At the JSA Brownstone, Alex DeWitt unwittingly found herself on babysitting duty with the sudden departure of the Justice Society of America to parts unknown. Watching over the brand-spanking-new Junior JSA wasn’t exactly the type of duty she was looking to get into when she became the super-heroine called Corona, but she thought it was important to keep the kids busy. Who knew when or if the JSA would return, anyway?
As she led the assembled Junior JSA members back to the underground training area, they heard the front door of the brownstone open again.
“Yoo-hoo! Is anybody home?” The voice was definitely female, with a strong Brooklyn accent.
Corona, taking the lead, silently signaled to Superboy to accompany her.
They looked into the main meeting room, and there they saw a single ludicrous figure. A woman, with a body best suited for a Slim-Fast before picture, stood there facing away from them. She was clad in tattered red long-johns, a yellow vest, pink boots, and purple mittens. On her head was what appeared to be a large, stainless steel soup-pot.
“Now where the heck is everybody? On the news it sounded like somebody is always here now. Don’t tell me I came all the way from Long Island and they’re all gone!”
“Who is it you’re looking for, uh… ma’am?” Superboy spoke up, barely containing his laughter at the sight. Beside him, Corona was speechless.
The figure turned, startled to hear him speak. “The JSA, of cour — Oh, my gosh, what happened to you, Superman? Did one of those villains zap you with a kiddie-ray?!”
“Uh, no. Actually, I’m his son.” No need to confuse this poor person with the details, he thought.
“Who are you, and why are you looking for the Justice Society?” Corona had finally gotten control of her voice.
“Oh, of course. Nobody has seen me or this outfit for a long time. Sometimes I think the JSA has forgotten all about me. I never hear from them except when Flashy-boy sends out his Christmas cards. You would think that Wonder Woman, at least, would call once in a while, after that case we worked on together way back in–”
“Excuse me, but what’s your name?”
“Didn’t I say? I’m the Red Tornado!”
“The Red Tornado?” said Corona doubtfully. “I thought the Red Tornado was that robot that was with the JSA for a while about fifteen or twenty years ago.”
“That impostor!” the short, stout woman in the red long-johns snorted. “That son of a gun is why I’m here today. Look, I feel like I’ve been through a wringer here. Could we sit down while I explain all this?”
Coral, Batwing, and Damage had been waiting, out of sight, in the corridor. Now that Superboy and Corona were helping the strange visitor to a seat, they came in.
“Well, I’ll be! It looks like there’s a kid’s version of the whole durned Justice Society here. I recognize Batman, Junior here, and you look like you could be related to that Neptune Perkins fella that helped the J.S. of A. out during the war. But who are you other two?”
“I’m called Damage, and I think I’m the only one here who’s not connected somehow to one of the JSA members. That’s Coral, the daughter of Aquaman, and the bat here is Batwing.” Damage hastened to take the seat next to Corona at the large meeting table.
“How about you, dearie? I didn’t catch your name.”
“I could sure go for one, but not until we get some things settled.”
Corona’s face started to turn red, and she was just about to deny — for the umpteenth time — the connection between her name and the Mexican beer, when the older woman spoke up again.
“I know, I know,” she said, laughing. “Corona after the glow you see from the sun during an eclipse. We get the Discovery Channel up at the nursing home, you know.”
“Oh, it’s just that–”
“Yes, I figured as much. Still, if you’re going to be in this business, you need a thick skin.”
Batwing had been tinkering with a small communication link to the Batcave’s computers and spoke up now. “Speaking of being in the business, I just did some checking. If you are the original Red Tornado, which you seem to imply, that would make you over seventy years old. A little old for running around in your long underwear, isn’t it, Mrs. Hunkel?”
“Actually, you’re off by about ten years. And please, call me Mathilda.” The Red Tornado reached up and lifted the helmet off her head, revealing a puffy, lined face, crowned with a mass of dirty gray hair with a few remaining strands of brown. “I was eighty-one this last summer. The problem is, I don’t remember much since then, up until this afternoon.”
