Comic Book: The Elementals
was a dark superhero series published by Comico in three volumes in the 1980s and 1990s. It was initially written and illustrated by Bill Willingham, later of Fables
fame, although he hopped on and off the book as each volume progressed; it also features early work by Jill Thompson (Beasts of Burden
Four ordinary humans are brought back from the dead
by ancient elemental spirits in order to combat Saker, an evil sorcerer who is a danger to the natural order.
The first few issues of the series featured typical superhero battles, but the series grew more psychological as it progressed, delving into topics such as death, fame and alienation. Elementals
was an interesting example of mature comics before DKR
, and remains a cult favorite among many who have read it.
- Amazon Brigade: Saker's personal military squad is entirely female. The reason behind this is never made clear, but there are hundreds of them and they exhibit high levels of training and dedication.
- Author Tract: Willingham's writing features this as a matter of course, but the first volume of Elementals is, among other things, a serious rant about the presence and consequences of violence in superhero comics.
- Bittersweet Ending: In the first story arc, the Elementals defeat Saker, but the supernatural atomic bomb Shadowspear has still been unleashed into the world.
- Blessed with Suck: Each of the four Elementals has near-absolute power over their particular element, combined with a powerful healing factor. As a trade-off, they're deeply alienated from "normal" humans, often seem like emotionally-detached zombies when they aren't actually in danger, constantly pursued by assassins both mundane and supernatural, and viewed with suspicion by the government they're ostensibly employed by. Tommy has a particularly bad dose of this, as he was thirteen when he died and is stuck at that age thereafter.
- Butt Monkey: If something bad happens, it usually happens to Vortex first.
- Combat Pragmatist: Saker challenges Vortex to a no-powers, mano a mano fistfight, at which point Vortex uses his powers to lift Saker up and feed him to his own demons. Bill Willingham loves this trope, and uses it over and over again.
- Crapsack World: Post-Shadowspear, Earth is routinely stalked by a variety of supernatural creatures, most of which feed on or kill humans for sport. Cleveland is the hunting ground for a crazed vampire, ancient spirits from mythology turn out to be very real, and Earth is invaded by demonic forces in volume 2.
- Hotter and Sexier: The infamous Elementals Sex Special spin-offs relaxed the already loose policies that the main book had concerning sex and nudity.
- Obviously Evil: Saker's origin story begins with him CURSING JESUS CHRIST AS HE IS CRUCIFIED, then going on to become an inquisitor, a witch burner and a Nazi. He plans to murder billions of people, but is stopped (kind of).
- We Can Rule Together: Saker delivers this speech to Tommy, leading to a Shut Up, Hannibal! moment.
- Slave to PR: An interesting take on this one. The Elementals are about to be used as lab rats, and have no legal power to prevent this. So they start doing superheroic things as a way to keep the public on their side, keeping themselves Untouchable as far as the government is concerned.
- Take That:
- The Rapture is basically what would happen if a 1980s televangelist lived in a superhero universe. The Reverend Jeremy Skagg preaches fundamentalist Christianity while he's on camera, but the moment they turn off, he's a hypocritical control freak who doesn't abide by the rules he preaches. This is before he becomes obsessed with creating his own all-Christian superhuman strike team.
- Thor shows up towards the end of volume one as a well-meaning antagonist for the Elementals, and spends a lot of his page time talking about how silly the Marvel Comics version of himself is. Among other things, he's been hanging out on Earth for the last few thousand years, so he talks like an erudite Englishman rather than Thor's faux-Shakespearian dialect.