when you hear "the elements," two things tend to come to mind, a) the elements of fire, water, earth, etc. and b) the elements on the periodic table. it can get a bit confusing in comics and the like, but thankfully, it becomes more obvious which kind of "elemental" a character is when they're either shooting fire or transmuting molecules, or sometimes both.
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elemental powers in terms of fire and ice and the like have been in comics since the golden age, and they're still a staple today in all forms of media. the other kind of elemental too, matter and atoms and all that, have had their time in the limelight. in the form of characters like the avatar to firestorm, the elements have always interested creators and fans alike. although, not everyone knows of some of the cooler elemental masters in comic books, so cbr's got 15 elemental heroes right here for you.
15 red tornado
an android created by the villainous dr. t.o. morrow, red tornado has had a long, and somewhat convoluted history as a wind-controlling superhero in the dc universe. though the "young justice" cartoon helped create a more stream-lined origin for ol' tornado, his actual comic history is pretty strange.
created in the 60's, red tornado first appeared in "mystery in space #61" where he appeared as a sentient tornado called "ulthoon" who battled adam strange in rann. though this was his first appearance, he didn't go by the name "red tornado" until "justice league of america #64" where he took a form and costume similar to the red tornado we all know. this version was in fact the android created by t.o. morrow. as it turns out, ulthoon merged himself with t.o. morrow's then in-progress android after learning of the scientist's plans. tornado's past and origins can get pretty confusing, but regardless, this tornado-creating, cyclone-controlling, wind-waking android is truly one of the greatest elemental heroes in comic history.
how could we not include the weather witch herself? storm, as her name implies, controls the weather, lightning, wind, rain, the works. the white-haired rain goddess from kenya has been a staple of the x-men since her first appearance in 1975, serving as leader of the x-men at times and as a professor at the xavier academy as well as the jean grey academy for mutants.
storm has had a long time to learn to control her elemental abilities, able to accurately direct lightning at her opponents and use the wind to fly. storm was born to a kenyan tribal princess and an american photographer who moved her to cairo soon after her birth. after losing her parents to an accident, storm wandered through cairo, stealing to live and later being worshipped as a rain goddess after she started getting her mutant abilities. she eventually found her way to charles xavier and learned to control her powers and use them for a good cause. storm is perhaps the strongest weather elemental in all of the marvel universe, perhaps even stronger than the god of thunder himself.
created in part by the late great dwayne mcduffie, static is perhaps most well known for his wb cartoon series, "static shock." when creating the milestone media characters that would eventually be introduced into the main dc continuity, mcduffie stated that static was meant to be the "spider-man" type, the teenage hero who has to deal with superpowers and secret identities on top of the usual problems teenagers face every day. while spider-man was the base of the character, mcduffie made sure that static would be a more contemporary teen hero, one that illustrated the struggle of a black teenager in modern society.
static's electrical abilities have a lot of power to them. not only can the teen hero produces electrical shocks, he can also manipulate the electromagnetic spectrum, control metal (allowing him to fly on metal disks), and control technology. all of these abilities and more were spotlighted in various episodes of the popular animated series, as were the racial and societal issues that the comics strived to represent and explore.
12 captain planet
earth! fire! wind! water! er... heart? okay okay, heart is always the butt of "captain planet" jokes, so let's not dwell on the cliche. instead, let's focus on the environmental hero himself, captain planet. premiering in september of 1990, "captain planet and the planeteers" followed the five planeteers, teenagers entrusted with the five elemental rings by gaia, the spirit of the earth (voiced by whoopi goldberg, strangely enough) that gave them abilities to defend the earth from pollution and disaster. when they alone couldn't handle the job, they combined their powers to form the titular character, captain planet.
captain planet's superpowers were never quite fully stated or explained, as he usually had whatever power he needed to defeat the bad guy. regardless, it's implied that he has all of the planeteers' powers since he's created "by their powers combined" and all that jazz. on top of earth, fire, wind, water, and heart (which gives him telepathy and empathy; he doesn't just like, shoot live hearts at people), captain planet was also shown with the ability to transmute elements. so really, he's the ultimate elemental superhero, at least outside of comics.
created to betray the teen titans from the very beginning, terra was an earth-controlling superhero who premiered in "new teen titans #79" in december of 1982. terra was the illegitimate daughter of the king of markovia and her brother is the superhero geo-force. because of terra being evidence of the king's affair, she was sent to live in america where she gained work as a hitwoman, eventually working for deathstroke to infiltrate the teen titans.
terra is perhaps known best for her appearance in the "teen titans" cartoon, voiced by ashley johnson. in this version, terra's origins are glossed over and her infiltration of the teen titans is slightly modified. here, her character arc focused more on the instability of her powers and her "lone ranger" tendencies. in both the comic and cartoon versions, terra has the ability to control any earth material (rocks, dirt, etc.), allowing her to float on rocks, toss boulders at enemies and even cause massive earthquakes.
