Wednesday, January 10, 2007

ELEMENTALS #5 Comico, 1985

Elementals was an independent superhero comic published by Comico during the go-go Eighties. Created by writer/artist Bill Willingham, Elementals is about four people who die and then are resurrected and infused with mystical powers and eternal youth by these cosmic elemental beings. Work with me here.

The four dead people become Fathom (water), Morningstar (fire), Jeff (air), and Monolith (earth). Jeff's hero name is Vortex, but everybody just calls him Jeff.
Man, that would piss me off. You get a perfectly good superhero code name and everybody still just calls you Jeff. I would feel the same way if I was Batman and everybody kept calling me Bruce. I’d be all, “Listen, I know you’re Superman and all but cut that Bruce shit out. If I’m on the clock you call me fuckin’ Batman, a’ight?”

Anyway, the thing that made Elementals interesting to me was all the sex and violence. Keep in mind that I was fifteen at the time. Elementals looked like a regular DC or Marvel superhero comic book, but it distinguished itself with graphic super-carnage and "adult" storylines. It was like watching a Cinemax: After Dark movie, but in comic book format. Hmm, that’s probably not a compliment… I dug The Elementals because it struck just the right subversive note for young hormonal Dave.
"You get a perfectly good superhero code name and everybody still just calls you Jeff."
Plus I was curious to see what kind of comic Bill Willingham would produce. I'm an old school RPG geek, so I was very familiar with Willingham's illustrations for TSR games. Didn't he draw some Villains & Vigilantes stuff as well, or am I confusing him with Jeff Dee?
Anyway, Elementals #5 is the culmination of the "Lord Saker" saga, which would be considered the definitive Elementals storyline. If they were going to make an Elementals movie, this would be the basis for the script. Our heroes get captured by the sorcerous Saker after defeating his squad of resurrected villains, cleverly named The Destroyers. The issue preceding this chronicles the year The Elementals spend incarcerated on Nacht Island, Saker's private kingdom (complete with all-female armed forces). That alone blew Young Dave: they're prisoners for an entire year? In most comics the heroes count the amount of time they spend captured in minutes, not months.
At the end of last issue, the water-wielding Fathom escapes through a toilet. In this issue, she comes back to Nacht Island and she's bringing a big fucking tsunami with her. The wave sweeps over the island, killing mass people and shorting out the electrical systems. The rest of The Elementals escape.

These guys have spent an entire year as Saker's involuntary guests, and now they want to vent their frustrations, and violently. The resurrected Destroyers get in the way. Here's Electrocutioner vs Fathom:

As you can probably guess, Electrocutioner was given his code name for a reason - he uses his electro-whammy powers on the flooded room, intending to, well, electrocute Fathom. He doesn't, but he does kill all the she-soldiers who are standing knee-deep in water. Oops.
The evil purple lady Shapeshifter catches up with Morningstar, the object of her sadistic attentions for the past year. Here's a neat little sequence where Shapeshifter changes into a big-ass snake with the swing of a lightbulb:

Is she dry humping the pipe in that panel? What the hell?
Morningstar is not happy to see Shapeshifter no matter what she looks like. Observe:

Shapeshifter and Morningstar meet again. If memory serves, in a later storyline Morningstar discovers that her fiance Eric is actually Shapeshifter, who is literally and psychologically screwing with her. That's pretty messed up if you think about it.
Jeff (aka Vortex) finally goes up against Lord Saker, the undying sorceror who runs this crazy island. In the previous issue we learn that Saker is a Lazarus-like figure who was resurrected by a false prophet during Biblical times. Over the centuries he has developed into a wicked powerful magician. Saker has built this huge magic contraption called the Shadowspear, with which he intends to harness all the magic energy in the world. He doesn't - because Jeff is there to stop him! Go Jeff!

Stupid sorceror - he could make Jeff's head explode or turn him into fart, but no, Saker has to take the Primate Challenge and meet Jeff on his own terms. With some smooth Jeff Fu, our hero basically casts Saker into Hell. The Shadowspear is released into the world and becomes this big spooky plot device storm cloud that goes around resurrecting people and creating monsters and shit like that.
I wish Willingham was still writing and drawing The Elementals. It's probably for the best, because Willingham has moved on and now writes the excellent Fables comic for Vertigo. From what I understand he sold the property to Comico in the Nineties and the last we saw of the characters was in 1997's Elementals Sex Special, an undignified ending to a comic series that had such a promising start. I don't have the Elementals Sex Special, mind you - I looked it up on the Internet. No, seriously.
Fine, think what you want.


Anonymous said...

