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REVIEW:
DC UNIVERSE RED TORNADO FIGURE
By Thomas Wheeler


Ever wish that there was a DC Comics counterpart to the Marvel Legends figures? For a number of years, first Toy Biz and now Hasbro have produced an ongoing series of highly-articulated, comics-accurate (by which I mean non-animated-style) action figures derived from all corners of the Marvel Universe.

Mattel, holder of the DC Comics license has, perhaps understandably, kept its focus on characters within the Batman and Superman realms, venturing outside that only with the Justice League Unlimited line, a very cool line of action figures, but not exactly in the same category as Marvel Legends.

Well, finally, Mattel has stepped up to the plate with the new DC UNIVERSE CLASSICS line. Although that word "Classics" bothers me just a little, since one wonders if they'll be doing more modern incarnations of certain heroes, there's no question that the line in general is intended, not only as a successor to the Batman-Superman-oriented DC SUPER-HEROES line, but in many respects, the long-awaited and long-deserved DC version of Marvel Legends.

Mattel recently extended and expanded their license with DC Comics. This effectively gave them access to the ENTIRE DC Universe, something which apparently they didn't quite have. Please don't ask me to explain that one. I don't pretend to understand the legalities and particulars of such arrangements.

To that end, they have created the DC Universe line, and its first assortment features an interesting grouping of characters, featuring classic versions of Batman and Penguin, as well as figures of Etrigan the Demon, Orion, and the character I am reviewing here -- RED TORNADO.

While most commonly known as the android member of the Justice League of America, a post he recently reacquired with the "restart" of the Justice League of America title under the writing hand of Brad Meltzer, who in fact made Reddy the focal point of the first story arc, Red Tornado actually has a much more convoluted history within the DC Universe than some might expect.

Red Tornado's first appearance was in Justice League of America #64, in 1968 (Happy 40th, Red Tornado!). He is an android created by the supervillain T. O. Morrow for the purpose of infiltrating the Justice Society of America. After the android was complete, it was merged with two other entities: Ulthoon the Tornado Tyrant of Rann and the Tornado Champion.

Red Tornado was a character drastically affected by the events of the Crisis on Infinite Earths. Pre-Crisis, the Tornado Tyrant and Tornado Champion originally existed as a single entity from the planet Rann in the Earth-1 universe. They were ultimately split into two beings, one good and one evil. Through a series of events, the Tornado Champion made its way to Earth-2, where it encountered the villain T.O. Morrow, who was creating an android with which to infiltrate and defeat the Justice Society of America. The Tornado Champion decided to assume control of the robotic form. The merging had an unexpected side effect, however: The Tornado Champion's memory was erased. Red Tornado thus seemed to be a new life-form.

Believing itself to be the original JSA associate named Red Tornado, a different character entirely, Red Tornado visited JSA headquarters and announced its return to active duty. The JSA, not recognizing the android, was incredulous but allowed the Tornado to accompany them to defeat a theft at a nearby museum. Through a series of mishaps choreographed by Morrow, Red Tornado seemingly killed the JSA members. Red Tornado then tracked Morrow to his lair and seemingly defeated him. When the remaining JSA arrived to investigate, a booby-trapped weapon felled them all. Morrow then traveled to Earth-1, where he defeated the JLA as he had the JSA before them. Red Tornado followed Morrow and revived the JLA. The JLA and the android then defeated Morrow, uncovering a method to revive the JSA back on Earth-2. Morrow confessed that Red Tornado was his construct, but the JSA still admitted him as a member.

Red Tornado often felt he was an outsider in the JSA, and that he was not appreciated as a sentient, independent organism. During a later meeting of the Justice League of America, the JLA was summoned to Earth-2 to assist the JSA in defeating the Iron Hand, a sworn foe of the Seven Soldiers of Victory. The Iron Hand had created an orbiting weapon, shaped like a hand, that threatened Earth-2. Doctor Fate summoned a being known as the Oracle, who informed them of the Iron Hand's last defeat, which cost the life of one of the Seven Soldiers of Victory. The JLA and JSA split into teams and rescued the members of the SSV, who had been scattered throughout time, and with their help created a weapon that would destroy the Iron Hand's device. The delivery of the device to its necessary location was a suicide mission, one which Red Tornado secretly took while the other heroes were engaged in dealing with the Iron Hand. Red Tornado was believed to be destroyed. He survived, however, and was catapulted to the Earth-1 universe, where he ultimately became a member of the Justice League of America. In the JLA, Red Tornado finally found a measure of acceptance.

While a member of the Justice League, the Red Tornado developed a human alter ego appearance, that of a man named John Smith

Post-Crisis, things got even weirder for the Tornado. During the Crisis on Infinite Earths, The Tornado Champion was again separated from his android host body, becoming an air elemental due to the Anti-Monitor utilizing him as a weapon against the combined might of both the Justice League and Society.

After the Crisis, the Red Tornado/Tornado Champion retained his air elemental status, and became the personification of a force of nature along with Swamp Thing (as an earth elemental), Firestorm (as a fire elemental) and Naiad (as a water elemental). The Red Tornado, like the Swamp Thing, used his newfound responsibilities to act as a protector and advocate of nature.

