Whenever I go to conventions (either as a fan or to sell Tiny Life), I always feel out of place; most superhero comics are obviously made for kids, or, if not explicitly for kids, then for adults who want to see their favorite childhood hero kick some real ass (take a look at Deadpool: every fan of the comic says something like, “They finally got it right”, except that the comics have no swearing or nudity in them because they’re published by family-friendly Marvel Comics (a division of Disney). They didn’t “get it right”; they correctly guessed that, in your head, Deadpool says the f-word and touches nipples). I remember going to SPACE a couple years ago and sitting next to a couple guys who were having a serious discussion about Hulk vs. Thor – they both agreed that Thor would eventually win because he can fly, but they were at a stalemate when it came to how Thor would win. On the other side of me was a guy who drew a comic called “Metalman” that was an obvious rip-off of Mega Man (in his defense, Metalman’s canon-arm was the right hand instead of the left hand. Take that Capcom!) but with ultra-violence. I had nothing to contribute to either conversation, so I just kept reading an old Hepcats.
My tastes still haven’t changed. I’m still fascinated by what someone is able to do with a pen and some paper. I’m still interested in the simpler stories (I was a big fan of Strangers in Paradise until it became a repetitive mess), which is probably why I’ve always been a fan of Paul Chadwick and Concrete.
For those of you that don’t know, Concrete is my kind of superhero story. It’s about a guy who gets his brain transferred to a giant cement-like android by aliens. End of sci-fi. The rest of the series is spent trying to figure out how to best use this new body. He plays a clown at a kid’ birthday party; he’s a special effects guy on a movie; he climbs Mt. Everest; he’s a body-guard for Prince… in the realm of comics, it’s a pretty wild idea that someone gets super-powers but doesn’t become a super-hero. He just tries to live.
Here’s the problem with it, though: just like in life, there are large chunks of the story that are downright boring. When Concrete works on a movie set, there is a bunch of unnecessary exposition about what different people on a movie set do and how the financing works. When he’s a pseudo-eco-terrorist, there are all sorts of facts strewn throughout the story (one acre of forest contains over a million spiders!). The only saving grace of the first few books is the side-story. One is called “Sea of Heads” where we see a bunch of floating heads in heaven that scatter for all eternity bumping into one another and telling story of how they died. Another is “100 Horrors” where Chadwick creates a slew of short-short stories that aren’t related in any way other than they’re much more interesting than the main story.
Only in book 6, Strange Armor, do things get good. According to the introduction, Concrete was, at one time, up for a movie. This is the script turned to comic book form. It’s basically a retelling of the origin, but it’s much more involved, entertaining, and pleasing to the eye.
Book 7, The Human Dilemma, is fantastic. It’s about overpopulation. Concrete is hired as a spokesperson for a company that is willing to pay people to not have kids. There’s a dozen implication of this that are dealt with (political, personal, ethical, religious, etc.), but I think how Chadwick deals with them that’s the triumph of this book. Interspersed throughout the book are newspaper interviews with Concrete and published essays he writes and facts about overpopulation that would’ve seemed really out of place and distracting if it were in the story itself. Also, to highlight the moral dilemma of birth control / abortion / adoption, Concrete becomes asexually pregnant at the same time his assistant impregnates his mistress.
All in all, Concrete does what every series should: get better as it goes along. Hopefully, Chadwick will make more.
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