Actually, the first Elementals Sex Special was genuinely good. It continued Fathom's relationship with the dolphin were-human Walker, had a deeply disturbing piece with Tommy and the woman who took Porter Scott's place as FISH liaison after his death (she's manipulating the hell out of Tommy, but he's manipulating her back, and it's a key step in his slide into inhumanity), and, hmm, darned if I can remember what the other bit was. But they genuinely advanced the character development and overall storyline.

It was a bit later that things really started sucking in a big way. Whatever it was that Willingham may have had in mind for the Oblivion War perished in the hands of other writers and third-rate Image artists. There were repeated dud starts in mini-series that went nowhere, and things got worse and worse. There were, hmm, two or three more sex specials, which weren't noticeably worse than the other storylines, but that's only because it was all so ghastly.

I've heard that the Pantheon series of a dozen or so issues contains most of the ideas that he'd planned for Elementals, but I never got a chance to read it, so I couldn't say.

Anonymous said...

_Elementals_ looks a bit weak today, but in 1985 it was the shizzle.

And, yeah, Millingham was an old D&D artist. His stuff is scattered all over -- there are bits everywhere from the Monster Manual to the Slave Lords modules -- but he was a regular for years.

Oddly, the writing probably holds up better than the art. Despite liberal helpings of cheese ("You bitch!!!"), there's some seriously good stuff buried under there. The glimpse of the far-future Elementals? That was truly disturbing, and has stayed with me.

Oh, and the Christian televangelist who was using mass human sacrifice to create an army of supervillains (with biblical names, yet). That was pretty fscking creepy, especially since Millingham presented him as totally warped yet totally sincere.

ISTR the early issues were better than the later ones (Fantasia Faust? Come on) but there were good-to-brilliant bits throughout.

Have the early issues ever been TPBed?

Doug M.

Anonymous said...

Additional thought: at this point in his career, I think Millingham was much stronger at layouts and design than at anatomy and line work.

Look at that cover, for instance. That's a brilliant cover, very powerful. (And it would have been even more so in 1985, when superhero comic covers were much less interesting than they are today.) But the power comes from the simplicity of the concept and the layout. When you look at the internal art, and home in on some of the characters... ummm.

Still, good stuff.

Whatever happened to Comico, anyway?

Doug M.

Anonymous said...

Comico went out of business. Same people who brought you Grendel, btw. I loved The Elementals in the '80s, but it doesn't stand the test of time. WM

West said...

The descriptions sound great.

From the tone of some of the comments, I'd wonder if it's kinda like Civil War is for me: I like to hear people talking about it more than I enjoy the actual comics.

Anonymous said...

If people went around calling Batman "Bruce"?

Isn't that the new Justice League of America?

Bully said...

There's an extensive interview with Willingham in a very recent The Comics Journal (#278) where he talks about his Elementals, D&D, and other work. here's a link to an excerpt that mainly talks about his DC work, but the full interview is really entertaining and well-worth seeking out.

lostinube said...

As a young comic book collecting lad one of my most precious possessions was the Texas Comics Justice Machine Annual featuring the freakin' T.H.U.N.D.E.R. Agents. God, I loved Justice Machine. Actually, I loved Comico because they did the Robotech and StarBlazers books too. Oh and Mage and Grendel but back then giant transforming robots and a ship that was essentially a gigantic gun were more appealing to me. Anyway, Dave's post got me into looking more at the Elementals and I didn't know that a) Bill Willingham was involved and b) the Texas annual was their first appearance. I tended to focus more on the Justice Machine story. Dave! Do a Justice Machine review! Hell, for the rest of the year just do Comico comics!

Anonymous said...

Doug M., The first five issues or so are collected as Elementals: The Natural Order.

Teenage me also had an intense love affair with Elementals when it came out. It did the whole gritty realism thing, with the nudity and the swearing, but also in a different way. They became celebrities and a commercial property in the course of their series much like X-Statix or any number of more recent series have show superteams developing.

I was surprised to see that you had no love for Ratman. Sure, he seemed to exist just so stronger people could grab him by his tail and fling him across rooms, but he was pretty funny all the same...

Also, the later Captain Cadaver issues were totally and completely Airwolf. Any story subtitled "Being in Philadelphia Really Sucks" is all right by me.

Anonymous said...

Also, Back Issue magazine #2 has a story on the rise and fall of Comico.

Anonymous said...

There was a whole year when I tried to go by Mister Rocktober, so I definitely feel Vortex's pain.

Dweeze said...

Law student Dweeze was quite fond of Elementals as well.

Man, that would piss me off. You get a perfectly good superhero code name and everybody still just calls you Jeff.

