This month has become Red Tornado month. We talked about the robot with a soul last time, but now we get to the original Red Tornado, Ma Hunkel! The golden age heroine who is one of the first female superheroes. So who is this Ma Hunkel? What are her powers? Where did she come from? Is that a pot on her head? Let’s find out!
When Abigail Mathilda Hunkel’s brother-in-law won a bet, he used some of the money and bought her a grocery store of her very own to run. It’d been a dream of Abigail’s to run her own business, but soon some racketeers were showing up demanding protection money. They should have used what money they had to pay off Abigail, because she began knocking the stuffing out of the two for threatening her and her business. As the men drove off it was unknown that Abigail’s daughter, Sisty, and her daughter’s friend, Dinky, had gotten themselves trapped in the racketeers’ car.
When Abigail and Dinky’s mom realized where the kids were, they got a hold of Police Chief Gilhooley to help them. They would discover that even the police were scared of the racketeers’ boss, Tubbs Torponi. Distraught and desperate, Abigail overheard her son and his friend talking about how if the Green Lantern were there that he would have rescued the kids by now. Abigail began asking questions about this Green Lantern. Inspired, Abigail put together a costume of her own and set out for where Torponi was believed to be staying.
Thankfully, Abigail didn’t raise Sisty to be a push-over. She and Dinky were causing nothing but trouble for Torponi’s people. By the time Abigail arrived, she was able to start the fight with a sneak attack bottle to the distracted Torponi’s head. She and the kids were able to take out the whole gang. By the time Police Chief Gilhooley arrived from getting noise complaints, he found this large, masked figure in red with the kids, and a bunch of knocked out mobsters. When asked who she is, Abigail claims she’s the Red Tornado and flees before the rest of the cops can find her. When the children return home, everyone wonders where Abigail is, as she supposedly went on a walk after visiting the police. Finally returning home, she pretends to be completely surprised to see her daughter back home once more. When Gilhooley claims credit and tries to say the kids made up this Red Tornado figure, Abigail quickly lets the chief know she’s watching him for any more lies. I mean, she has to trust her daughter’s word and only that, no other reason.
When Gilhooley tries to continue taking credit at a press conference for taking down Torponi and his gang while rescuing the kids, the real Red Tornado arrives and lets the city know that it is protected. This level of publicity gets the attention of the Justice Society of America, and they ask Abigail to join. Sadly, she ends up tearing her pants off there and has to leave before she can sign her membership.
Abigail would stay in her neighborhood and fight crime for years to come. Eventually Sisty and Dinky would join her as her sidekicks, the Tornado Twins. They would protect their home and friends while also occasionally teaming up with other superheroes. For nearly a decade, Abigail would fight crime until she took down her biggest mob boss yet. This would lead to her identity getting compromised, and she had to enter the Witness Protection Program. She’d be in hiding for 50 years until the last member of the dangerous gang finally died. At this point the Justice Society would find Abigail, playing a local mall Santa, handling some mall robbers. Upon realizing who she was, the JSA let her know she could come out of hiding now, and invited her to aid them at the Justice Society’s Brownstone headquarters.
Sisty and Dinky would go on to marry and have a metahuman daughter named Maxine, making Abigail a grandmother. Abigail would be caretaker of the JSA’s HQ, and mentor to her aerokinetic granddaughter and the other young members of the Justice Society. Though elderly, Abigail was still quite the fighter and able to defend the JSA HQ from all manner of threats with the team’s armory and younger team members following her commands.
In the New 52, there seems to be a possible new Abigail Hunkel running around on Earth-2. This one is far smaller in frame than the original (she was often mistaken for a man as the Red Tornado), and seems to have air powers like Maxine. She dresses similar to Abigail, with Maxine’s body type and powers. Whether or not she’ll get any more panel time is anyone’s guess.
So there you have it! Abigail “Ma” Hunkel, the first Red Tornado. She was just a person who wanted to protect her family and livelihood, and ended up having a career as a superhero. That’s what I loved about a lot of golden age superheroes – there were super powered ones, but also people who were really good at getting in and out of fights who could pull their own weight in an adventure. It set a precedent for all street-level heroes to come. Don’t take guff from nobody and wear a garish costume, and you can maybe have a career in comic book super heroics.
All-American Comics #3
All-American Comics #20
Justice Society of America
Dr. Alexander Bustos