Ma Hunkel: America’s First Lady Hero
Posted June 2, 2010on:
When I say the name “Red Tornado,” you undoubtedly assume I’m talking about DC’s modern incarnation, a big red robotic wind elemental guy from Rann who wants nothing more than to be human and love on his family. Well, come on! This is the DC Universe, where every character ever is part of some long, long legacy of somewhat similar (even if just by name) characters! And, as bizarre as it sounds, Red Tornado’s legacy goes all the way back to 1939, predating even Jay Garrick, Wonder Woman, and Alan Scott (sort of) by a couple months.
Acquired in DC’s buyout of All-American Publications, Ma Hunkel debuted in June 1939’s All-American Comics #3, in which she started making repeated appearances in its Scribbly Jibbet features, written, penciled, inked, lettered, and edited by Sheldon Mayer. She was also a single mother of two kids, Huey (best friend of Scribbly’s) and Sisty (best friend to Scribbly’s little brother, Dinky). And she didn’t do much.
Finally, in November 1940’s All-American Comics #20, something happens. Ma’s brother-in-law strikes it big at the track and gives her the money to purchase the Schultz’s Grocery Store. As soon as she opens the doors, some local mobsters from the Torponi gang come in and try to shake her for protection money. Now, Ma is pretty burly and fights them off, but Sisty and Dinky hide in the Torponis’ car, pretty much kidnapping themselves. After the NYPD refuses to go after the Torponis, Scribbly tells her about the Green Lantern (who, at this point, was only four issues old). So Ma does the least logical thing possible and, instead of calling Green Lantern, the superpowerless Ma Hunkel puts on red tights, puts a cooking pot on her head, and goes out as the Red Tornado to rescue her kids (as far as I know, making her the first female superhero ever).
After she rescues Sisty and Dinky, NYPD police chief Gilhooley takes sole credit for bringing down the Torponi gang. When confronted by Ma Hunkel in her Red Tornado garb in front of the press, Gilhooley decries vigilantism and orders Red Tornado’s arrest. Ma evades capture by putting her costume on a gorilla, letting it get arrested in her place. Everybody all ready assumed that under the costume Red Tornado was a dude (what with how strong Ma is), but now they come to the conclusion that was the gorilla the whole time. Goddamn, Golden Age comics are weird.
My favorite (and probably the most famous) Ma Hunkel appearance was in Winter 1940’s All-Star Comics #3. Ma decides to gatecrash the first meeting of the Justice Society of America, hoping to join the ranks of her inspiration, Green Lantern. Unfortunately for her, she rips off her pants crawling in through a window, gets called the Red Tomato by an extremely dick-ish Hourman, and bails.
Other than a few more adventures with the Sisty and Dinky as the Cyclone Kids, Ma pretty much disappeared after Scribbly’s strip ended in All-American Comics #59. She did manage to have a one-panel appearance in July 1990’s Animal Man #25 (pushing a stroller full of cans in Limbo) and then, finally, a full-fledged re-appearance in February 2004’s JSA #55. It turns out that Ma Hunkel has been in the Witness Protection Agency ever since 1950 and, now that the last member of some gang is dead, she’s free to come out of hiding.
Currently, Ma Hunkel can be found in Manhattan taking taking care of the headquarters of and basically acting as housemother for the Justice Society. Plus, her granddaughter Maxine (who, just for kicks, I’ll assume is the love-child of Sisty and Dinky) is a member of the JSA All-Stars under the alias of Cyclone and has the power of flight and wind manipulation.
And, as weird as it sounds, I really hope that Maxine one day takes up the Red Tornado name. I mean, come on. Wouldn’t it be awesome for that legacy to come full circle?
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