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(religion, spiritualism, and occult)

In earliest times, humankind believed in spirits that inhabited practically everything: a spirit of the river, the stream, the woods, rocks, thunder, lightning, wind, clouds, and so on. Four classes of spirits especially came to be associated with the four elements of air, fire, water, and earth. Sylphs were associated with air, salamanders with fire, undines with water, and gnomes with earth. Some Wiccan groups invoke these elementals as part of their rite of Casting the Circle. Some also believe that these elementals assist in the working of magic.

Doreen Valiente says that the gnomes, from the Latin gnoma (knowledge), are the "knowing ones." Undines, from the Latin unda (a wave), are the "creatures of the waves." Sylphs, from the Greek silphe (butterfly), are delicate creatures of the air. Salamanders, from the Greek salambe (fireplace), are spirits of fire.

Janet and Stewart Farrar say that the term "elemental" is used for a thoughtform that, "spontaneously by strong emotion or deliberately by mental effort, is split off from its human originator and acquires temporary quasi-independent existence." Such elementals, they claim, may be used for doing healing work.

Enlarge picture
Elementals #1 © 1984 COMICO the Comic Company. (Cover art by Bill Willingham and Bill Anderson.)


(pop culture)

Earth, wind, fire, water. Element-based superpowers may seem routine in the world of superheroes—Geo-Force, Swamp Thing, Storm, Human Torch, and Aquaman are just a few of the characters who possess them—but in the hands of creator Bill Willingham, they were anything but pedestrian. Premiering in Texas Comics’ Justice Machine Annual #1 (1984), the Elementals were four ordinary, unrelated people—Tommy Czuchra, a precocious fourteen-year-old orphan; Jeff Murphy, a thrill-seeking professional pilot; Jeanette Crane, a passionate Los Angeles cop; and Rebecca Golden, a pampered heiress—who die. But not for long.

They return from the grave with abilities that connect them to the planet’s natural order. Czuchra can transform into the superstrong Monolith, a being of living stone. Murphy becomes Vortex, able to soar at fantastic speeds and project concussive blasts. Crane pyro-kinetically masters fire and heat immunity. Golden—who now has green skin, and webbed fingers and toes—becomes Fathom (no relation to Mike Turner’s similarly named heroine), manipulating (and even becoming) water. In the first story arc, “The Natural Order,” writer/artist Willingham pushes the envelope by delving into subject matter that Marvel and DC Comics (at the time) considered taboo: the social and psychological repercussions of resurrection from the dead, and graphic explorations of violence and sociopathic behavior.

Independent publisher, Comico the Comic Company, picked up Willingham’s creator-owned superteam shortly after the Texas Comics debut and issued Elementals #1 in 1984. Erratically released at first, Elementals garnered a loyal fan base, largely due to Willingham’s provocative creative voice. As a writer, he stretched with each installment; over time, he addressed occultism, child abuse, sexual identity, religious obsession, immoral ministers, depression, and suicide, all while delivering well-paced, solidly scripted superhero stories. A disciple of folklore, Willingham also introduced fantasy themes into Elementals, with storybook and mythological characters appearing, territory he later continued to cover by writing the critically acclaimed series Fables (2002-present) for DC Comics’ Vertigo imprint. As an artist, Willingham matured with each issue; while starting as a competent copycat (popular Batman and Micronauts artist Michael Golden’s influence is quite obvious in his early work), Willingham always commanded a firm grasp of storytelling, and blossomed into a remarkably talented illustrator.

But Willingham came and went, and Elementals issues written and drawn by others lacked his magic and verve. In early 1989, Comico devised a “best of both worlds” scenario to keep Willingham on the title and publish what had become a strong seller for the company on a monthly schedule: Ele-mentals was relaunched with vol. 2 issue #1, with Willingham scripting and providing cover art, but with Mike Leeke and Mike Chen on interior art (superstar artist Adam Hughes, then an up-and-comer, guest-penciled Elementals #12). This plan worked well—until bankruptcy forced Comico to close its doors in the early 1990s. Not long thereafter, a new financier revived Comico and purchased Elementals from its creator. Willingham and the artists and editors involved with the earlier, groundbreaking series chose not to participate in this new venture, and the new publisher pandered to the marketplace with some gratuitously exploitative comics involving the characters (including Elementals Sex Special #1-#4 and Elementals Sexy Lingerie Special #1). The new Comico was dead by the mid-1990s, and it took Elementals to the grave with it, an unfortunate conclusion to a once-celebrated series. —ME

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