Red Tornado

The Red Tornado is a fictional character, a superhero in the DC Comics universe, debuting during the Golden Age of Comic Books. Created by Sheldon Mayer, she first appeared in her civilian identity as Abigail Mathilda ‘Ma’ Hunkel in All-American Publications’ ‘All-American Comics’ #3 (June 1939), and became the ‘Red Tornado’ in ‘All-American Comics’ #20 (Nov. 1940).

As the Red Tornado, she was one of the first superhero parodies, as well as one of the first female superheroes (possibly the very first), and, when occasionally disguised as a man, comics’ first cross-dressing heroine. (Madame Fatal, earlier that year, was the first cross-dressing hero.) Initially as simply ‘Ma Hunkel,’ the Golden Age Red Tornado originated in Sheldon Meyer’s semi-autobiographical humor feature ‘Scribbly,’ about a boy cartoonist, in ‘All-American Comics.’ The feature ran through ‘All-American Comics’ #59, in 1944, the year DC Comics absorbed All-American Publications.

In the original comics in the 1940s, Ma Hunkel is a working mother whose costume consists of longjohns and a cooking pot on her head. She adopts the identity of the Red Tornado to fight local criminals in her New York City neighborhood, inspired by her son’s admiration for the superhero Green Lantern. The character’s popularity was such that she was given a cameo in the first adventure of the ‘Justice Society of America’ (predecessor to the Justice League of America), visiting the JSA’s headquarters but being forced by a humorous mishap, her pants split, to leave without having the chance to apply for membership. However, later Justice Society stories have declared Ma to be an honorary member of the team.

Ma Hunkel returned in ‘JSA’ #55 (2004). This story reveals that Ma had been in the Witness Protection Program since 1950. Senior JSA members Green Lantern, the Flash, Hawkman, and Wildcat find Ma to tell her that she can come out of hiding, as the last member of the gang against whom she testified in 1950 has died. Ma subsequently becomes caretaker of the JSA’s Manhattan museum/headquarters. She does not, however, resume her crimefighting activities as the Red Tornado. Her children briefly have their own costumed adventures, starting in the title ‘Young Justice.’ They band together with other Golden Age sidekicks out of concern for the safety of younger superheroes.

Due to her bright red longjohns costume and roly-poly build, she is sometimes jokingly referred to as the ‘Red Tomato.’ However, Ma has some fighting ability, using a mace and gas weaponry to help the younger JSA stun and delay members of the invading ‘Injustice Society.’ In her prime, Ma Hunkel was a surprisingly strong woman. Many who encountered her often believed that the Red Tornado was, in fact, a man, a notion that helped protect Ma’s secret identity on more than one occasion. In the ensuing years, Ma Hunkel’s strength level diminished with age. Ma Hunkel was also a great cook with an ability to feed a large group of people which included the Justice Society of America.

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