Some of the most common superpowers you find in comic books nowadays revolve around the “classic” elements such as fire, earth, wind, or water. When I first looked at the title for Elemental, I assumed that it would follow that same tradition. I was pleasantly surprised to see that author and illustrator James Purdy instead went in a different, innovative direction with his story. Elemental may not be a perfect comic, but with a bit of polishing, it definitely has potential to become a hit in the indie comic world.
The story starts off like your typical superhero origin: the protagonist, a 12-year-old boy named Sean, lives with his Uncle John after his parents are killed. Uncle John is not only a brilliant scientist, but he’s also a teacher at Sean’s new boarding school. In the middle of a science field trip, Sean gets caught in the middle of an experiment that grants him superpowers. Purdy seems to have been influenced heavily by Spider-Man when crafting this origin story. This isn’t necessarily a bad thing since it’s a pretty easy-to-follow origin that doesn’t take up too much time to explain. However, some readers may not be impressed with the blatant similarities.
I was a little confused by Sean’s development throughout the first two issues of the story. He starts off as a 12-year-old, but he acts and talks like he’s at least 16. By the second issue, he’s already going on a date and he has abs! Not to mention that he’s also fighting a massive robotic super-villain, which is not something I’d expect to see from a kid who isn’t even a teenager yet. Now, it’s possible that there was a bit of a time gap between issues one and two, although I’m not entirely sure. I think the story would be much better if we were introduced to Sean as a 16-year-old.
I wasn’t a huge fan of Uncle John either. He was a pretty one-dimensional character who acts as the catalyst for Sean getting superpowers. Once Sean gets his powers, his uncle just happens to also be a costume designer? Seems a little too coincidental, but I’m willing to look past it. After all, it’s not that absurd compared to other coincidences you see in popular comic stories (I mean, a scientist named Doctor Otto Octavius gets an extra four limbs; what are the odds? But I digress…).
Sean’s superpowers were the best part of the story. Sean has the ability to adopt the properties of elements on the periodic table. We see him demonstrate powers involving helium, hydrogen, titanium, and much more. It’s pretty cool how Purdy pulls this off, and it shows that he really did his homework to understand how all of these elements function. There is even a neat feature where, each time Sean uses an elemental power, a little box pops up at the corner of the page with a small blurb about the element and what it can do. Very cool and very creative.
My favorite part of the comic was the artwork. Purdy both wrote and illustrated the entire comic himself, and I can tell that he had fun with the artistic aspect. The pictures look like hand-drawn sketches with tons of color and life flowing through the pages. The illustrations in Elemental almost remind me of manga, especially with the way the characters are drawn. I loved seeing the artwork for the different elemental effects. It really emphasized the awesome powers that Sean wielded. My one complaint about the drawings is that Sean’s costume looked a little too much like DC’s Nightwing. That’s not entirely a bad thing because Nightwing is awesome, but like I mentioned earlier, some readers may not be favorable towards the similarities.
Another thing that bothered me about Elemental was the writing. There were multiple grammatical and spelling errors throughout both issues that disrupted the flow of the storytelling and dialogue. For the most part, I was able to follow along, but I think that the writing could use some polishing up. Despite these errors, I think Purdy makes up for it with the quality of his drawings and the overall creative premise of the story.
At the end of both issues is another innovative touch that caught my interest. Readers can take a quiz on various elements to test their knowledge (there is an answer key for them at the bottom of the page). This turns the comic into an educational tool. For me personally, remembering everything about the periodic table was very difficult in high school. Elemental adds a fun little spin on the concept that makes it easier to remember certain properties of the periodic table. Did you know that titanium is one of the strongest metals? Or that magnesium was once used to make the flash in cameras? I never knew those things until after I read Elemental.
I give credit to Purdy for what seems to be his first foray into comics. The story is interesting, but it could still use more work. The grammar and spelling need to be checked, and certain parts of the characters and plot need to be reassessed. Other than that, the artwork is excellent and has that authentic, hand-drawn look to it. Give Elemental a shot if you want to see great illustrations and if you want to learn more about the periodic table.
Have you read Elemental? What did you make of it? Let us know in the comments section below or send us a tweet!