Monday, August 10, 2009

What the 'ell is an Elemental? or, FAQ: Flurry & Hellfield

Prelude -- My wife, Jennifer, reads these blogs. I think she enjoys them. She tells me she does. She also tells me she doesn’t understand a lot of my more esoteric references. So she just skips over them. She insists this doesn’t detract from her enjoyment. I can’t help but wonder if this is true, however.

In the next few paragraphs, I’m going to introduce two pretty arcane concepts: Elementals and Byronic Heroes. I apologize ahead of time for the way my mind works. I wish I could simplify my writing and make references to Stephen King and
The Sopranos instead of Lord Byron and De Occulta Philosophia. That being said, let’s get on with it.

When I first created the Trademark Universe circa 1975, I knew I needed “gods.” Normal superfolk just aren’t enough if you really want to tell epic tales. The only way to test the mettle of mere “mortal” superdoers is to set them alongside beings vastly more powerful, and then see how they fare.

Marvel Comics invented this formula with Thor. Thor being an Avenger allowed thoroughly-human heroes like Captain America, Wasp, and Hawkeye to strive for justice on the cosmic level. By the 1970s, Marvel titles boasted a plethora of immortals from both the Asgardian and Olympian traditions, not to mention the Eternals. Likewise, DC Comics utilized gods of their own. Marquee characters such as Wonder Woman and Captain Marvel (Shazam!) were rooted in classical mythology. Once Jack Kirby introduced his New Gods in the early 1970s, the DC universe finally possessed its own pantheon to rival Marvel.

So where did that leave ten-year-old Mark Kozak as he was creating the Trademark Universe? What was I supposed to do when all the good gods -- old and new -- had already been taken?

At first, I thought of going into Egyptian mythology. Problem is, I just couldn’t dig the characters of Ra, Osiris, Horus, and their ilk. I think watching the live-action show Isis on Saturday mornings may have had something to do with my reservations. Needless to say, I continued looking elsewhere.

Somewhere at this time, I came across an issue of Marvel’s Supernatural Thrillers. Although I can’t be certain thirty-five years later, I believe my next-door neighbors had the issue in their comic book drawer. Supernatural Thrillers introduced me to another kind of “god,” namely creatures called Elementals.

Basically, Elementals are creatures akin to spirits that control one of the four classical elements: air, fire, earth, and water. Back in the olden days, magicians and alchemists believed they could perform spells and transmute base metals to gold by subjugating and harnessing the powers of these elementals. Elementals, then, were godlike creatures with powers on the cosmic scale. Marvel’s versions -- Zephyr, Hellfire, Hydron, and Magnum -- vied for control of the universe on several occasions.

Being a kid, I knew a great idea when I saw one. Since Marvel was only using their elementals in a two-bit “horror” comic, I had no qualms about borrowing the concept and tailoring it to my own needs. My Elementals would be the gods of my new superhero universe. Thus, I birthed Flurry (Air), Hellfield (Fire), Torrent (Water), and Landslide (Earth). But I wasn’t done yet.

Besides their status as gods, my Elementals allowed me to explore another avenue of story-telling I found compelling -- sibling relationships and rivalry. As I’ve mentioned in my previous blog, The Worst Trade Ever, much of my childhood was spent interrelating with my three older siblings. We fought each other, schemed together, and relied upon one another. In comic books, I saw these same kinds of relationships personified in Sue and Johnny Storm of the Fantastic Four, as well as evil-mutants-turned-Avengers Quicksilver and the Scarlet Witch.

Using Johnny, Sue, Wanda, and Pietro as templates, I fashioned my own dysfunctional brood of sibling gods. Naturally, my characterizations relied heavily upon normal brother-sister conflicts as reflected in the natural struggle and balance among all four elements. Water douses Fire, yet Fire boils Water. Earth imprisons Air, yet Air erodes Earth. You get the idea. In the Trademark Universe, my Elementals played out their family alliances and rivalries with global consequences.

Foremost among my four Elementals, Flurry and Hellfield saw most of the cosmic action. Thus, I tended to predominantly concentrate on their interactions with each other and towards the super-community as a whole. Personality-wise, they (and their two siblings) shared some similar characteristics, arrogance and hubris being the most noticeable. Aside from their innate presumptuousness, however, Flurry and Hellfield couldn’t have been more different.

As originally conceived, Flurry stood as the most rational and sympathetic of her brood. In my imagining, Flurry was literally the wind. Thus, she could either be a calm, cool breeze on a torrid summer day or a cataclysmic wind storm such as the tornado that leveled Xenia, Ohio when I was nine years old. Within the ranks of the Protectors, Flurry functioned as a kind of first lieutenant under the dual leadership of Silver Streak and Hangman. Later, when those senior heroes took leaves of absence, she assumed leadership of the group. Along the way, she fell in love with and wed the Spring, a retired hero later placed in charge of S-1, the U.S. government agency devoted to policing superheroes.

In complete contrast, Hellfield never fit in anywhere or with anyone. First written as Flurry’s hot-headed petulant brother, Hellfield was admittedly based on Stan Lee’s early characterization of teenage Johnny Storm. Put bluntly, he hated humans, or “blood bags” as he referred to them. Most of his early appearances occurred in the role of villain, laying waste to cities and countries like some kind of polysyllabic Hulk before being pacified by sister Flurry and the Protectors. As I developed Hellfield, though, I began shading his personality to make his motives more interesting and complex.

