Image by DC Comics
Handling a team like the Justice League is always a daunting task, even for the most capable of teams and that is something that has been shown throughout the years, with some of the best writers and artists of the last three decades or so not fully understanding what makes this team tick.
And while I’m not the biggest fan of Brad Meltzer’s entire Justice League, the opening 2006 story, The Tornado’s Path, was a delightful arc complemented by the phenomenal art of Ed Benes, where this team managed to not only establish a new lineup and pay tribute to everything that came before, but also doing so through the eyes of the most unlikely main character in this story: Red Tornado.
What is The Tornado’s Path?
Image by DC Comics
One year after the events of Infinite Crisis, Superman, Batman and Wonder Woman reunite in the Batcave to discuss the potential new members of the team, comparing the pros and cons of each superhero they are considering. Meanwhile, Red Tornado is coming back to life with the help Boston Brand, commonly known as Deadman, and the former finally gaining humanity, which prompts him to appreciate this second chance with his wife and daughter.
Along the way, a group of villains, including classic DC antagonist Solomon Grundy, tries to take a hold of Red Tornado’s body, which results in the creation of a new version of a classic foe of the League, Amazo. By the end of the story, we get to see the new version of the League that Meltzer would work with moving forwards.
How was it?
Image by DC Comics
Brad Meltzer is an interesting case in the world of comic books: he is mostly known for his work in literature, penning multiple novels, so when he started to write for DC it was fairly easy to call it a publicity stunt or just a fun side project on his part. But the reality is that he is extremely well-versed on the medium and you can tell that he not only has a big respect for the mythology of the Justice League, but also uses it to make The Tornado’s Path a much richer and fascinating celebration of the DC universe.
Every Justice League writer brings his or her own spin to the table, but I think Meltzer had the right approach: he recognizes and respects what came before and builds the future based on that. That’s why we have the trinity of Superman, Wonder Woman and Batman, two veterans of the League such as Green Lantern Hal Jordan and Black Canary, plus new characters that have grown throughout the years, such as Black Lightning, Vixen, Geo-Force, Hawkgirl and of course the two stars of the story, in my view: Red Tornado and Red Arrow, also known as Red Arrow here.
In Red Tornado’s case it's very understandable why he is such an important character here: he is basically the protagonist and we get to see a very interesting concept of an android that was given the possibility of being human and living the life he always wanted. It has a certain Blade Runner influence to it and it gives this story a lot of heart, with Red Tornado going through a lot of the ordeals with Solomon Grundy and Amazo to the point we feel for someone who had been a side character for a long time (props to artist Ed Benes for highlighting this in the impactfull resolution of the conflict).
Meltzer defines the heart of the League through a machine and does it through something very human: our desire and longing for a simple, happy life with our loved ones. It’s a powerful narrative and in a day and age where a lot of writers have forgotten that the human aspect of superheroes is the most important element of a good story, I think it’s a welcomed addition to the title and it works very well.
On the other hand, Roy Harper represents, in my view, Meltzer’s love and appreciation for the continuity that came before him and that’s why I think Roy’s ascendance to the League–in Meltzer’s run this is depicted as the ultimate honor for a hero, which is an approach that I agree with- feels like a celebration of all the stories that came before. For major DC fans, it’s very known that Roy Harper went through a lot of hardship, including drug addiction, but the character grew and learned from that, even becoming a father in the process–him becoming a League member, even taking the role of his mentor, Oliver Queen (Green Arrow), feels like a very compelling and poignant moment by the end of the story and it’s one of my favorite moments.
The inclusion of characters such as Hawkgirl, Geo-Force, Vixen and Black Lightning might seem weird at first, but I personally like this combination of heavy weights with more unknown characters, thus making a more dynamic combination. It’s also a smart move on a commercial point view: if you place lesser known characters on famous team books, they are likelier to generate interest to fans.
There is a lot going on in The Tornado’s Path, but Meltzer handles it very well and manages to make it an accessible read: it introduces a new reader to how the League works, what it represents and its importance within the DC universe. I also give Meltzer props for learning from his mistakes: if his Identity Crisis miniseries was a misguided attempt to deconstruct the Silver Age exploits of the League, this story is a celebration of classic D heroism, which is something that deserves a lot of credit–not a lot of writers in the industry learn from their mistakes and come back stronger.
What about the artwork?
Image by DC Comics
Brazilian artist Ed Benes is a master of his craft and he is very likely my favorite Justice League artist, which is saying a lot considering the legends that have worked on this title. His work here is dynamic, detailed, impressive and very visually appealing. DC heroes have always been portrayed in a much more epic scale than their Marvel counterparts and Benes excels at that, showing the heroes at their absolute best.
That’s not to say that Benes is only good at aesthetically pleasing imagery; he can convey a lot of feeling and emotion through his pages, which is something that is shown in the climax and resolution of the story, in my view. He also has no qualms in getting ugly and dark, with the page of Red Tornado’s head turned apart being one of the most shocking and hunting pieces of art that I have seen in modern comics. It’s freaking great.
I feel that his work on DC has been sadly overlooked and I think he deserves a lot more credit because he truly has the capacity and talent to write superheroes; he seems to me like a mix of Jim Lee with Ethan Van Sciver. It doesn’t hurt that the great Alex Sinclair is the colorist, which makes Benes’ art standout even more and that is something worth taking into account.
What it represents?
Image by DC Comics
The Tornado’s Path is a celebration of everything that makes the Justice League what it is and I would dare to say that it’s a very solid and accurate portrayal of what the DC universe is: a place where there are a lot of challenges, but its heroes represent the best of us and the League is the peak of heroism. It feels honest, well-written and compelling, which makes it a very enjoyable read.
Brad Meltzer and Ed Benes crafted a marvelous story where an unlikely protagonist (Red Tornado) was the best point of view in these events and it works like a charm. It’s also a great way to kick start this new iteration of the League and while I think Meltzer’s run would run out of gas pretty quick with The Lightning Saga, I think The Tornado’s Path is a tremendous story that deserves a bit more credit.
A great comic and a great showcase of what the Justice League represents.