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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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What can I say about Mark Waid that I haven’t already said? When he took a job as editor in chief at BOOM! Studios I assumed Mark was settling down after a long career in comics with a fun job that would eventually end in retirement. I knew he was writing stuff like The Incredibles, but I felt little reason to care. Oblivious to the “Mark Waid is Evil” ad campaign I picked up Irredeemable #1 purely on spec. “Sure,” I thought, “I like Mark Waid.” The ensuing 9 issues were some of 2009’s best reading, a feat that managed to catapult this late comer into the High Five! Comics’ top 5 of the 2000s list.

By the first page of Irredeemable we are immersed in to the world of The Plutonian. Once humanity’s great saviour now the scourge of the earth we are introduced to “Tony” as we witness the terrifying and merciless butchering of a former team mate along with his family. Devastating entire cities, murdering those closest to him, and generally acting like a premium grade douche bag, the once hero now villain parades in a bath of blood not seen since the days of Miracle Man #15. Oh, but there’s more. Not content simply to horrify his readers, Mark Waid crams romance, family, relationships, humanity, and every form of interpersonal drama imaginable into this masterpiece. Arguably, the true brilliance of Irredeemable has been that every panel of every page matters. Clothing, expressions, gestures. Don’t blink, you’ll miss something cool.

True, I can’t give Waid credit for the most innovative concept ever. But, what nobody can deny is that this is one of the decade’s most well plotted, and well paced stories, period. Waid is a master of structure and Irredeemable gives his strengths every opportunity to shine. Think of everything you love about your favorite TV drama. This does that and it does it as well or better. Waid has constructed what may be the most concise and high powered superhero comic of the last decade and for nine months I finished each issue exclaiming, “Dammit why don’t I have the next issue in my hand right f***ing now?!?!” Here at High Five! we anxiously anticipate what BOOM! has in store for the Plutonian and his former friends as their humanity reveals not just who they are, but a little bit of who we are as well.

-Jonny

20. Kick-Ass – Mark Millar & John Romita Jr.

Any list of the last decade’s top writers would have to include Mark Millar. Famous for his work getting Marvel’s Ultimate Universe off the ground and for horror-satire-mind-f***s like The Unfunnies, Millar had already made his mark by 2008, but it took the creator-owned gem Kick-Ass to cement his name as a true creative juggernaut. Kick-Ass capitalized on that bit in every fan-boy (or fan-girl) that wants to know what it would REALLY feel like to be a hero. Featuring smart dialog, plausible scenarios (mostly) centered around teenage angst, and some of John Romita Jr’s best art to date, readers have been held on the edge of their seats since February 2008 and loved every minute of it. Readers loved it so much in fact, that Millar garnered a Hollywood movie deal for his story before the damned thing was even finished. We at High Five! Comics may sit a little uneasy at the thought of Nick Cage fronting another comic inspired film, but we can’t help but applaud Millar and Romita Jr for the near universal love for this story.

– Maggie

19. Planetary – Warren Ellis

Apparently, to us High Fivers, this was the decade of Warren Ellis. And if there was any book to sum up this decade for Mr. Ellis, it would be Planetary (if not for the fact that it took the whole damn decade for all 27 issues to come out). Basically, it’s about an organization funded by some secret guy called the Fourth Man, doing whatever they can to save the world and record its bizarre history. What I love about Planetary is that most of their adventures involve some sort of literary character (or, if not public domain, and homage to a literary character) in an attempt to, in Warren Ellis’ words, “take everything old and make it new again.” Sherlock Holmes, Godzilla, Doc Savage, and even a character similar to his own Spider Jerusalem pop up to either help or hinder the progress of our heroes.

John Cassaday’s art is compelling; much as his work in Astonishing X-Men, every page is so detailed and beautiful that it’s hard not to get engrossed in every panel. Planetary’s cover art is interesting as well, with each issue done in a different style (with no consistant logo) as a means of fitting in with the subject of the interior story.

Now, I haven’t read (and am slightly wary of) the Planetary/JLA and Planetary/Batman crossover books, so I can’t really attest to whether or not those are awesome (I mean, they’re also penned by Ellis so they gotta be okay at the very least) but, as for the main story, I highly recommend picking it up (and, hey, the last few issues are out in trade form come March).

-Rob

18. Captain America – Ed Brubaker

I don’t want anybody else to ever write for Captain America ever, ever again. I know that seems kinda extreme, but I’m totally fucking serious. Between the constant references to the Golden Age books (so many amazing flashbacks to the days of the Invaders) and the unexpected twists on every other page, Captain America Vol. 5 is one of the most riveting books I’ve ever read. It also ended up being one of the most controversial. In 50 issues, Brubaker managed to bring Bucky Barnes back to life (he’d been confirmed dead since March 1964’s Avengers #4, over 40 years before), kill Steve Rogers (something so extreme that it was front page news here on Earth-Prime), allow Bucky to continue the legacy, and prove that the Red Skull is a fucking dick.