Air pollution had an adverse effect on the Red Tornado/Tornado Champion, driving him half-mad and into conflict alongside Naiad against Firestorm and the Swamp Thing in The Elemental War. Eventually, Firestorm calmed both the Red Tornado and Naiad, and manufactured a new body shell for the Red Tornado. It appears this new body was imperfect, as the Red Tornado began to experience serious malfunctions. His humanity was almost lost, and his physical appearance became more and more damaged, dirty and clearly not right.

Red Tornado spent some time silent and unmoving in the old, empty JLA headquarters located in Happy Harbor, Rhode Island. The three young heroes, Robin, Superboy and Impulse spent a sleepover there. Impulse's behavior annoys Red Tornado to such an extent, he voluntarily reactivates himself.

Upon re-establishing his abilities to move properly and communicate, the Red Tornado re-establishes his connections with the Justice League and the regular super hero community. He served as an advisor for Young Justice, and as an auxiliary member of the JLA.

In the events following DC's Identity Crisis mini-series, Red Tornado is attacked by the surviving members of the original Secret Society of Supervillains. His body is completely destroyed before the JLA arrive. Batman takes the remains to the Batcave, building an upgraded android body.

Red Tornado was one of the heroes recruited by Donna Troy to fight against the menace in space during Infinite Crisis. According to a conversation between Doc Magnus and his creator T.O. Morrow in 52, The Red Tornado sacrificed himself during the Crisis (in fact he was utterly destroyed, hit by a stray Zeta beam signal). Morrow's response to this news is to question how many times the Tornado has actually died now, clearly indicating he expects the Red Tornado to return to active status eventually.

With the restart of the Justice League of America title, Red Tornado enjoyed his most extensive and complex storyline to date: After the events in DC's One Year Later storyline, Red Tornado's android body is fully repaired. However, his soul chooses to enter a human body. When the Justice League of America calls him back as a member, John Smith returns as a human being, showing the same wind powers of his robotic form but lacking the stamina and resilience of his android body.

His android body is stolen from Will Magnus' lab by Dr. Impossible. Magnus notifies Red Tornado, who then leaves to find his stolen android body. Several former Justice League members track the android body to a remote mountain base and confront Professor Ivo, a frequent ally of T.O. Morrow. Ivo then releases a swarm of various activated Tornado Androids to assault the heroes. After the androids are defeated, and Red Tornado arrives, it is revealed that this has been orchestrated by a revived and intelligent Solomon Grundy.

Solomon Grundy confesses that he masterminded the plan that put the former android in a human shell meant to cripple him, slowly robbing Red Tornado of his health and powers, although a mishap let Tornado keep his powers even in his weakened form. Grundy also had the Red Tornado Android body infused with a multitude of super powered objects, along with one of Ivo's Amazo chip, another android foe of the Justice League, to create an invincible shell to house his soul so he will never die again. The assembled heroes, along with others, go after the Red Tornado/Amazo android, who, thinking himself to be John Smith, goes to see John's family. Over the years, Tornado had developed a relationship with a human named Kathy Sutton, and adopted a daughter named Traya.

Grundy beats the human John Smith within an inch of his life, although is ultimately defeated when Smith summons the last of his power reserves to defeat the monster. The assembled heroes, with help from Kathy Sutton, manage to neutralize Amazo. Slowly dying, Tornado asks his wife to quickly rebuild the Red Tornado android and allow him to return.

Red Tornado, once again in his android form, joined the Justice League of America with his usual array of powers. However, since the return to his robotic body, Red Tornado has begun behaving out of sorts, even losing control of his powers at one point. He also has become increasingly cold and detached from his friends and family, acting more like a machine than a sentient being.

After the team's battle with the Injustice League, Red Tornado's body was badly damaged, and his consciousness has been placed into the Hall of Justice's computer systems, which is pretty hysterical in one sense, given that this was something that also happened to Marvel Comics' android member of the Avengers, the Vision, at one point.

On a final cryptic note, when the pre-Crisis version of the Legion of Super-Heroes turned up in the present day during the "Lightning Saga" storyline, the energy-being hero known as Wildfire reveals that his humanoid containment suit was built out of the Red Tornado's robotic shell. Before returning to the future, Wildfire cryptically says to Red Tornado "Fight what's inside you, John. Fight it."

As to the figure -- there haven't been a lot of Red Tornado action figures over the years. Certainly the best previously known one would have to have been from Kenner's Super Powers line in the 1980's. Red Tornado has simply not been a prominent enough character to warrant a lot of appearances in the toy aisle. He didn't even turn up very often in the Justice League Unlimited animated series, and has never had his own comic book title, or even, as far as I have been able to determine, much in the way of independent adventures.

However, he's certainly been around long enough, and is certainly well known enough to DC Comics fans to warrant an action figure, and Mattel has done a very capable job of producing one.

