Longbox Legends: URTH 4 Holds A Key To Comics’ Future

Urth 4 is a superhero team book published by Continuity Comics, and their first issue solves a mystery about what’s been missing from comics for the last 30 years. What’s that? You’ve never heard of Urth 4 OR Continuity Comics? Is this going to be a boring history lesson? Let’s find out.

What the heck is Continuity Comics?

Good question. Way back in the decade of plastic, hairspray, and shoulder pads, (aka the 80’s) a new comic publishing company was formed by Neal Adams, the famed DC artist. Adams’ goal was to create a comics house where he could exercise more creative ownership and control over his own creations. Sound familiar? It’s the same model used by other creators to start companies such as Image. You can read much more about it here.

Alas, the dream only lasted a few years, and Continuity Comics folded in 1994. Many of the properties created in their 10-year existence disappeared into a dusty cabinet somewhere, or they were picked up by other publishers like Valiant. One such property, the subject of this post, is a little team known as Urth 4.

Tell me more about this Urth 4

Gladly. Urth 4 was a 4-person superhero team with powersets matching the basic elementals: Earth, Fire, Air, Water. The group was diverse in gender and ethnicity, and they interacted (at least in the first issue) as a coordinated team. In a way, this was Adams’ attempt at creating his own version of the Fantastic Four with a different origin spin and a general focus on environmentalism. You would expect to see similar story themes on an episode of Captain Planet, but the story structure catered to an action-oriented audience. In short, cross Captain Planet with the Fantastic Four and you get Urth 4.

Urth 4 ran for eleven issues in total. The team called themselves Urth 4 through the first four issues. They renamed themselves (and the book) to Earth 4 for the remaining seven. Neal Adams, co-founder of Continuity Comics, painted the debut issue’s cover, and the first issue’s art team is a cavalcade of who’s who from comics history:

  • Peter Stone – Lead writer
  • Trevor Von Eeden – Pencils
  • Ian Akin, Brian Garvey – Inks
  • Liz Berube – Colors
  • Ken Bruzenak – Letters

Was it the best superhero team book ever created? No

Does the first issue contain the best art ever seen on planet Earth up to that point? It’s good but not THAT good.

Does the story and dialog read like the second coming of Shakespeare? No. To be honest the dialog is clunky, and I found several typos.

How does this book hold the key to anything?

Ahh, the key is in the premise of the team’s origin. On page 17, we learn the team was gifted their powers by the entity that embodies the life force of the planet.

Don’t call her Mother Nature. She reprimands the team for calling her that.

She chooses the team to possess the elemental powers based on their collective strength of character and will. She believes these four are the best candidates to use elemental gifts to defend her body (Earth) for the betterment of all its inhabitants. In effect, the team is powered and assembled by a call from a greater, higher power.

The team doesn’t come together to fight for a mutual benefit, or to fulfill a promise, or to avenge a lost loved one. They are brought together by something greater than themselves as defenders and champions. And, that’s what’s been missing of late in so many story arcs from current publishers: A call to fight for some greater purpose.

Call it Fate. Call it Destiny. Call it God. Call it the Universe. Call it the Force. Call it whatever you like, but the idea is the source of an higher mind that has a greater view of our world and the struggles between good and evil. From this source comes the call to adventure that is referenced in every version of “the hero’s journey” that’s been the archetype of every legendary adventure story since the beginning of the written word.

Heroes Heed The Call, Everything Else Is Just Squabbling

When heroes fight against villains or worse, against each other, in many books that are published at the time of this writing, it’s usually in pursuit of a personal goal. That goal being a tribal interest (Marvel’s mutants), or a governmental interest (Marvel’s SHIELD), or a personal albeit altruistic interest (pretty much anything related to Batman). It’s rare to find any superhero these days that’s fighting in answer to a call. A call that comes from some higher power or ideal that’s greater than themselves; barring some staunch personal code.

Too often we’re finding superheroes who’s main focus is wrestling with their personal demons or at odds with their friends and foes in ideological conflicts. The fight of every hero has almost universally degenerated into the squabbling of mere mortals. Consider examples where popular heroes are either connected to, or in some way, beholden to a higher power and the opportunity that connection has opened up for more fertile storytelling:

  • The Flash has the Speed Force
  • Green Lantern has the Guardians of OA
  • Luke Skywalker has the Force
  • Every Marvel character has the One-Above-All

All good examples of this point in action, and there are not nearly enough of them.

In each of these examples, the connection to a higher, guiding influence not only gives the storytelling a larger scope to explore, but adds so much more diversity and complexity to the story ideas. Let’s face it, there’s only so many ways to explore the Bat/Cat relationship or Peter Parker/Osborn clan relationship before you start to think “This again?”

Hey, Publishers! Take a tip from a defunct superhero team. Give your old heroes something to fight for that’s greater than themselves, and watch the story well overflow.

Thank you, Urth 4! You left us too soon.

Author’s Note: Local Comic Shops (LCS) are going through a tough time right now with the pandemic outbreak of COVID-19. Comics fans of every flavor that care about his or her LCS should try to do what they can. So, here’s my part:

If you’re in Northern Delaware, South East Pennsylvania, or Southern New Jersey area, please take a moment to visit Captain Blue Hen Comics in Newark, DE. Say ‘hi,’ pick up a book, order a book (they’re on Comichub.com), and let them know you support them.

If you’re nowhere near that area, please find YOUR LCS using Comic Shop Locator and lend your support.

Thanks, and stay safe.

Gabriel Hernandez
Gabriel Hernandez
Lovers of all things Comics, Sci-Fi and Horror. Former Rocket Scientist. Current IT Guru. Amateur musician. Writer. World Traveler. I live in Wilmington, DE with my wife and two children.