How fitting is it that Brubaker is also the man now resurrecting Steve Rogers in Captain America: Reborn? Granted, yeah, Steve’s only been dead for a few years so it might seem like a bit of a cop out, but even this is gearing up to be a bit of a tearjerker. I only wish that they would have kept Steve Epting as the cover artist for Reborn. Most of his covers during Volume 5 look a little like movie posters for 1960s exploitation films, a few of which even re-use art from Golden Age covers, and I love those damn things.

-Rob

17. WE3 – Grant Morrison

Take Homeward Bound crossed with Philip K Dick, and you have some idea of what WE3 looks like. WE3 is the name of a futuristic killing machine team that consists of a dog, a cat, and a rabbit in robot-enhanced bodies. They were created by the government to be assassins, and are the cutest killing machines you will ever see.  About to be replaced by a newer, larger and more efficient creation, they make their escape from government tyranny. Grant Morrison is often accused of overwriting- making his stories wordier and more detailed than they need to be. In contrast, WE3 is remarkably sparse relying heavily on frequent counterpart Frank Quitely to move the story. Even the dialogue between the animals, which could come off as hokey and “Mr. Ed”-ish in the hands of a lesser writer, make perfect sense here.  Despite the cuddly looking cyborg-animals, this not meant for kids. WE3 is dark, gritty, bloody and despite the look of its premise, very pro-animal rights. Quitely’s artwork is so expressive, especially with the interactions between the animals, it will jerk a tear or two from even the coldest heart. Morrison and artist Frank Quitely succeed at making dystopia warm and humane.

-Hava

16. House of M – Brian Michael Bendis

Cross-over Events are a giant fan-wank. Sometimes you get one that’s fun to read, and sometimes you get one scrawled in KY gel anticipating the collective fanboy  ejaculation. Good or bad, crossovers exist in the world of continuity and rarely tell us anything interesting about the characters involved. What is remarkable about House of M is that for all the continuity mind-f***ing, at the heart of it is a compelling story by Brian Michael Bendis about a father, his two children, and their love for and disappointment in each other. This gut wrenching story was backed by solid character scripts from a notably limited cast. By limiting his cast Bendis opened up House of M to a humanity that most other Events are sorely missing.

-Jonny

Before I tell you about my favorite Speedster, you need to know about Quality Comics. Quality was a publishing house created in 1939 to capitalize on the massive popularity of comics at the time. Seventeen years later, people discovered how awesome television was and Quality, without a wildly popular character like Superman to keep it afloat, started circling the drain. Sensing a totally awesome deal, National Allied Publications (later known as DC Comics) swooped in and bought out Quality, earning the right to do whatever they wanted with characters like Plastic Man, Uncle Sam and the Freedom Fighters, the Blackhawks, and, my favorite Speedster, the underrated Quicksilver (name later changed to Max Mercury to avoid confusion with Marvel’s mutant speedster). Unfortunately for Max, it took DC almost 33 years to let him make an appearance in official continuity.

As for Max Mercury’s fictional history, it’s a bit vague before the acquisition. Max’s debut issue, November 1940’s National Comics #5 by the legendary Jack Cole (which, by God, I will one day own), didn’t lay out much except that Quicksilver’s real name was Max and that he was crazy fucking fast.When DC started playing with the old Quality characters in the 1970s, they gave them their own Earth-X to fight Nazis on. Then Crisis on Infinite Earths smashed Earth-X & Earth-One together, ret-conning the DCU timeline to imply that the Quality characters had been hobnobbing with DC this whole time. Mark Waid was able to use this to his advantage, bringing Max back in May 1993’s Flash Vol. 2 #76 to help out fellow Golden Age characters Jay Garrick and Johnny Quick fight the then-presumed dead Professor Zoom disguised as a then-presumed dead Barry Allen.

Waid gave Max a fuller backstory to replace Quality’s slapdash “look! he runs fast!” . According to January 1995’s Flash Vol. 2 #97, Max Crandall was a messenger for the US Calvary in 1838. He was buddies with the local Blackfoot tribe, but his douchebag fort commander (believing that “the only good Indian was a dead Indian”) issued a bounty on the entire tribe. Max later stumbled upon a bunch of dead ambushed Blackfoot Indians and one dying shaman. Having learned of a second ambush, the dying shaman painted a lightning bolt on Max’s chest and gave a little incantation, turning him into Ahwehota (known to the white folk as Windrunner) and asking him to prevent the massacre, which he did single-handedly. A couple years later, Max had honed his skills as a speedster and began hearing “a strange beckoning.” Upon chasing it, Max inadvertently hit terminal velocity and smashed into the Speed Force, amping up his own powers but transporting him forward in time to 1891. Time and time again he tried to reconnect with the Speed Force, and each time he was propelled a few more decades into the future, assuming new names and identities along the way including Blue Streak, Quicksilver, and finally, Max Mercury.

