What a difference a few months make… Like many, I find myself feeling adrift in the uncertainty this Covid-19 storm brought upon us and keeping this blog going every month feels a lot less important. Instead, I have been far more focused on reaching out to the folks who were around at the start of this comic fandom we are a part of and the subsequent projects that stem from those communications, like transcribing phone calls, are going to take a lot time and energy. As such, I am making this my last Missing Work entry for the foreseeable future. I might return to these at some point, but it feels like the right decision under the current circumstance.
When thinking about what comic story to select for a potential last entry, it only made sense to focus on a story that was a last for Fox too. Specifically, his last Justice League story.
What I would have talked about:
This two-part Justice League story starts off with quite a bang when Red Tornado slams open the Justice Society’s Sanctuary door in “The Stormy Return of the Red Tornado!”
The reason that “return” is included in the title is that this is not the first Red Tornado with whom the JSA had interacted. Ma Hunkle, otherwise known as the first Red Tornado, was created by Sheldon Mayer in his semi-autobiographical humor comic “Scribbly.” Written as one of the first superhero parodies, this cross-dressing working mother of two turned to vigilantism after her neighborhood was threatened by a protection racket. It is this well-loved hero Red Tornado II expects the JSA to remember him as. He even calls himself one of the original members of the JSA when attempting to convince the team of his identity. They refute this assertion along with the premise that the figure in front of them could be the Ma Hunkle they knew. After revealing secret information about the team, we see the first crack in his certainty when Black Canary asks him who he is in “real life” and he realizes he does not know.
Just as we see Fox potentially taking influence from Dracula to write his early Batman tales, it appears that Fox drew on Mary Shelley’s Frankenstein in his writing of this villain-created hero. This is made explicit with Fox going as far as to flat out call Red Tornado a Frankenstein monster at one point. And, like the creature in question, Red Tornado desires to learn more about himself, so he follows his homing beacon back to his creator to no personal avail. The name of this creator is Thomas Oscar Morrow, otherwise known as T.O. Morrow, and he shows no familial attachment to his android. This man who delves into the world of tomorrow (get it?) is too busy with his several evil ends that continue to be assured regardless of the android’s helpfully intended means. The first part of this saga ends with the JSA defeated.
“T.O. Morrow Kills the Justice League – Today!” picks up from the previous issue with a Foxian turn showing that Red Tornado’s holding of a future energy weapon acted like a lightning rod that grounded its lethal energies, thereby saving him. He again hunts down T.O. Morrow by traversing the dark zone between Earth-Two and Earth-One bringing him to the incapacitated Justice League.
Following the allusion to Frankenstein and his monster, T.O. Morrow describes himself as a victim of his own creation and calls Red Tornado a nobody. This results in our burgeoning hero falling into despair at not being a human being while the Justice League celebrates after Red Tornado had assisted in their revival through an arranging of a kiss from each of their loved ones. This brings us a classic android-wondering-about-love-moment. He then returns to save the JSA – bringing them to life while he himself feels anything but. It is this melancholic note that this first part of his narrative ends on. After he is invited to join the JSA, he refuses out of a desire to find an identity of his own.
Why did I want to talk about it?
The biggest reason I wanted to include this two-parter in the book is that it was the last story Gardner Fox officially wrote for DC and the last he ever wrote for the Justice League of America. It is a very fitting last story to write given we get to see such a range of characters Fox had a hand in creating such as Sandman, Flash (Jay Garrick), Hawkman and Hawkgirl, Doctor Fate, Starman, and Atom, along with other characters he put his personal stamp on such as Batman, Green Lantern, and Flash (Barry Allen). It is also the first Silver Age appearance of Ma Hulkel and introduces us to a new character with the second Red Tornado, who gets to join the JSA, yet another creation of Gardner Fox along with its Silver Age Version the Justice League of America, which Red Tornado also eventually joins. (Phew!) We see another greatest hits with the fight in the JLA trophy room where “mementos of previous Justice League triumphs bring about the utter defeats of the world’s greatest superheroes.” In other words, Fox went out with quite the referential bang! That said, one can’t help but read into the last sentiments of the story and see the parallels to Fox’s life at the time.
This story came out around the time of the “Writers Strike.” This failed attempt at unionization caused Fox to leave DC because he felt his productivity level was the only thing DC cared about. His desires for equal payment, healthcare, and a retirement plan fell on deaf ears just the same as Red Tornado’s exhortations to T.O. Morrow. And, just like our hero in the story, Fox decided it was time for him to find an identity on his own.
Where in the book it would have gone?
While the story does pick up some of the themes I explored in Chapter 11 with its continuation of the science fiction craze in comics at the time and the way the industry started taking on questions raised by the likes of Philip K. Dick and Isaac Asimov, Chapter 13 was really the only place it could have gone. Specifically, it would have followed my discussion of the “Writers Strike” and formed an additional framework for his stepping away from DC.
Why it was put on the chopping block?
This is one of those moments where everything seemed well planned out until I was writing it. The emotional weight of the throughline was far more tangible when I went straight from the “Writer’s Strike” to the stroke he suffered following it. In other words, those negotiations for healthcare suddenly became more meaningful due to the immediacy of his health crisis and it was that immediacy I lost when I simply followed the timeline. From there, it didn’t make any sense to try and add the story back in because I had already written about him walking away from DC and the impact that experience had on his perception of the industry as a whole.
So there we have it. The end of an era. But it was also a new beginning. Storms offer the opportunity to take what we can from the past and rebuild for an even better future. The equity Fox tried to fight for is something we still need to be fighting for. Especially if we are talking about a basic human right like healthcare. Here’s to hoping we use this time away from the expectations in our normal lives to keep asking the important questions that just might help move these fiercely blowing winds of change in a more positive direction.
Fox, Gardner. “Stormy Return of the Red Tornado” Justice League of America, vol. 1, no. 64, National Periodical Publications, 1968, pp. 3-31.
Fox, Gardner. “T.O. Morrow Kills the Justice League – Today!” Justice League of America, vol. 1, no. 65, National Periodical Publications, 1968, pp. 3-31.