Once again borrowing from Marvel comics, I decided to “humanize” Hellfield by redrawing the dynamic of his relationship to Flurry. Like Stan Lee’s Quicksilver, Hellfield, too, possessed a jealous, overprotective devotion to his sister, Flurry, that bordered on a kind of incestuous obsession. Later plots found him reluctantly allying himself with the blood bags he so passionately despised merely to keep a “watchful eye” on his sister. Of course, his tenure with the Protectors was rocky and short-lived to say the least. As years went on and the Trademark Universe developed, he popped up sporadically until finally drifting into the ranks of Wolf’s Irregulars right around the time I entered college.

As I’ve mentioned in other blogs, my time in college spurred an intense creative outburst within the Trademark Universe. The new concepts and theories I encountered harkened a renewal -- no, make that a rebirth for the heroes and villains I’d been living with for over a decade. I re-conceptualized a large portion of the Trademark Universe, bringing long-standing characters and plots into line with the self-consciously literate, post-modern sensibilities I ingested on a daily basis. During this period, no Trademark character underwent a more drastic overhaul than Hellfield.

My sophomore year at OU found me deeply immersed in the Romantic Period of English Literature. Not surprisingly, when I encountered the life and writings of George Gordon, Lord Byron, I was drawn to the self-torturing darkness of his world view immediately. His concept of the anti-hero, or Byronic Hero as it came to be known, struck me instantly as something tailor-made for exploitation in the Trademark Universe. For those of you not familiar with the Byronic Hero, he can be quickly defined as an idealized but flawed character who is, in the words of Byron’s ex-lover Lady Caroline Lamb, “mad, bad, and dangerous to know.” Wikipedia provides a further list of characteristics exhibited by the Byronic Hero:

-- high level of intelligence and perception
-- cunning and able to adapt
-- sophisticated and educated
-- self-critical and introspective
-- mysterious, magnetic, and charismatic
-- struggling with integrity
-- power of seduction and sexual attraction
-- social and sexual dominance
-- emotional conflicts, bipolar tendencies, or moodiness
-- a distaste for social institutions and norms
-- being an exile, an outcast, or an outlaw
-- “dark” attributes not normally associated with a hero
-- disrespect of rank and privilege
-- a troubled past
-- cynicism
-- arrogance
-- self-destructive behavior

The further I explored the ideal of the Byronic Hero, the more I realized I had unwittingly created my own rendition in the personage of Hellfield. Suddenly, one of my longest-standing creations finally and truly came to life in my mind. In honor of Hellfield’s rebirth, I crafted an entire story-arc in my mind that once and for all addressed the origins and nature of Hellfield, Flurry, and their brethren.

Until this point in my life, I had never tackled the issue of who or what the Elementals really were. To be honest, I don’t think I possessed the literary or intellectual chops to explain their existence. Flurry and her siblings had been around since the dawn of time living as physical embodiments of the four classical elements. No other information provided nor necessary.

Re-imagining Hellfield, though, opened up my mind to the possibility of re-imagining the entire brood of Elementals. They were the gods of the Trademark Universe, damn it, and it was high time I gave them the attention and respect they deserved. So finally, more than a decade since their creation, I wrestled with the overwhelming question surrounding their existence: who are they, and where did they come from?

My story began in The Protectors and ended in The Irregulars. Along the way, I travelled through eons of history beginning with the Big Bang and ending with the present-day. The four Elementals sprang into existence in our universe the moment of the Big Bang. Before then, they had existed each in their own separate elemental universe. Flurry lived in the Air Universe, Hellfield the Fire Universe, Torrent the Water Universe, and Landslide the Earth Universe. When the Big Bang happened, the cataclysm tore each of them from their respective universe and birthed them together in our universe.

Existing in corporeal form, their physical bodies act as tangible portals or valves connecting their respective elemental universes to our own universe. In order to manifest their powers in our universe, they simply “fold” a portion of their physical bodies back inside themselves, thereby opening the portal/valve and unleashing a part of their original universe. Theoretically, their powers are as infinite as their respective universes. However, since they inhabit physical forms in our physical universe, they are governed by the same physical laws governing everything else. In other words, they get “tired” when manifesting their powers for prolonged times over great distances, thereby becoming physically exhausted. So they can be beaten if forced to over-exertion, an outcome Hellfield knows only too well.

Historically, they lived through the physical and metaphysical events which occurred at the birth of our universe. They saw the galaxies and planets being formed. They sensed the war between God and the fallen angels as it transpired in the Heaven Dimension. They never interacted with the Supreme Deity, however, nor have they ever seen true angels or demons. They gravitated to Earth because they sensed consciousness here with which they could interact and communicate. At first, they had to be content with animal life. Then, however, humans evolved, and they were finally able to intelligently communicate with others separate from themselves.

The first men worshipped them as the first gods. The Elementals alternated between accepting this worship and ignoring humans altogether. Sometime later, beings crossed over to our universe from other universes. These beings were powerful, but not as powerful as Elementals. These beings, unlike the Elementals, purposefully set themselves up as gods among men. Their power actually grew as man worshipped them. In time, these gods actually rivaled the Elementals. Occasionally, these “gods” would vie with the Elementals, but for the most part both groups kept their distance. Eventually, as man’s worship lessened and their powers dwindled, these gods left our planet for greener galaxies.

For the last two millennia, then, the Elementals have been the sole “gods” on Earth. Flurry, unlike her siblings, has chosen to reside almost exclusively with humans, taking on human form and marrying a succession of human men over the centuries. Torrent and Landslide, on the other hand, remain almost completely divorced from humanity. Hellfield, forever the wild card, finds himself drawn to life with humans while simultaneously longing to be rid of them.

So now you have it, Trademarkers. The Elementals in a nutshell. Next up, Clarion and Hangman!

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