After finally making his Modern Age debut, Max used zen philosophy and his sped-up century of experience to teach Wally West new ways to improve his abilities. Max was even the first to tell Wally about the Speed Force (although quite vaguely) in Flash Vol. 2 #91. One issue later, Bart Allen arrived and Max Mercury was there to take him under his wing, attempting to teach a kid with the polar opposite of his own temperament how to be a decent speedster. Eventually Max learned that he had an estranged daughter named Helen in Manchester, Alabama (the product of a tryst he’d had in 1948 with a friend’s wife). He and Bart moved down South, stalked Helen (who sort of fell in love with Max which is hilariously gross), and trained like crazy. Later, in September 2002’s Impulse #88, a Golden Age Jay Garrick villain named Rival possessed the body of Max Mercury and battled the speedsters, eventually escaping into the Speed Force, trapping Max within. He didn’t appear again until Infinite Crisis #4, when he helped Johnny Quick and Bart Allen fling Superboy-Prime far away (from the confines of the Speed Force). Finally, in September 2009’s Flash: Rebirth #4, the resurrected Barry Allen dragged Max Mercury out of the Speed Force with him, back into the world of the living.

That’s why I love Max Mercury. Most people haven’t even heard of him (or they see him in the newer Flash-related titles and wonder who the hell he is) and yet he’s so integral to the mythos of all things speedster in the DCU. I mean, yeah, Max Mercury would never be able to carry his own title, but where would the Flashes be without Max’s wisdom and guidance? Probably all dead. So there’s that.

A new decade has begun, and with it, High Five! Comics will soon be unveiling our special “20 (Or So) Best Comics of the Decade” event (take THAT, Siege). But before we reveal the big list, we’ll start with a series of supplementary entries from HF!C’s contributing writers about those comics we each individually loved, but that didn’t quite have the mojo to make the final ranks.

Today, Maggie talks about some of her personal favorite books from the last decade.

Empire – Mark Waid & Barry Kitson – Maggie’s #16

The story of a Dr. Doom-esque supervillain and a sort of intellectual precursor to Waid’s smash hit Irredeemable, Empire asked “So what does a supervillain do once he’s actually managed to take over the world?” Golgoth, the despot in question, is the most heartless bastard I’ve ever seen in a comic, utterly beyond redemption – maybe even uninterested in it.  Waid & artist Barry Kitson published the first two issues independently before going bankrupt, and the series was completed under the DC imprint. Well – maybe not completed. Empire‘s final issue drops off abruptly, the victim of editorial shuffling. Still, Empire is full of great twists and turns, you notice more and more detail each time you read it. If you like Irredeemable, you’ll like Empire.

Detective Comics starring Batwoman – Greg Rucka & JH Williams III – Maggie’s #14

The ex-West Point cadet lesbian step-daughter of an heiress, Kate Kane is both highly improbable and yet more realistic in origin than most other DC heroes.  Greg Rucka and JH Williams III’s Batwoman run in ‘Tec made Kate sexual without sexualizing her – or turning the book into an afterschool special about lesbianism in comics. Williams’ inspired panel design and his ability to shift art style from page to page truly made Detective Comics a cut above the rest.

Honorable Mentions

Two other books would have easily made my top twenty if they were more than two issues in. BOOM! Studios’ NOLA & Th3rd World Studios’ The Stuff of Legend. If this were best of the year rather than Best of the Decade, they’d easily be top ten.

And somehow, I forgot to put Mouse Guard on my top twenty when we started this whole project. Dangit. Mouse Guard rules.

Don’t forget to check out Rob, Brendan, and Jonny‘s lists too!

Even as a good guy, Max Damage is a dick – and that’s what makes Incorruptible awesome. The  long-awaited (at least by us ) follow up to Mark Waid’s Irredeemable – which features the Plutonian, a Superman-esque hero, going very, very bad – Incorruptible is the story of a villain going straight. Mild spoilers ahead, folks.

But Max Damage barely knows where to start. He kidnaps a cop so he can get his very own Jim Gordon, he stops sleeping with his underage sidekick, he turns his henchmen over to the police, he torches 4.2 million dollars. Instead of, you know, donating it to a children’s hospital or something – Max may have decided to switch sides, but his motives for the change thus far seem damned self serving, which to anyone who’s been reading comics for more than 10 seconds is a sure sign that someone’s a villain at heart.

