The month of June 1940 marked the second anniversary of the first superhero comic: Action Comics #1 which, of course, contained within its pages the debut of Superman. Comics featuring colorfully garbed “mystery men” were in their infancy, and publishers were still figuring out the techniques and tropes which would become staples of the comics genre for decades to come. It was an exciting time for the nascent industry; writers and artists were simply making it all up as they went, seeing what worked and what didn’t.

Holyoke Publishing was one of many burgeoning publishing houses. Their debut comic book, Crash Comics (which featured the adventures of The Blue Streak and Strongman, the Perfect Human) had hit the racks the month before and was selling reasonably well. Encouraged, Holyoke launched their planned second magazine, titled Cyclone Comics, with a first issue cover date of June 1940.

Cyclone Comics was a typical 1940’s anthology title; it contained adventure stories set in a variety of genres. The debut issue contained a mystery, a police tale, a war story, a couple of two-fisted adventures, a superhero tale, a historical epic set during the First Crusade, and even the first chapter of an interplanetary series. But it’s the book’s lead story which concerns us today, a tale quite unlike the average comic story of the period.

American folklore is full of tall tales of men able to perform superhuman feats of strength and endurance. Paul Bunyan could cut more trees than any other twenty lumberjacks combined. Pecos Bill used a rattlesnake as a lariat to rope steers. John Henry beat a steam engine in a race to tunnel through a mountain. Although fading from memory in modern times, tall tales were once integral parts of a child’s education (at least through the 1960’s and 1970’s when I was in school) and our popular culture.

So it’s actually a bit surprising that 1940’s comics didn’t adopt the “tall tale” motif more frequently than they did. In fact, the lead story in Cyclone Comics #1, “Tornado Tom”, struck me as a standout for it’s unique approach: it’s a story about a man who gains superior abilities, but one which has more in common with the traditional “tall tale” than it does with the more common superhero narratives of the time.

Tom’s a fellow who is picked up by a tornado and deposited in another state (both literally and metaphorically). The journey has given him some enhanced abilities (superior strength and speed), but has also left him with amnesia and a few “anger management” issues (as you’ll see when you read the tale below). But Tom’s angered only when he’s pushed around or when he sees crime or injustice, so his is the righteous wrath of the American folk hero, the archetypical powerful individual who stands up for the little guy, the common man.

Over the course of Cyclone Comics’ five issues, Tom wandered from town to town in search of a place which seemed familiar to him, hoping it would jog his absent memory. Along the way he fought against bullies and jerks, criminals and racketeers, and aided the police and quite a few citizens. His journey is the story of a superhero without a cape, an epic figure who helps others while searching for himself, a throwback to ancient heroes like Odysseus and Gilgamesh but with a folksy, more modern, distinctly American flavor. Tornado Tom was an uniquely interesting character, albeit an unappreciated one; after Holyoke cancelled Cyclone Comics to make way for more successful anthology titles, Tom’s adventures were not chronicled in any of these later comic books.

Here’s Tornado Tom’s first appearance from Cyclone Comics #1, courtesy of The Digital Comic Museum. Please right-click a page scan and open it in a new window for a larger view.

Cyclone Comics #1,  June 1940

Cyclone Comics #1,  June 1940

Cyclone Comics #1,  June 1940

Cyclone Comics #1,  June 1940

Cyclone Comics #1,  June 1940

Cyclone Comics #1,  June 1940

Cyclone Comics #1,  June 1940

Cyclone Comics #1,  June 1940

Have fun! — Steve

Copyright 2015, Steven A. Lopez. All rights reserved.

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