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Saturday, September 19, 2015

First Image of Supergirl's Red Tornado

Edited by Robert Beach 

As some of you hopefully gleaned from the title of this article, there’s a Supergirl TV show currently in the works from the people at CBS. I’m not exactly sure why the show is being developed by CBS instead of CW, but it’s best not to get too caught up in these things and just accept DC comics TV rights are spread across all of TV for no real reason. 

What I do know is that the show will be adapting other DC heroes beyond just Supergirl as part of its supporting cast. The only hero yet confirmed is Red Tornado, played by Iddo Goldberg of Salem fame, and today we got our first look at him. Goldberg will also be playing super scientist and super villain T.O. Morrow, the man who invented Red Tornado in the comics, though the hows and whys of that particular casting have yet to be revealed.

As far as designs go, this one is okay. It reminds me of the villain designs used in X-Men: Apocalypse with the various moving parts and heavy texturing that seem like they might fall off the second he starts to move.  I’m not a huge fan of the veins and interlocking aspects of the design as that’s very much against the idea of Red Tornado from the comics, but I do like that his face remains completely intact. 

Also, the fact that they let him keep the big T on his chest is just marvelous. It’d be nice if this version of the character still had his cape, yet I could believe that will be added in during post production. That’s one of the key caveats of a lot of character design in superhero productions nowadays is we’re only really seeing about 70% of the character and that they can really change in post. Additionally, adding a cape in post production makes a lot of sense given that they’re long fluttery slices of fabric rarely go where directed and can easily get caught in something on set and blow a take. 

All that out of the way, let’s talk about Red Tornado because I’m 90% sure that even most comics fans don’t really know much about him. Red Tornado started life as one of the stranger results of the Golden Age/Silver Age divide I talked about already in my history of Martian Manhunter. What it boils down to is that in the ‘30s and ‘40s when the Justice Society was the biggest name in superhero comics, they had a sidekick member named Red Tornado who was essentially a joke superhero. 

This Red Tornado (Real name: Ma Hunkle) was famed for being in over her head and wearing a boiling pot on her head as a helmet. She was relatively short lived; however, the name stuck around into the Silver Age, and when the time came to reintegrate the Justice Society into the ongoing comics of the ‘60s, the decision was made to craft a new Red Tornado character. This one was an android. 

In 1968, DC told a JSA/JLA crossover story in which the villainous super scientist T.O. Morrow created an android servant named Red Tornado to infiltrate the two teams. The motivation was to help Morrow destroy them for him while also giving the android the power to manipulate the wind to create powerful cyclone attacks.  Interestingly, that same plotline popped up again a few months later that same year when Marvel adapted it for the introduction of The Vision in Avengers

Between the two, The Vision had the more successful debut as he joined the Avengers while Red Tornado was relegated to Justice Society membership at a time when the team didn’t have an ongoing comic. Red Tornado wouldn’t be confined to the dustbin of history even though his greatest achievement is honestly pretty disappointing.  

In 1972, during the comics era known as the Bronze Age in which the JLA first acquired a satellite headquarters, Red Tornado became the first major hero to get killed. It was part of a major crossover storyline where the JSA and JLA joined forces to recover a group of time lost heroes known as the Seven Soldiers of Victory. The Seven Soldiers had developed a way to defeat a powerful cosmic menace called the Nebula Man, but their solution was so powerful it would destroy whoever wielded it. Before the heroes could decide who would carry the deadly bomb, Red Tornado took it upon himself and was destroyed in the blast. It’s actually a really tragic and well-done moment that marked the end of the Silver Age of comics’ innocence. There’s even a great note left behind by Red Tornado where he talks about how his sacrifice is inherently worthless than anyone else’s because he’s only a machine. It’s a truly great story.

Eventually, Red Tornado reappeared on Earth-1 and became part of the Justice League. During this period, he adopted a human name and a human look, completing his transition from robot to android.  Taking the name John Smith, he also gained a new costume and became a longstanding member of the JLA despite being destroyed a number of times. He spent the rest of his pre-Crisis career in relative obscurity, showing up mainly as part of the JLA. After the crisis, DC decided to do something a little strange with the character. This was around the time Alan Moore had reimagined forgotten DC hero Swamp Thing into an Earth elemental, so the idea was decided that Red Tornado would return only now he’d be an Air elemental. This lasted for quite awhile and led to Red Tornado taking a big role in the Elemental War event comic. Since then, he’s mainly served as a supporting character, most notably he served as team grownup on the Young Justice comics of the late ‘90s.  

In more recent years, Red Tornado has been more or less glossed over as a character. There was a brief attempt in the time after Infintie Crisis to resurrect the character with a mini-series focusing on other robots T.O. Morrow had created like Red Inferno and Red Torpedo, but that garnered very little interest. The same was true of his joining the JLA under Brad Metlzer initial stewardship in a story that introduce a whole rainbow of Tornados that could control all aspects of the weather. 

Frankly I’m surprised we’re seeing Red Tornado at all in Supergirl. He’s not really a main character of the DC Universe or is there truly an abundance of things to be done with him. I mean, not to be too blunt about it, but his most important story is the one where he died; that’s not really a very good selling point. I guess if getting killed off can make Gwen Stacey an enduring and treasured part of the Spider-Man mythos, the same can work for Red Tornado. 

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