They call it the Pinnochio syndrome after the fictional marionette who wished to be a real live boy. Certain characters in comics and sci-fi suffer from it all the time, but in the 1960′s as artificial intelligence became more in the public mindset, the syndrome was attributed to androids. Created to be a perfect version of the human form, the one flaw that these robotic men share is their inability to actually be human. They can even mimic human emotions, but lack a soul to back them up. So it was that Red Tornado entered the comic book world with his nearly indestructible body and well-meaning heart, forever the outsider no matter how many superhero teams he joined up with.
Created in 1968 by architect of the superhero world, Gardner Fox (the same man who created the JSA and later JLA), Red Tornado premiered right around the same time as another android, the Vison. A robot without a soul, Red Tornado was a character cursed by failure and heartache. Designed as a secret weapon by the devious Professor T.O. Morrow, Red Tornado infiltrated the Justice Society of America of Earth-2 to take it down from within. The sad fact was that Red Tornado was unaware of his deceitful programming and so desperately wanted to help his new teammates. After inadvertently destroying each member of the team, Red Tornado crossed over to Earth-1 where he met the Justice League of America. Eventually, his programming was sorted out and he remained on Earth-1 as a member of the JLA.
Possessing an uncanny control over the very air around him, Red Tornado can create powerful cyclones of force tearing apart his enemies or lifting them off of the ground. He can concentrate his ability to his lower body, allowing him the ability of flight. As he is a robot by nature, Red Tornado can also interact with computer systems, making him invaluable to the Justice League. Exuding a soft spoken and unassuming personality, Red Tornado was often viewed as the soulful and kind member of the JLA during his time with the team.
Something of a modern-day version of the Martian Manhunter, Red Tornado was the social outcast of the group in the 1970′s and 80′s. After rescuing the young orphan Treya from the war-torn country of Bialya, Red Tornado assumed an alter-ego of John Smith. It was an unusual move to make essentially make a superhero into a single dad in order to make him more interesting. As ‘Smith’ attempted to learn more about humanity from serving as a caregiver, he met the beautiful Kathy Sutton who could sense the warm emotions bubbling underneath his cold exterior.
To add still another facet to the Red Tornado, a complicated backstory was added linking him to an obscure Adam Strange adventure. Issue 192 of the Justice League of America established that the robotic Red Tornado actually housed the soul of the Tornado Tyrant. While this did add some new ideas to the character of Red Tornado, it was a carefully-guarded secret shared only with the other newbie Firestorm. After several ‘deaths’ at the hands of supervillains only to be rebuilt again, Red Tornado finally met his end at the hands of the Anti-Monitor during the Crisis of 1985.
When Red Tornado resurfaced, he was revised to be an elemental champion alongside Firestorm (the fire elemental) and Swamp Thing (the earth elemental). This unique turn of events didn’t last long, however, and in short time he was written as a robotic being in search of his humanity. Serving as mentor to Young Justice, Red Tornado struggled to find his purpose but was eventually destroyed in space when he was struck by a Zeta Beam from Rann. Divided into many parts, he served a complicated purpose in warning the DC Universe of the resurfacing of the 52 faceted multiverse which was restructuring itself after its supposed destruction in 1985. Finally rebuilt, Red Tornado finally achieved a sort of humanity by taking possession of a corpse. The triumph is short-lived as it was all the clever work of Professor Ivo who sought to build an army of indestructible androids. A puzzling game of body swapping ensued resulting in Red Tornado rejoining his android body. Finally happy in the form that he had started in, Red Tornado found the courage to propose to Kathy Sutton and the pair are now raising Treya together.
In other mediums, Red Tornado has appeared in guest spots on Justice League Unlimited. More recently, Red Tornado appeared in the Batman The Brave and the Bold episodes ‘Revenge of the Secret Santas’ in which he strove to learn the meaning of Christmas and ‘Hail the Tornado Tyrant!’ in which he created a son of sorts. The depiction of Red Tornado in Brave and the Bold is a trifle simplified in comparison to his printed version, but as a fan of the character I found it charming. A brilliant android ignorant in the ways of Mankind, Red Tornado hilariously tries to connect on an intimate level with Batman (of all people) and even hands the hero a coffee mug (bearing the message ‘World’s Greatest Detective’) as a gift. I hope that we will see more of him in future episodes.
Despite the fact that Kurt Busiek wrote the initial Red Tornado mini-series, DC Comics has not reprinted the title. A solo mini was published examining Red Tornado’s place amongst the surviving androids of Professor Ivo, but it failed to generate sufficient following for the character. Currently, Red Tornado is in a kind of limbo where unused superheroes wait to be revived… but at least he’s not a flesh-eating Black Lantern!