Red Tornado #1 review and The Torch #1 review

Yup, it’s Android Week as two of comics’ oldest non-human heroes get a chance to fly solo.

First off, it’s the Justice League’s longtime Pinocchio, the Red Tornado. As we join him he’s at adopted daughter’s Traya’s recital with partner Kathy Sutton, listening proudly, but distracted. He’s recently realised there are other androids out there like him, cybernetic siblings. This issue we meet two of them, and hear of the third. Like Reddy, they’re earth elementals, but not necessarily earth angels. Red Volcano, for one, isn’t to be messed with. The other two, Red Torpedo and Red Inferno aren’t under the spotlight, but Volcano has a mission – find his creator, mad scientist TO Morrow.

Hey, that’s easy, he’s a regular member of Wonder Woman’s supporting cast! Actually, no, due to DC editors not actually talking to one another or reading their comics, he’s in super prison Belle Reve. That’s where Volcano heads, and that’s when we see that unlike Reddy, he’s not down with the human beings. Reddy, meanwhile, searches for the dormant Red Torpedo. And the final android, Red Inferno? Mindwiped and living as a little boy.

Red Tornado’s history is so horribly complicated, warped across various planets and continuities (I’m not kidding, go Wiki, I’ll wait a day or so while you try to make sense of it all), that the best way to enjoy this book is to not worry about it. Happily, writer Kevin VanHook doesn’t go into Reddy’s past, leaving it at the basics – John Smith is an air elemental and Justice League member. He was created by science but the emotions he feels make him feel human, so it’s understandable that when he detects a connection ‘out there’ he goes in search of his family. And refreshingly, there are no amateur dramatics involving Reddy’s wife and daughter; Kathy ain’t worrying about him leaving her for a toaster, and Reddy’s not rejecting anyone for those more like him. He’s human, and therefore he’s curious; he’s off, but he’ll be back by dinner.

There’s some decent drama here, mostly centred on Volcano’s doings, but my favourite scene was motivated by Reddy turning off his ‘chit-chat’ program. I hope we continue to get flashes of humour as this six issue series progresses, as every android needs a bit of personality.

We don’t see anything of the original Human Torch’s personality in the first issue of his eight-parter, but as with Red Tornado, there’s a hero looking for something. It’s Toro, the Torch’s recently reborn partner (Cosmic Cube blah blah). He’s looking for a life, being the latest Timely hero to be reborn, a man out of time. That makes Captain America, Bucky, Namor, the Twelve . . . never mind, if I can pretend I don’t know Red Tornado’s history, I can make out that poor Toro is in a unique position.

As it happens, scripter Mike Carey makes the mental misery of Toro – Tom Raymond and not an android, but a mutant – pretty real. We begin with his memories of fiery incidents, including the death of his father (which doesn’t jibe with his Golden Age origin, oh well, what did I expect?) and see that he’s particularly peeved that his wife is happily married again. Given that Toro has been de-aged and is, you know, not actually dead anymore, I take it he’s a ‘glass half empty’ kind of fellow.

The other star of the issue is old FF villain the Mad Thinker, who’s had several dealings with the Torch and Toro post-war, and was the man who murdered Toro. Remembering this, Toro figures killing the Thinker would at least be something to do, so he’s teleported to the scientist’s side by the Vision (we’re talking the Forties fella from Smokeworld, not the Avenger whose body is made from a time-split version of the Torch . . . sorry, sorry, I’m really trying to avoid this sort of thing).

Anyway, let’s just say things don’t go as planned, and by the end of the issue the original Torch is back in the picture.

I liked this book a lot. Carey makes Toro tormented without his a whiner, and the Thinker actually gets a bit of a personality beyond cardboard mad scientist (click to enlarge). And in case you’re not British, this is a Bourbon. They’re best dunked in a nice cup of tea – coffee is all wrong, and Mike Carey should know better. Tut.

I was dubious that this would simply be Marvel revisiting the Marvels well yet again – well, it does have Alex Ross as co-plotter and the requisite Ross cover and Ross-ish art from Patrick Berkenkotter and colour artist Carlos Lopez, but no, this is more than just another bunch of origins and foreshadowings. For one thing, we’re in the present day. For another, former Hellblazer writer Carey is better than that, he doesn’t do copies. Whatever the Mad Thinker is planning by the end of the issue, it looks to be something original, and I look forward to seeing how any Torches fit into them.

Back in Red Tornado’s mini, the art is a more traditional pencils, inks and colour job from Jose Luis, JP Mayer and Guy Major, but appealing for all that. It’s solid superhero illustration in the modern DC house style – think the Superman stable of artists – telling the story well with only the odd odd panel, such as Reddy stripped to his trunks in his John Smith guise. The old android looks like the Hulk, but pink (does Marvel have a pink Hulk yet?). The cover is by Ed Benes, an odd choice as Reddy doesn’t wear a thong. Nice picture though, even if the shady Red family members are a little too blobby; that great new logo certainly lifts the image.

So that’s two minis about android here, only one of which stars the title character this time, but they’re both good time-fillers. Both characters ‘boast’ appallingly convoluted back stories that by rights should have any writer running for the hills, but the creatives, thankfully, don’t reference anything not necessary to the story at hand. There’s nothing amazing here, but as spotlights on little-seen characters, both these minis look to be worth sticking with.

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