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Batman and Red Tornado
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Fred Hembeck

Batman and Red Tornado
Uploaded June 15, 1999

Death and the single robot

You all know the guy on the left, right? That's Batman. Or The Batman, depending on how much Englehart/Rogers-like fanaticism you read into the character. (Insert plug here: go find yourself a copy of DC's mid-eighties reprints of Steve Englehart's and Marshall Rogers' Batman run from the 1970s, published as a five-issue 'Shadow of the Bat' series. Nifty stuff.)

The guy on the right, with the funky arrow stitched into the forehead of his costume, is the Red Tornado (tor-nay-do, tor-nah-do, let's call the whole thing off….). Reddy is a robot, not to be confused with Robbie the Robot, and probably never said anything like, "Danger, Elongated Man, danger!"

Red Tornado is unique in many ways. First of all, he's a robot super-hero, which gave DC's writers the opportunity to write about a hero with a profound inferiority complex. Red Tornado was made of metal, you see, and therefore felt that he couldn't be as useful as the other heroes. I didn't quite understand that, considering how wooden most of the other heroes were.

Get it? Metal? Wood? Never mind.

Red Tornado was created by an evil scientist (are there any other kind?) named Thomas Oscar Morrow as a weapon to be used against the Justice League and the Justice Society during one of their annual toboggan parties. I'd prattle on some about Morrow's calling himself 'The Tomorrow Man', but any discussion of super-villain names will be a whole column in itself. (I'm serious - I'll do one!) Morrow was unable to get Tornado to function properly, but arrived in his lab at some point to discover that the problem had corrected itself. You'll notice that this never happens in real life.

Anyhow - it wasn't quite that simple.

It turns out that an obscure Justice League character called the 'Tornado Champion', in pursuit of a more heroic existence, couldn't pass up the opportunity to encase itself within Reddy's robot body. Whoops - instant amnesia. Even though the Tornado Champion was a living, sentient being in its own right, once it meshed with the robotic form, it believed itself to be a robot. Mark this lesson well, kids: don't go diving into strange robot bodies. And stay away from evil scientists, too; you don't know where they've been.

This was a relatively early example of a retroactive continuity implant, which is often more painful than it sounds - to the fans at least. We can attribute this entry into the retcon sweepstakes to the team of Len Wein and George Perez, who worked on the JLA title for about a year. Perez, best known of late for his work with Kurt Busiek on Marvel's Avengers, had taken over pencilling duties on the book following the death of long-time DC artist Dick Dillin. Anyway, if you scrounge a bit, you ought to be able to find them fairly inexpensively.

Reddy has also (seemingly) died a couple of times, saving the world and/or everyone on it, but like that damn bunny, he just keeps on going and going and going….which leads us to a phenomenon uniquely characteristic of super-hero comic books. Ready? Repeat after me:

  1. He ain't dead 'til you see a body.
  2. Even if there's a body, it doesn't count for squat against the feverish imagination of your average comics writer.

If I had to guess, I'd say it was Bob Kane and Bill Finger who pioneered this cliché by killing off the Joker every other week, then bringing him back time and time again. Since then, it has become a pretty standard comics gimmick, usually identified with a cover blurb along the lines of 'This issue, somebody DIES!!!!!!!'

Of course, death is only temporary for the super-powered set. With very few exceptions, they always come back. Sometimes, a character only pretended to be dead, was propelled into a different universe, or found some other way to cheat the reaper. There are a few cases where characters have remained dead for a long time, but hey! Resurrection is just a retcon away!

Hey, DC - forget about bringing back Hal Jordan; we wanna see the Ten-Eyed Man face off against Man-Bat again!

- NP

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