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, but as the book went on, he eventually stepped down to simply writing it before leaving the book altogether halfway through volume 2. It also features early work by Jill Thompson (Beasts of Burden, The Sandman) and Tony Daniel.
Four ordinary humans—Air Force pilot and Vietnam veteran Jeff Murphy, homicide detective Jeanette Crain, flighty heiress Rebecca Golden, and 13-year-old academic prodigy Tommy Czuchra—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, albeit more violent and pseudo-realistic than many contemporary books were, 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 or Watchmen, and remains a cult favorite among many who have read it.
Willingham sold the rights to Elementals to Comico's publisher Andrew Rev in the 1990s in order to help restart the publisher's comics business, but it never got off the ground and quickly folded. This appeared to be the end of the road for Elementals for over 20 years, until someone at Dynamite quietly applied for a copyright to the series in 2017.
- Aborted Arc: The second volume ended abruptly in the middle of an arc about the Oblivion War, due to Comico shutting its doors. A few years later, the company briefly reopened and issued a third volume, in which the Oblivion War had been over for a while and its survivors were putting their lives back together. Comico eventually put out a two-issue miniseries, How the War Was Won, to cover the gap.
- 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.
- And I Must Scream: Janet Brown, the superheroine called the Haunting, was murdered by Saker in the 1920s, because she had a slight amount of natural magical ability and he wanted to see what would happen when she died. He promptly stuck her soul in a bottle and left it in storage somewhere for the next 60 years or so. It's not surprising that Janet, once she got released, is a clingy, emotional wreck.
- Author Tract: Willingham's writing features this as a matter of course, but his work on 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 his body 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.
- Comic-Book Time: Specifically averted, as part of an effort by Willingham to lampoon or avoid a number of the then-standard superhero tropes. The Elementals got their powers in 1983; 7 years later, in an issue published in 1990, Tommy mentions it's 1990. Of course, a lot of the problems posed by this aren't relevant due to most of the comic's cast specifically being, well, ageless supernaturally-endowed humans.
- 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.
- Elemental Powers
- Expy: Jeremy Skagg is basically Jimmy Swaggart with his serial numbers filed off. It gets more obvious as his arc goes on.
- Gorn: A hallmark of Bill Willingham's work in the period. Volume 1 isn't that bad, but volume 2 features a lot of gruesome on-panel dismemberment and murder. There's one infamous panel where a demon soldier eats a soldier's head, and another where a vampire bites into a pregnant woman's stomach.
- Hotter and Sexier: The infamous Elementals Sex Special spin-offs relaxed the already loose policies that the main book had concerning sex and nudity.
- Moral Guardians: For the lack of a better term, with a dash of Political Correctness Gone Mad. A government official somehow manages to enter the labs where scientists study the remains of creatures the titular team has defeated. She suffers a moral outrage when she sees the corpse of Captain Cadaver, a literal vampire, still has a stake lodged in his ribcage. She promptly removes it, over the objections of the scientists (who know full well it's a damn vampire), citing the man's right to dignity as a corpse. To absolutely no one's surprise but the idiot's, Cadaver almost instantly regenerates and proceeds to transform Cleveland into a city of the undead.
- 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.
- Stripperiffic: Fathom's second costume, as shown in volume 2, is skin-tight with an elaborate cut-out panel that, depending on the artist, sometimes left one nipple bare. It was either made entirely of tape or was supernatural in origin, as otherwise, there's no way it would stay on at all.
- 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.
- The man who would become Captain Cadaver laments being a "superstitious and cowardly sot" a few moments before dying and returning as a vampire.
- Thou Shalt Not Kill: Deliberately averted. One of the primary themes of Elementals is that violence always has consequences, as a direct reaction to the relative bloodlessness of Jim Shooter's Marvel Comics. When it shows up on-panel in this book, it's always bloody and lethal. By the second volume, even Fathom is sufficiently hardened by her experiences that she's willing to drown an entire ship full of people without a second thought.