10 the sailor scouts (mercury, mars, jupiter)
the sailor scouts (or sailor senshi as they're known in japan) are the main heroes of "sailor moon," but you probably already knew that. you may also know that the sailor scouts, or more specifically sailor mercury, sailor mars, and sailor jupiter, are elemental superheroes, ones that are incredibly powerful.
from jupiter's "supreme thunder" and "sparkling wide pressure," to mars' "fire soul" and mercury's "shine aqua illusion," these magical girls can really pack a punch. perhaps the strangest part about these three — stranger than superheroes wearing schoolgirl sailor uniforms — is that their elements don't really make sense in relation to their powers. jupiter sort of works with all the storms that occur on the gas giant, but mars and mercury seem to be a bit off. mars, which is farther from the sun, would make more sense having water/ice powers, since its colder there, while mercury would make more sense with fire as it is closer to the sun, thus hotter. regardless, it would've been a crime not to include these three element-wielding scouts on the list.
9 element lad
"element" is in his name, so how could we not include him? though casual comic readers, and even some long-time readers, might not know of element lad, we can assure you, he's one of the cooler heroes of "the legion of superheroes."
element lad first appeared in "adventure comics #307 "in april of 1963 and is the last living native of the planet trom, a radioactive world once full of beings with the ability to transmute chemical elements. because of their ability to transmute, precious metals like gold had no value to the trommites, making their planet very non-materialistic and spiritual. the other trommites were killed by the space pirate roxxas for refusing to use their transmuting abilities to create valuable and precious materials for him. element lad survived due to being in space at the time and, with the help of the legion of superheroes was able to bring the pirate to justice. element lad would eventually go on to lead the legion of superheroes at one point.
8 the human torch
marvel's first superhero comic was the stan lee and jack kirby creation, "the fantastic four." often referred to as "marvel's first family," the fantastic four have had a long, long history in marvel comics ever since their first appearance in 1961. the members are of course reed richards/mr. fantastic, susan storm/the invisible woman, ben grimm/the thing, and of course johnny storm/the human torch
some fans might not be aware that johnny storm actually took his superhero name from a hero that came before him. the original human torch was actually an android created by carl burgos for marvel's predecessor, timely comics. in the marvel continuity, the original human torch was a wwii hero who johnny was a fan of. as the human torch, johnny can engulf himself in flames in a form that allows him to fly and shields him from damage. both in and out of his fiery form, johnny has pyrokineitc abilities and can absorb fire into his body without damaging himself. the human torch is perhaps one of the greatest, if not the greatest fire elementals in comics.
also known as the element man, metamorpho was once rex mason, a former adventurer turned superhero after exposure to radiation turned him into a shapeshifting mutant. in this new form, rex could turn his whole body into any element or combination of elements. he can also shape shift into different forms, though unfortunately, he does not have the ability to transform back into a normal human.
because of his inability to return to human form, rex hated his powers, feeling like he was diseased or cursed. despite this, he still managed to gain more and more control over his freakish form. in fact, his ability to transform into different elements was once limited to only elements found in the human body, but he eventually overcame that limit. metmorpho has served on teams such as the outsiders and the justice league, finding some solace in his ugly form by using the powers it gives him for a good cause.
founding x-men member and living snow-man, robert "bobby" drake is hardly ever seen missing from most x-men comics. creators stan lee and jack kirby state that iceman was essentially a copy of the human torch, but with the opposite powers, and this is seen in bobby's position in the x-men as the wild-card/comic relief.
iceman's ice abilities allow him to freeze water particles in the air around him and turn his entire body into ice, creating a damage shield, much like the human torch. in recent x-men comics, bobby has gained the ability to make sentient ice clones of himself and is even able to create an ice monster that he has used to scare his students at the jean great academy for mutants. iceman has appeared in numerous adaptations — including the "x-men" films, "spiderman and his amazing friends" and had a prominent role in the "wolverine and the x-men" cartoon — and is one of marvel's most prominent elemental heroes.