“This summer? Was it during the Crisis?” Superboy asked Mathilda “Ma” Hunkel, the Red Tornado.
“That’s right. I was watching the big fight in New York City on the TV out at the Pine Grove Nursing Home where I’ve been living. I seen this big creature that looked like a living cyclone duking it out with a bunch’a the JSA heroes, along with a bunch that I never seen before. That’s when I saw it hit poor old Wildcat with a bolt of lightning, and the commentator said that there was a rumor that the creature was the former Red Tornado.” (*)
[(*) Editor’s note: See “Worlds in Limbo,” Crisis on Infinite Earths #5 (August, 1985).]
“You mean the android, though, not you.” Batwing had been calling up information on both Ma Hunkel and the second Red Tornado on the Batcave computer. “After all, you never had any super-powers, did you?”
“No, I just put in this costume to scare off some small-time crooks in the neighborhood and entertain the kids. A cartoonist that lived next door, he used to draw me for his comic strips, too. I even helped out on a couple of JSA cases, but just as a plain old person.”
“So what happened?”
“I got so durned mad, I went back to my room and dug out this old costume from my closet. I always kept it for when the grandkids come to visit, you know. Then I called a cab to take me down into the city.”
“You actually went into New York when you knew there was that big battle going on?” Coral was notably impressed.
“Danged right I did. By the time we got there, it was winding down. That thing had hurt a lot of people. I had put on my costume in the cab, and he let me out a few blocks away. I ran down Forty-Second Street, hollering at that thing at the top of my lungs to stop hurting these people, and dang it, stop using my name!”
The young heroes assembled around the table all glanced around, with smiles on their faces. The mental image of this octogenarian running through the streets of New York, hollering at the Tornado Tyrant, was almost too much to take. Finally, Superboy asked her to continue.
“Finally, I was at the foot of this thing. It must have been fifty feet tall, but it seemed to look down at me like it was listening. Then, all of a sudden, it started shrinking and wrapping around me. I felt myself getting sucked into it, but it didn’t hurt. I got lifted up, and I found myself flying over the city. We flew right out into the farmlands out on Long Island. Then I blacked out.”
Ma Hunkel asked for someone to get her some water. “For someone who’d been passed out for five months, I’m surprised I’m not hungry.”
“Five months? You mean, you never woke up after you blacked out during the Crisis?” Superboy had gotten glasses and a pitcher of water and brought it back to the table. The others just sat listening.
“It was this afternoon. I woke up and I was in this field near some woods. I stood up, and I felt a little stiff. I started swinging my arms to stretch them, and all of a sudden, they started spinning like crazy! I mean, I couldn’t even see them. Off to either side of me, the grass got all torn out of the ground, and a couple of trees on the edge of the field got blown down.”
“Ummm, this is starting to sound like more that we can handle at this point,” said Corona. The Atlantean princess had more or less assumed leadership of the junior heroes, mostly because no one else had. “The JSA is, uh, gone right now, and we don’t know when they’ll be back.”
“Oh, I figured it out. I started seeing pictures in my mind, kind of like TV. It was that creature. He’s got a split personality — the Tornado Tyrant, who was the one attacking New York, and the Tornado Champion, who is like this alien hero. He’s the one who was in the robot’s body and was the other Red Tornado. That body got destroyed, and the Tyrant side took over. I guess, when I started giving him what for, it weakened the Tyrant enough that the Champion took over again.”
It was Damage who realized the implications. “You mean that thing is inside you? Like, right now?”
“That’s right. The Champion needs a host to give him the edge of the Tyrant. And I’m it!” Ma Hunkel lifted her helmet back onto her head.
“Now, since the JSA is nowhere to be found, I guess it’s up to me to keep an eye on you kids! So, what do we do first?”