Let me take a moment and address a matter here. Mattel's been taking a lot of heat in the fan community lately for their action figures, especially the DC-related ones. Comments tend to criticize Mattel mostly for lack of articulation, and poor distribution of product. The latter is not entirely the fault of Mattel. They cannot force a store to carry a toy line, and unfortunately, the nation's 400-pound-gorilla of a retailer, Wal-Mart, has chosen not to carry any DC-based product except that based on "The Batman" animated series. This means that DC Universe will be a little tougher to find.

As for the articulation issues -- this MAY be a valid point, but it seems absurd to complain about the Justice League line, seeing as how it's been around for YEARS, and people know what to expect from it. There was a lot of griping recent (at the time of this writing) over a new line of more realistic DC action figures from Mattel, called "Infinite Heroes", which seem to be in about the 4" range, with fans complaining about articulation levels when the pictures shown were clearly those of prototypes. Can we at least wait until this stuff hits the stores and see what we really get!? As to healthy levels of detail and articulation, if that's what you're looking for in your DC Super- Heroes, then the DC Universe Classics line is the place to look. And Red Tornado is certainly a good example.

Red Tornado stands about 6-1/2" in height, which puts him in good measure alongside most Marvel Legends figures, should you want to cross concepts.

As one would expect, the figure is very highly detailed and nicely sculpted. These are not animated-style figures at all. Red Tornado looks as realistic as the best comic artists are capable of portraying the character. Certainly living up to his name. Red Tornado is predominantly red, including his head and the bulk of his uniform. He has a reasonably human-looking face, something the character lacked for a time. The main color of trim on his costume is yellow. Red Tornado has yellow gloves, yellow tops to his red boots, a yellow belt, a yellow circle on his upper chest with a "T" inside of it, and single vertical yellow stripes down his torso, arms, and legs.

One of the artistic variances that Red Tornado has had over the years are these stripes. Sometimes they've been there, sometimes they haven't been, sometimes they've been fairly extensive, especially on the legs. This "classic" rendition of the Red Tornado has captured the stripes without going overboard.

It should be noted that there are two versions of this Red Tornado figure. They are largely identical, although the reportedly "standard" one has red gloves and red boots, and lacks the leg stripes. The "classic" variant, which is the one I picked up entirely by chance (offhand I don't think I've even seen the other one) has the leg stripes, yellow gloves, and both the gloves and boots are more "flared" than on the other version, on which they are more form-fitting. Interesting that Mattel would go to the trouble of creating separate mold pieces for two versions of this figure, a character who is arguably not exactly a first-tier player in the DC Universe, despite a decently lengthy history.

Red Tornado is also wearing a cape, which is blue with a very high collar. The cape is bordered in red. In a nice little variance of color, his eyes are green.

Red Tornado is very fully articulated at the head, arms, upper swivel arm, elbows, wrists, mid-torso, waist, legs, upper leg swivel, knees, and ankles. About the only point of articulation lacking that I would've liked to have seen would've been a swivel at the boot tops.

Any complaints? Nothing too serious. One of them is a frequent gripe of mine with certain action figures. Somebody at Mattel felt obliged to splatter a bit of orange paint on the yellow striping. It's completely pointless, and it took me a while to find a Red Tornado figure that didn't look as though he'd dribbled orange juice down his shirt.

The cape is a little problematic from a few standpoints. It's molded from plastic, and this can sometimes be rather tricky to pull off effectively. In this case, the cape comes across as being a little too bunched up. Additionally, the red trim on it is rather obviously hand-painted. It's done rather neatly, but to me, this sort of thing looks a little unprofessional when I encounter it.

Finally, although the figure is not overly pre-posed, which would be rather difficult in a figure with this level of articulation, the legs do maintain a sort of "action stance" that doesn't work quite as well or look quite as good as one might hope. I would've preferred to have seen a more straightforward leg articulation, and leave the fancy action stances to those that wish to position their figures like this. It's a little tricky to get the feet to be placed level on a surface so the figure can stand properly.

Red Tornado comes with a small accessory, a transparent orange "tornado" effect that can be clipped to either hand. He also comes with one part of another DC super-hero, Metamorpho. Following the tradition established by Marvel Legends with their "Build-A-Figure" practice, in which you can get all the necessary parts of an additional figure in a given assortment of figures assuming you buy that entire assortment of figures, Mattel has introduced "Collect and Connect" into their DC Universe line. The first such figure is Metamorpho, a rather bizarre hero who is able to convert and reshape his body based on various elements. It's not unfitting that he's the first "Collect and Connect" figure, since in his most basic form, he looks like he was put together from mismatched puzzle pieces anyway.

So, what's my final take on Red Tornado? I'm very impressed and very pleased. There are a few issues, but nothing serious, and nothing that doesn't occasionally crop up in other lines. Mattel is doing a good job with these, and I sincerely hope that the DC Universe Classics line continues for a good long time. Characters in this, and announced for future assortments, are interesting and worthy additions to a good, realistic-looking, DC-based action figure line that, honestly, is long overdue.

We finally have that line. I look forward to seeing where it goes, I wish it a long and healthy run, and RED TORNADO, as a representative of its first wave, definitely has my enthusiastic recommendation!