As you can tell from the title, this one focuses on Red Tornado. Gerry seemed to like using Reddy to reflect on what it means to be human. The story starts with Red Tornado resigning from the JLA over some mistake he made on a mission. His teammates assure him they don’t care about his screw-up, but he quits anyway and heads down to Earth to “find himself”. He starts by reviving his old John Smith identity and going to see Traya, the orphan girl from the Middle East that Reddy’s sort of adopted. He hasn’t formally adopted her, since he’s afraid he doesn’t have what it takes to be a good parent, but the lady at Traya’s orphanage assures him that all he really needs is love and compassion … which he certainly has, whether he knows it or not. The scene shifts to Arkham Asylum, where a couple of guards are discussing one of the inmates, Dr. Destiny. But we see that it isn’t really Destiny, it’s his psychiatrist; Destiny has managed to switch places with his doctor, creating the illusion that it’s Destiny himself in the cell. The real Destiny is elsewhere, using a modified version of his Materioptikon to bring someone’s dreams (or nightmares) to life. The guy (a boozehound Destiny grabbed from skid row) is freaked out by the living nightmares, but decides he might be able to get some money for Destiny’s machine. When he tries to stab Destiny, it turns out to be another illusion and the real Dr. Destiny uses the Materioptikon to bring more living nightmares … which tear the poor wino apart. In New York, Red Tornado goes to see his old girlfriend Kathy Sutton. She’s surprised to see John Smith again, but even more surprised when he reveals he’s actually Red Tornado. She must be pretty hard up, because she admits she’s basically in love with him, even though it’s been months since they’ve seen each other. On the JLA Satellite, Wonder Woman, Hawkgirl, and Zatanna are practicing against each other’s powers and Green Lantern is stuck on monitor duty. He observes a Halloween parade in New York and wonders if Reddy is there. We don’t have to wonder, as we see Reddy (back in his John Smith guise) attending the parade with Kathy and Traya. He and Kathy discuss his feelings for her (and Traya) and he wonders if an android can truly love someone. Kathy seems to think he can, but before Reddy can make up his mind, all the parade participants and spectators start manifesting twisted nightmare creatures. Obviously Dr. Destiny is behind it, although Reddy has no way of knowing that. He and Traya are unaffected; Traya because her experience with the Star Sphere (in JLA 152) makes immune, and Reddy because he’s not human. But as Reddy tries to help, he’s confronted with his own nightmare vision representing his deepest fear, a giant version of himself that starts pounding him. Traya points out that red Tornado has always feared being small and insignificant and urges him to overcome his personal nightmare. Reddy banishes his nightmare doppleganger and spots Destiny’s machine on a nearby roof. After Reddy blasts the machine, everyone’s nightmare visions vanish and some JLAers show up. Red Tornado is gratified to find that he has fears (and nightmares) like any human being, but he and his teammates still don’t know about Dr. Destiny yet. We’ll see if they confront him next issue.
- Kathy Sutton first appeared in JLA 106, where Red Tornado was trying to establish a civilian identity for himself. She worked at an employment agency where “John Smith” was looking for a job and they ended up dating, but apparently they haven’t seen each other for a while.
This one starts with the head gymnast of the Barley Carnival (an interstellar circus) getting blown away by a faulty micro-oven. But this was no accident; someone sent him the oven as a “gift” and two other members of the carnival have died recently in mysterious accidents. The ringmaster decides it’s time to get some help. On Earth, a contingent of Legionnaires takes off with their erstwhile sponsor, R.J. Brande, to assist him in regaining his fortune by going back his old business of creating stars. The Legionnaires that are left on Earth discuss the future of the team, but are interrupted when Earth’s Culture Minister shows up with the ringmaster of the Barley Carnival (Aton Gissark). Before Aton can explain his recent problems, a runaway shuttle comes screaming toward them. The Legionnaires cooperate to destroy the shuttle (which was loaded with explosives) and contain the damage. Since someone’s obviously trying to kill Aton (and destroy the carnival), the Legionnaires decide to help figure out who’s behind it. You can see where this is going … yup, some Legionnaires are joining the circus! Specifically: Mon-El is a strongman; Star Boy is the fat man (thanks to his powers of increasing gravity, and a suitable illusion from Projectra); Projectra is the fortune-teller (using her illusions to conjure images from her crystal ball); Brainy is the magician, with Phantom Girl as his assistant (in a really sexy outfit); and Timber Wolf is the trapeze artist (with an anti-gravity trapeze … no ropes for him). As Phantom Girl is dematerializing to avoid being sawn in half by Brainy, one of the circus’s exotic alien creatures breaks loose from its tamer. It’s a Jovian Attack-Squid (one of the deadliest monstrosities in the solar system), but Phantom Girl distracts it and gets it to come after her. She phases and the creature falls to the ground, knocking itself out. I guess it wasn’t that dangerous after all. Phantom Girl finds a dart in the creature’s tentacle and realizes someone shot it full of chemicals to make it go on a rampage. Luckily, the audience assumed it was all part of the act … or maybe they were just focused on Phantom Girl’s outfit. Later, Brainy informs the others he’s narrowed the suspect list to three: Tyrus (the composite clown); Clovis (assistant manager of the circus); and Imik (a juggler, whose race inhabited Cygnus before the human colonists showed up). They hear a commotion from the big top where Timber Wolf is performing and rush over to see that his anti-gravity trapeze has been sabotaged. Timber Wolf uses his agility to save himself and Mon-El notices Imik the juggler standing nearby. Imik takes off but is quickly captured by Projectra and Mon-El. Everyone is happy things were wrapped up so easily, except Brainiac 5, who thinks it was too easy. He thinks Imik may be innocent and the real killer is still out there. We see that he’s right, as a shadowy figure with a gun observes the Legionnaires from atop a platform. We’ll find out who’s really behind the killings next issue.
