of George Perez seems to build off of the excellent platform that Dillin has established, rather than change the style. The faces are expressive, the action portrays motion and urgency, the costumes are crisp, and the effects look awesome. This is the epitome of the Silver Age and early Bronze Age look.
Although the title stars the Justice League of America, the occasional Justice Society issues are always a highlight. This issue is no exception. The plot moves really quickly, the action is fun, and the dialog is starting to shed some of the Silver Age camp. For a first appearance, the issue really surprised me with how well it characterized Red Tornado. Reddy has been a favorite of mine ever since I read my first Justice League issue (coincidentally, the issue in which he joins the JLA permanently). This issue is perfect for readers who want to hop on the Justice League title just before it launches into its peak. Once the heroes get on the Satellite (issue #78), the quality is consistently excellent for another 10-15 years. Just stop reading before Detroit.