So far, it seems that all Max understands of being heroic is simply to do the opposite of villainy; the classic motivations for heroism elude him. Indeed, his choice to switch sides seems rooted in his animosity for the Plutonian. Whatever side the Plutonian is on, Max is on the other. Still, Max is acutely aware of the fact that he may be the only person on the planet with a chance of stopping or at least staving off the Plutonian’s rampage.

Incorruptible isn’t a redemption story, at least not yet. Max wanted a world he could be a bastard in, but with the Plutonian rampaging, there might not be a world at all before long (see: Singapore).  But Incorruptible doesn’t simply re-hash Lex Luthor’s “If Not For You, I’d Be Beloved!” sentiment, or drop us onto Earth-3. Max may have decided that it’s time to take a stand against the Plutonian, he may have decided that in order to do so he’s got to renounce petty villainy, but at heart, Max isn’t selfless enough to pull off the full hero act.

Than again, neither was the Plutonian. Maybe our heroes need to be a little selfish. You know, so they don’t snap and kill us all.

Incorruptible, like Irredeemable,  and Empire before them, is Mark Waid at his best, dissecting the nuances of superhero/supervillain psychology with an understanding of the genre that eclipses many other writers. Incorruptible is a great ride, whether you’ve read Irredeemable or not. Check out the preview below and pick up the book this Wednesday.

I’m going to admit to something right now, and I hope that you can forgive me. I am so unbelievably out of the loop on Spider-Man, it’s ridiculous. Basically, I was a casual reader and sorta knew what was up with ol’ Web-head riiiight up until everybody collectively yelled, “Fuck ‘One More Day,’ fuck ‘Brand New Day,’ we’re out.” I, along with a lot of readers I know, checked right the hell out. So, what made me go out and spend my hard earned money on something that I’d all but abandoned?

At Long Beach Comic-Con, one of the door prizes they handed every attendee was a variant copy of Amazing Spider-Man #606. I went home, read it, and had no idea what had just happened. Peter Parker had apparently wooed every lady in New York and was boning Black Cat? J. Jonah Jameson was mayor of New York? The Daily Bugle became a tabloid rag called the DB? Peter’s secret identity was secret again? What the hell is going on and where the hell had I been? (Reading the Distinguished Competition, mostly.)

The very next day, Mark Waid hosted the “50 Questions in 50 Minutes” panel and practically geekgasmed over his announcement of a three-issue Spider-Man arc he’d be writing. Now, when a nobody like me geekgasms, nobody cares. When a writer/artist/editor/somebody better than you does it, there’s this weird phenomenon where it washes over you and everybody gets a little taste of geekstacy (ew). Not really understanding why, I was excited for the Waid Spider-Man run, and when I saw the first one on the shelf I just had to pick it up.

The premise is simple, paralleling the real world. The economy is all fucked up, New York City is in a heatwave, and everybody is feeling just a little bit grumpy. The DB is bankrupt and about to get the first government newspaper bailout package. Max “Electro” Dillon is feeling his belt tighten and decides that he’s not going to take this crap anymore. After meeting up with the Thinker for a couple pages, Electro takes to the streets and delivers a heartfelt speech on a rooftop, rallying people against the DB and its bailout. Somebody films it, uploads it to YouTube, and Electro is suddenly a figurehead for an anti-bailout movement. Holy crap, a Spider-Man story that is actually plausible? I’m in!

Phil Azaceta’s art in this book is phenomenal as well. You can see the wear and tear on the faces of both the citizens and a down-and-out Electro (who finally ditched that stupid yellow headdress of his). I did have one glaring complaint, though. On the wall of the DB is a poster of Nick Fury’s face with a URL underneath it for something called the Fury Files. I thought it odd that it looked like something that was just hastily added with a Photoshop stamp tool, so I had to check it out. When I went to it, it redirected me to Hasbro Toy’s page on Marvel figures. That’s kinda bullshit, but whatever.

There’s also a back-up story in here by Joe Kelly and Jim Ken Nimura, but it was pretty much just Black Cat and Spider-Man talking about how much they like doin’ it without knowing each other’s real identities. No thanks.

To sum it up, it was an interesting start to Spider-Man’s “Gauntlet” storyline (which Marvel wants you to know is NOT an event). I’m still excited to see what happens in regards to Electro’s sudden popularity, as well as how Spider-Man is expected to dealing with it without pissing off the populace of New York (any more than Mayor Jameson already has them pissed at him). I’d recommend picking up Amazing Spider-Man #612, trying to stick with it (at least until Waid’s run ends with issue #614), and pairing it with the last of your local grocery store’s supplies of summer ales.


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