True story – I once worked as a prep cook in a restaurant that had a clown, Chuckles, come in every Tuesday evening for family night. Chuckles’ real name was Steve. The first time I worked on a family night, I saw Steve come in, go into the break area, close the door, and later emerge in full clown make-up. The guy who was training me nudged me, said “Watch this,” then turned to him and said “Hey Steve, how’s it going?” Steve whirled around, anger in his eyes, and responded “How many fucking times do I have to tell you, when I’m in the outfit, I’m Chuckles, not Steve!” and then stormed off. So Jeff should have done the same thing.

West said...

Dweeze, it would've been hilarious if some lil kid had seen that clown cursing like that.

Hell, *I'd* have loved to see it.

Hmm... Are you sure his name wasn't 'Krusty?'

Anonymous said...

Or Shakes?

Anonymous said...

There was a whole year when I tried to go by Mister Rocktober, so I definitely feel Vortex's pain.

I, on the other hand, had a co-worker once start calling me Baron Sinister, which stuck for a few weeks. I was being extraordinarily dickish to some customers at the time.

Coincidentally, my word verification is "ithug". Yep, that about summarizes the Baron Sinister period of my life.

Edward Liu said...

I remember seeing ads for Elementals while I was discovering Grendel, and probably had a chance to pick them up in the same quarter bins but never did. I think I kept doing double-takes at those ads because I thought that Fathom was Jade from Green Lantern in a much smaller outfit.

Anonymous said...

the group was the Rapture. I actually have the first issue signed by Willingham. That was some cool comics

Anonymous said...

Thanks for the post. I just recently discovered Fables after getting back into comics full-time (dropped out in the mid-90s due to, well, comics mostly sucking) and this makes me want to go back and find these comics too.

Anonymous said...

This was a great book. And you're right, Bill Willingham did some work for Villains & Vigilantes, including the not-so-coincidentally named module, "Death Duel with the Destroyers," featuring the same villain group (with a few tweaks) as the ones who appeared in the Elementals.

Anonymous said...

Rrrrrrrrrrun She-Hulk!!!

Mikey said...

Somewhat OT, but..

The man charged with trying to extort $1.5m from
Oprah Winfrey is called... Keifer Bonvillain.

One 'D' short of perfection. :)

tavella said...

Oh, and the Christian televangelist who was using mass human sacrifice to create an army of supervillains (with biblical names, yet). That was pretty fscking creepy, especially since Millingham presented him as totally warped yet totally sincere.

Yeah, the issue that focuses on the ways he's killing people in hopes of creating elemental-types has stuck with me all these years. It was gruesome, but didn't feel capriciously so, or for shock effect.

Though that may have been because it was pre-90s shock comic time.

Anonymous said...

And you're right, Bill Willingham did some work for Villains & Vigilantes, including the not-so-coincidentally named module, "Death Duel with the Destroyers," featuring the same villain group (with a few tweaks) as the ones who appeared in the Elementals.

As well as a sequel, "The Island of Doctor Destroyer", which features a sorcerer and his island base.

Anonymous said...

That was "The Island of Doctor Apocalypse." I don't have that one, but I do have "Death Duel."

Anonymous said...

Dr Destroyer is a Champions villain. Wrong RPG.

Anonymous said...

Now I'm going to have to pull out my copy of the Sex Special to see if it really was an undignified ending.

Yep, it was.


Anonymous said...

I vaguely remember reading this story. I know I bought the trade off of E-Bay, and that it took me what seemed like an eternity to finish the transaction because the guy was in Canada; I also remember some of the scenes that Dave described. But the details, they escape me. I seem to remember it beginning en media res (one of the few literary terms I can use on a regular basis to justify my English degree), with no real origin story of the team. I really ought to find my copy of this...

Anonymous said...

My GOD! I can't believe I've come across this thread! LOL! Better late than never.

I adored Elementals back in the day. I can even say my very first publishing credit came by way of Elementals. When the Sex Specials came out, they announced a contest for the best erotic stories concerning the Elemental of your choice. Monolith was my favorite, but there's not much you can do with a stone golem, if you get my meaning, not to mention Tommy being a kid... so I turned to my second fav, who wasn't an Elemental at all. Walker, Fathom's man. I had a lot of fun, sent the story in, and just about passed out when it turned out to be one of the four stories chosen for print. (My books are in storage right now, or I'd tell you which issue it was in.)

I was the only female chosen, and so darned proud. I hid it from my parents, though, 'cause I was sure they would absolutely crap their pants. :D

Wow. Thanks for the memory.

lazy_cg said...

thing that has a sex special is good in my book.

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