In 1983, Kurt Busiek was still relatively new to writing for the comic book industry when Dick Giordano (editor in chief at DC comics) offered him a chance to write the Red Tornado mini-series. Prior to this, Busiek had written an issue of Green Lantern, a few issues of Marvel’s Power Man/Iron Fist and a few Green Lantern Corps back-up tales. Giordano’s big plan was to have lesser-know JLA characters featured in their own distinct mini-series (most likely with the hopes of raising reader interest in the JLA). When Giordano asked Busiek if he had any ideas on how to handle the Red Tornado, Busiek jumped at the opportunity (once citing Red Tornado as one of his favorite DC characters). Busiek sought to alter Red Tornado for the better - attempting to make the character more in touch with his human side - hence adding to the Red Tornado mythos and giving future writers something more to explore. Thus, the creation of this four issue mini-series.
One of the biggest challenges for Busiek was making the Red Tornado interesting. Popular opinion in DC fandom (at the time) was that the Red Tornado was one of the more boring characters out there. As a matter of fact, since being introduced by Gardner Fox and Dick Dillin in 1968, the Red Tornado had already been killed off and resurrected twice in JLA history before appearing in this mini-series. The problem with the Red Tornado was that he’s always been a passive character in a comic series (JLA) that focused on big drama - Red Tornado was either the first character quickly destroyed/disabled by the villain to demonstrate how powerful the villain was or Red Tornado hung out in the back and did some busy work while all the other more popular characters had all of the action. This isn’t really surprising considering the Red Tornado was originally created as a revamp of a Golden Age DC character (Ma Hunkel) and was never intended to be more than an annual guest-star.
The plans for this mini-series were hatched in 1983 and it took about 2 years before they finally saw completion. Something else was happening during 1983 and 1985, and that something else was the plotting of the Crisis on Infinite Earths storyline by Marv Wolfman and other DC editors. It was decided by the powers that be at DC comics that Red Tornado would be destroyed once again in Crisis on Infinite Earths #8 (2 months after the mini-series came out!). Busiek wrote this mini-series with the intention of it leading into a regular series, but by the time it had been launched Busiek was made aware of DC’s plans for the Red Tornado - thus rendering his story somewhat useless - an exercise in futility.
Kurt Busiek really hit his stride when he wrote 1993’s Marvels for Marvel Comics. He then went on to create Marvel’s Thunderbolts (1997), write Marvel’s Avengers from 1998 - 2002, and create Astro City. In his post-1992 career, Busiek has won a ridiculous amount of awards for either being the year’s best or favorite writer.
I was enticed by this very house ad when I was youth, always making a mental note of checking it out someday. I always liked the Red Tornado and was eager to learn more about him. I mean, really, this character was just made to appeal to young comic book fans. Gaudy red outfit with an arrow on the head? Awesome. Big cape with a really high collar? Awesome. An android? Awesome. I remember being very enthralled by the Super Powers Collection Red Tornado action figure and his ‘tornado action’ legs. When I did finally pick up this mini-series many many years ago, I felt it was added bonus that it was written by Busiek and illustrated by Carmine Infantino. I remember being a little disappointed with the mini-series, however, as I was hoping for more appearances/involvement from other JLA members. I guess that just goes to reinforce the sentiment of Red Tornado being a dull character when he’s not part of a group.
This article originally published in November 2013.