March 2, 2024

Gabbing Geek

Your online community for all things geeky.

Slightly Misplaced Comic Book Heroes Case File #144: Ma Hunkel, The Red Tornado

Watson suggested this one. It was a good suggestion.

I generally write these up the Saturday before they go up, and while I generally come up with someone to write about during the course of the day, sometimes it takes some effort.  I have written up 144 of these things after all.  This time around I asked in the Gabbing Geek Home Office for a suggestion and Watson immediately suggested Ma Hunkel.

That’s a really good suggestion.  Let’s go with it.

Ma Hunkel started off not in a superhero book, but a humor book.  The main character was a young boy named “Scribbly,” an autobiographical stand-in for creator Sheldon Mayer.  Ma Hunkel was the rather formidable woman who ran the local grocery story.  She had a kid named Sisty who was good friends with Scribbly’s kid brother Dinky, which you would know if you read the box I posted above.

At some point, partially because Scribbly loved the adventures of the Green Lantern and company, Ma donned a silly costume made up of a pot on her head and a set of red long-johns and went out to fight crime as the Red Tornado.

Plus, she fought Nazis. That makes her A-OK in my book.

Now, Ma Hunkel as the Red Tornado was actually popular enough to earn a one page cameo in the Justice Society’s first appearance, but she couldn’t stay because it turned out she’d split her pants and was sneaking off.  The reprint I read of it ages ago suggested she was a member, at least an honorary one, and the other heroes were aware of her real name.  What this does, of course, is put the humorous DC characters and the heroic ones in something of a shared universe.

Now, more modern stories featuring Ma take an interesting turn.  At some point, she was retconned into a Rosie-the-Riveter type who teamed up with some female superheroes to fight some saboteurs during World War II.

Later it would come out that Ma entered the Witness Protection Program after taking down/testifying against some mobsters.  She left when the JSA came to get her around 1950 to tell her the last of the mobsters died out.  Ma hung up her tights and became essentially the caretaker/den mother for the JSA’s museum headquarters ever since.  Or at least until Flashpoint made the New 52.

Ma Hunkel doing her thing into her old age.

Now, DC does love its legacies, and even Ma Hunkel had them.  The most famous was the robotic Red Tornado that appeared in the Silver Age, starting off as a member of the Justice Society before transferring to Earth-1 and joining the Justice League.  That Red Tornado was initially clumsy and inclined to screw-up, with the members of the JSA telling him in his first appearance the Red Tornado was a woman named Ma Hunkel.  More modern comics included a motormouthed granddaughter with actual wind powers named Cyclone that joined her grandma on the JSA.

The other Tornados.

So, despite being initially a straight-up comedic character, Ma Hunkel has become a fairly recognizable (though often still humorous) member of a prominent DC superhero team.  Heck, a robotic version of her appears in Kingdom Come.

Not bad for a joke character, though the greater DCU includes stretchy heroes, talking animals of all kinds, living mannequins, and Aquaman, all somehow living in the same universe.  There was always room for the absurd.