The Red Tornado

Name: Mathilda "Ma" Hunkel
Base of Operations:  A large American city
Profession: Grocer, housewife, mother, and later an employee of the Morning Dispatch
First Appearance:  as Ma Hunkel--All-American Comics #3, June 1939
                              as The Red Tornado--All-American Comics #20, November, 1940

Origin:  Mathilda "Ma" Hunkel was the mother of Huey and Sisty Hunkel. Huey was the best friend of boy cartoonist Scribbly. Like most boys in the early Forties, the two were avid readers of comic books. In particular, they were both fans of the superhero called Green Lantern.

It came to pass one day that a gang started pressing the people in the neighbourhood for protection money. Inspired by Scribbly and Huey's stories about Green Lantern, Ma made a helmet/mask by cutting two holes in a sauce pan and a costume from red longjohns, a cape and a T-shirt. She took the name of The Red Tornado and shut down the protection racket in no time. Ma Hunkel was later joined in her adventures as The Red Tornado by her daughter Sisty and Scribbly's younger brother Dinky, who called themselves the Cyclone Kids.

Powers: Though to all appearances an average human being, Ma Hunkel is quite remarkable. As a fairly large woman she is also quite strong, although hardly superhuman. She is also surprisingly agile for a woman her age. Although she lacks superpowers of any sort, Ma makes up for it with both tenacity and sheer spunk. Possessed of a courage that would even make other superheroes envious, The Red Tornado always defeated the even the most insidious villains.

History:  Scribbly was the creation of the legendary Sheldon Mayer. Semi-autobiographical in tone, Scribbly was about a boy cartoonist of that name who worked for the Morning Dispatch and was trying desperately to break into the business. The comic strip appeared in both The Funnies and Popular Comics. When Sheldon Mayer became an editor at All-Amnerican Comics, he brought Scribbly with him. The boy cartoonist made his debut in All-American Comics with issue 1, April 1939. It was in issue 3, June 1939, that Ma Hunkel made her first appearance. Ma ran the local grocery store and was the mother of Scribbly's best friend Huey. She quickly became one of the most popular characters in the comic strips.

By mid-1940 comic books were already teeming with superheroes, enough that Sheldon Mayer perhaps thought the genre was ready for parody. In All-American Comics #20, November 1940, Ma Hunkel donned her famous saucepan to become The Red Tornado for the first time. A popular character, The Red Tornado even made a brief cameo at the first meeting of the Justice Society of America in All-American Comics #3, winter 1940. Like any good superhero she entered through the window. Unfortunately, she also tore the seat of her longjohns on the window, so that her appearance was, of necessity, brief. The Red Tornado never appeared in another issue of All-Star Comics and from all appearance she was not considered a member of the JSA during the Golden Age.

Regardless, The Red Tornado proved to be a very popular character. Eventually Ma Hunkel would even overshadow Scribbly in his own comic strip. Unfortunately, as the early Golden Age progressed, comic books became dominated by the more serious superhero comic strips. Scribbly, even with The Red Tornado, declined in popularity. The Scribbly series ended its run with All-American Comics  #59 in 1944.

Neither Scribbly nor The Red Tornado would be forgotten, however, as it would be remembered by many young artists of the era (who identified with Scribbly) and comic book historians who admired Mayer's craft. Mayer wrote and drew Scribbly with wit and honesty that has rarely been matched in comic books before or since.

Since the Golden Age very little has been seen of Scribbly or Ma Hunkel. Sheldon Mayer wrote a three page Scribbly story for Secret Origins #29, August 1986. Ma Hunkel also appeared briefly in the DC Universe Holiday Bash II special of 1998,  in the story "I Left My Heart at the Justice Society Canteen." Perhaps her most significant appearance of late has been in All-Star Comics 80-page Giant #1, September 1999, in the story "Way of the Amazon." There Ma Hunkel demonstrates true superheroics in front of the more glamourous Wonder Woman, Phantom Lady, and Liberty Belle.

The historical importance of The Red Tornado should not be underestimated. First, The Red Tornado was one of the earliest superhero parodies in any medium, predating MLJ's Super Duck and Terrytoon's Mighty Mouse by a few years. She is in many respects the predecessor of such superhero parodies as the Underdog cartoon and the movie/comic book Mystery Men. Second, she was perhaps the first superheroine to appear at either the National or All-American comic book lines. She predates both Hawkgirl and Wonder Woman. Though largely a humourous character, The Red Tornado laid the groundwork for many superheroines to come in showing that a woman could indeed be a costumed crimefighter. Third, Ma Hunkel was one of the primary characters of Scribbly, one of the greatest comic book series of all time. Sheldon Mayer wrote and drew with a wit and an honesty that has never been seen before or since in comic books. It is for that reason that Scribbly, Ma Hunkel, and The Red Tornado are still remembered today, even though the characters have been largely out of print for nearly sixty years.


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