Wednesday, 24 April 2013

Concrete volume 01: Depths review

Concrete is the superhero comic that could, but chose not to. I’m so impressed that Paul Chadwick deliberately chose to take his comic in a different direction. Let me explain. Concrete, I’ll call him Ron (his real name), is a seven foot tall creature with a thick skin of concrete which makes him very resistant to physical stimulus. Ron became this way after being abducted by aliens who transferred his brain into a new, concrete, body. His new body made super strong, extremely resistant, and it also gave him the ability to perform great and seemingly impossible feats for even the most extraordinary human. Sounds like a superhero origin, doesn’t it? And it is, but not quite. Well, it could have been. Ah, the more I think about it the more impressed I become of what Paul Chadwick has accomplished.  

In Chadwick’s introduction, he mentions that following his initial inception, Concrete was mistaken to be a superhero comic. People would ask him who Ron would fight next. Exactly how Chadwick was able to resist doing just that, writing a superhero comic, in the American comic industry in the 80s is beyond me. Not only that, but there is an interesting and even enjoyable environmental message that can easily be found within the pages of Concrete. I say it’s enjoyable because it feels heartfelt and real as opposed to forced and preachy like is often the case in fiction that deals with social concerns.

Concrete is a realist comic masterpiece. Paul Chadwick makes his comic a realist work by treating Ron and his exploits as if they were real. How would the government react to a concrete man who is in this state after surviving an encounter with extra-terrestrials? Would he still be considered a man? How would you give Ron his freedom without causing chaos and mass speculation from the populace? More importantly, how is Ron going to live his life? What can he do? What should he do? So many people would have written Concrete as a superhero. His origins are practically begging for it, but Chadwick decides to go in another direction and I can my express how glad I am that he did so. Ron decides to undergo several nature expeditions and write about his exploits like his childhood heroes did (I can’t remember their names but they’re famous explorers and adventurers who wrote about their exploits). To do so he hires an assistant (Ron can’t write or type with his giant hands) and they, accompanied by Maureen Vonnegut (no relations) travel to different parts of the world. 
I'm very impressed how Chadwick depicts the dark
 waters of the ocean in the middle of the night using
nothing but black ink on a white page.

I could not stop thinking of Concrete as a deliberate non-superhero work despite it being seemingly created for such a genre and in a market dominated by long underwear. Simple, real world things take on more meaning and weight than the most fantastic and imaginative superhero stories. In one of the stories, Concrete fights a bear and his thoughts are if how terribly scared he is of this common forest animal. It surprised me. Ron is huge and strong and nigh indestructible, but a bear, something arguably weaker than he is, terrifies him. In a different comic, a superhero comic, the hero would have thought little of a regular bear. Many heroes are forever changed by their powers. It's not the same for Ron. If anything his body has allowed for him to be who he really is. He's a pudgy boy who used to dream of adventures and daring do. This new body allows him to live those dreams but he does it with the sensitive approach of someone who, despite his current indestructible state, is very aware of the dangers.

There’s another example of Ron’s identity and how it’s not changed after acquiring his new body. A friend of his asks Ron to come to a nude beach with him and his girlfriend. Ron declines because it would make him uncomfortable. His friend points out that Ron, in his concrete body, is always naked. The reason he would be uncomfortable is because he feels he would be caught looking at other people's nude bodies and because he would never had done this before he became concrete giant. How Chadwick resists the temptation of having his main character resist the changes to his identity following his incredible transformation is just another impressive and surprising touch that adds a lot to the story.
Its because of pages like this one that
people thought Concrete was a
superhero comic.
More strange science fiction. Somehow
Chadwick makes it fit with the realist
tone found in the rest of the series.

One of the things that greatly contribute to Concrete being so good is that Chadwick’s art is very good. Not only does he have a strong grasp on the narrative flow of a comic book page, he also has a mesmerizingly good realist art style. The art is all in black and white. Some people have a difficult time reading black and white comics but I don’t mind. I prefer to read a comic in whichever format it was originally intended. I’m not a fan of older comics being recolored for a new printing or of coloured comics being printed in black in white. Here, the art is characterized by the stark contrasts between the white page and the black ink. You’re guaranteed a stunning panel or even an entire page every few pages you turn. A particular moment, when Ron is swimming in the Atlantic at night surrounded by phosphorous plankton, is absolutely stunning. Chadwick’s realist style captures the beauty and mystery of nature as well as it captures the facial expressions and body language of his human (and concrete) characters. At his best, Chadwick’s art reminds me of the Hernandez Brothers, Jaime and Gilbert, of Love and Rockets fame. This is high praise since the Hernandez brothers are some of my favourite artists. At worse, however, his art still shows a young artist learning the subtleties of his craft.

This comic is for everybody. It’s for superhero comic fans that are looking to shake things up a bit. It’s for avid comic readers who don’t limit themselves to certain publishers or genres. It’s also for people who generally don’t read many comics at all. There’s something here to please every type of reader. I only have suggestion, take your time, savour it, because before you know it you’ll be looking at the last page of the book wishing the second volume was close at hand so that you could continue reading Concrete
Not only is this a great image on it's own,
it also demonstrates Chadwick's skill as a writer.

Concrete isn't Superman. He's can be hurt,
his leg get be nearly completely blown off. 

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