- I don’t know why there are so many Silver/Bronze Age stories involving circuses. I guess the generation that wrote those stories grew up in a time when circuses were still pretty popular. But circuses and (especially) carnivals always had a slightly seedy reputation too, being a bunch of strangers that came to town and then left right away. Maybe that’s why so many Marvel and DC stories have circuses full of villains (or shady dealings); they’re probably reflecting that “Dark Carnival” vibe that people like Bradbury played on so well.
- The Legionnaires decide to help find out who’s targeting the circus when the Culture Minister points out that the circus is from another stat system (Cygnus), they’re technically a cultural delegation, so if they were killed it wouldn’t be good for diplomacy. Brainiac 5 references the 20th Century Earth practice of acrobatic or circus troupes performing in different countries as a form of diplomacy … which Projectra thinks is ridiculous.
- Earth and Cygnus have had their tensions in the past, but Aton (whose great-grandmother is from Earth) wants to use the carnival as a way of bringing the two cultures together.
This one starts with Hex hot on the heels of some bandits called the Larson Brothers. He notices the trail ahead has been dug up and reins in his horse, just as something explodes. Not far ahead, the Larson gang are happy to hear the explosion since it means their dynamite trap worked, but can’t hang around to celebrate because they’ve got stealing to do. In nearby Shoshone Mills, we see an old lady (Mrs. Flannery) going into the local bank to see the banker (Wilcox) about a mortgage extension. Wilcox’s son Jeffrey (who’s on a break from law school) assures her everything will be fine. But Jeffrey doesn’t know his father as well as he thinks; Wilcox turns Mrs. Flannery down (she’s already had one extension) and says he’ll have to foreclose. She goes home and blows her brains out, which makes Jeffrey pretty mad at his father for caring more about business than people. Jeffrey goes to see an old family friend (Mr. Ashley), who starts going on about redistributing the wealth and how poor people are treated like shit by rich assholes like Jeffrey’s dad. Ashley introduces Jeffrey to his fellow “freedom fighters” … the Larson gang. They tell Jeffrey they want to clean out his father’s bank and give back the money to all the poor people Wilcox stole it from in the first place. Jeffrey is so upset by Mrs. Flannery’s suicide, he falls for their bullshit and uses his familiarity with the bank to get them inside. Jeffrey must really be stupid, because he still believes the Larsons are “striking a blow for the poor” even after they shoot the bank manager, a guy Jeffrey’s known his whole life. They all take off and the sheriff quickly gets a posse together to go after them. Jeffrey’s father joins up, wanting to see his wayward son brought to justice. The Larsons soon realize they’re being pursued, but they take the long way over the mountains, leaving the posse to cut through the pass with all the dynamite traps. When it comes time to divide the money, Jeffrey finally (!) figures out they’re just plain old bank robbers, but before he can do anything about it, Larson decks him. The bandits tie him up and keep him in their cabin, hoping to use him for ransom once Wilcox and the posse get blown to shit. But in case you forgot whose comic this is, it turns out Hex wasn’t blown up in the pass. His horse was killed and he had to track the Larsons on foot, which has pissed him off to no end. He drops some dynamite of his own down their chimney, then waits for them as they run out of the cabin. One of the Larsons doesn’t want to face Hex in a gunfight, so his brother shoots him. The other brothers soon follow him to hell as Hex blows them all away. He hears noises from the cabin and finds Jeffrey tied up inside. Hex frees Jeffrey and explains the dynamite he tossed down the chimney is a dud; he opened the sticks and poured out the powder (I don’t think that’s how dynamite works, but whatever), but as he’s explaining the cabin blows up … seems Hex forgot to doctor one of the sticks. Jeffrey thanks him, then grabs a horse and rides for the pass to warn his father and the posse about the dynamite traps. But when he gets close, Wilcox assumes Jeffrey is trying to distract them from catching up to the robbers, and he shoots Jeffrey with a rifle, saying he’d rather his son die that way than being hanged for bank robbery. Hex shows up right after Jeffrey and Wilcox is ready to shoot him too, but the sheriff stops him. Hex explains about the Larsons being dead at their cabin and how Jeffrey was just trying to warn them. Wilcox doesn’t want to believe he shot his own son for nothing, but Hex grabs the rifle and pops a couple shots into the pass, detonating one of the dynamite traps. Hex rides off as Wilcox realizes he killed his son for no reason.
- I’m not sure if Ashley (and the Larsons) are meant to represent Communists; Ashley’s spiel about redistributing wealth and all that sounds like Communist rhetoric, and the Communist Manifesto came out in 1848, so it’s possible. Of course, the Larsons (and Ashley too, I’m sure) were just thieving assholes using the Robin Hood stuff as cover, so I guess it doesn’t much matter where the sentiments came from.