5 atom eve
a transmuting hero from the pages of robert kirkman's "invincible," atom eve has staggeringly powerful matter-mainuplating abilities. also known as samantha "eve" wilkins, atom eve is an on and off superhero and invincible's one true-love (superheroes sure love redheads).
eve's ability to rearrange the atoms of any object grant her a wide array of abilities. she can turn non-living objects into other non-living objects, she can phase through solid matter, change the density of the air to fly, and can even bring herself (and others) back from the verge of death. she also has an innate knowledge of chemistry and the elements due to the genetic engineering that also gave her her powers. eve's powers manifests themselves in the form of pink energy which encompasses whatever she's transmuting. though she is powerful, there is a comedic side to her powers, as she will often "dispose" of "excess atoms" — which she accumulates from using her powers too much — in the form of bowel moments. at least it's semi-realistic, if not a bit gross.
we wanted to just write "he is groot" in this section, but that'd wouldn't have quite been enough. the lovable galactic guardian actually first premiered as a villainous monster in "tales to astonish #13" but would eventually drop his villain/horror monster status and join up with the guardians of the galaxy.
groot is known for only speaking the words "i am groot" and for his portrayal in marvel's "guardians of the galaxy" film and its upcoming sequel "guardians of the galaxy vol. 2." in both his comic and film appearances, groot is shown to have the abilities of a living pant, which makes sense with his tree-like appearance. groot can grow his wood-like body at will, release different plant spores and grows leaves along his body. he is also capable of regeneration, even from near-death. the five traditional elements in several mythologies are earth, wind, fire, water and wood, so it'd be a damn shame if a living tree wasn't included in this list.
yes, yes, we all get it, aquaman is the butt of many a fish joke and is considered useless by most comic readers. to be fair, he does frequently come off as pretty useless when outside of the ocean, but when ruling over atlantis, he has proved himself to be a strong and capable warrior and king. and as king of atlantis, thus king of all of the earth's oceans, that pretty much makes aquaman the master of all water, an elemental monarch so to speak.
though aquaman, in most comic appearances, cannot control water, he should still be considered an elemental superhero. as an atlantean, arthur curry has a physiology that allows him to survive the deepest depths of the ocean. this grants him super strength, superhuman durability, and of course the ability to breath underwater. he can also swim at incredible speeds and has the ability to command sea creatures through telepathy. to put it bluntly, he's the king of the whole damn ocean, able to survive the harshest trials it may put forth, ruling over the kingdom of atlantis, and able to control every creature in its depths. forgive the cheesy line, but he truly is the aquaman.
2 the avatar (aang & korra)
"master of all four elements" is a pretty good reason to include avatars aang and korra of michael dante dimartino and bryan konietzko's "avatar" series. the avatar is the keeper of peace and harmony throughout the world, serving as the great uniter of all four nations and elements.
in the original series, aang, the last airbender, was the world's avatar. aang ran away from his home at the southern air temple, afraid to face his destiny. in a moment of fear, aang froze himself in ice for a hundred years, eventually emerging to master all four elements and stop the fire nation from taking over the world. when aang passed away, he was reincarnated into korra of the southern water tribe. unlike her predecessor, korra is a rough and tough girl itching for action when her caretakers do everything to keep her safe and isolated from the world. both avatars eventually master all four elements and create peace for their respective eras.
contrary to what his name might imply, firestorm actually does more than produce fire. perhaps the name comes more from his appearance, since his head is, you know, on fire. regardless, firestorm is a superhero with the ability to manipulate well... everything. he can rearrange atoms, manipulate elements, absorb energy and radiation, manipulate organic matter, his density... the list goes on and on.
firestorm is actually two people in one body. when high schooler ronnie raymond and physicist martin stein were caught in a nuclear accident, they were fused into one being, a nuclear man. stein was unconscious during the accident, making ronnie in control of the fused being. ronnie takes control of the firestorm body while professor stein acts as a conscience or voice of reason. other combinations have taken the mantle of firestorm, including mikahil arkadin, jason rusch and in the cw-verse version, jefferson jackson. with all of his abilities, firestorm is perhaps the greatest elemental hero of them all, rocking the ability to manipulate both the traditional elements —earth, water, fire, wind — and the chemical elements.
which element-controlling superhero is your favorite? did he or she make the list? let us know in the comments!