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Concrete: Three Uneasy Pieces Review

5 min read

The thinking man’s colossus

What They Say:
One of the medium’s all-time greats is back in this collection of Concrete stories from the relaunched Dark Horse Presents! In three new adventures, the most human of heroes intervenes in a burglary that turns out to be much more, investigates a possible sighting of the aliens who gave him his rocky body, and develops an alternative to the Taser: himself. This issue strikes the perfect balance of inviting stories for new readers and character development for longtime fans.

Writer & Artist: Paul Chadwick

The Review:
Ron Lithgow is many things: an environmentalist, a people-pleaser, a good friend, and a monster. At least that’s how others tend to view him. Lithgow was abducted by aliens and experimented upon before ultimately being returned to earth with his mind trapped within a 1200 pound, rock-coated body that’s only crudely shaped like a man. Together with the beautiful but socially stunted scientist, Dr. Maureen Vonnegut, and his typist Larry Munro, Ron—now know as Concrete—tries to piece together a new life and come to terms with what he lost.

The three stories collected here make for a perfect entry point to Concrete. The first tale, “Intersection,” takes place in the middle of the evening in Concrete’s neighborhood. Concrete takes a stroll down the street, trying to cool off after fighting with Maureen, when he sees somebody breaking into a neighbor’s home. He stops a random car passing by so he can use a cell phone to call the police, but soon finds out that the people he stopped want about as much to do with the cops as the burglar. The second story, “In a Wound in the Earth,” is set in Maui. Concrete, Maureen, and Larry explore the lava fields of the Haleakala Crater and find a man that had fallen into a pit. Delirious from dehydration and starvation, the man rambles about being abducted by aliens and parts of his story resemble Concrete’s own experiences. The final story, “Everything Looks like a Nail,” has Concrete join the police after he witnesses a criminal almost die from being tased. His invulnerable body makes him an ideal office as he can simply hug a perpetrator until the person calms down, but even with his strength, he can’t be everywhere at once, which prompts him to develop a new non-lethal method of subduing criminals.

What I’ve always enjoyed about Concrete is the small, human elements that make up the story. Despite the almost cliché super-hero origin, this is a title devoted to character. The character Concrete is very similar to the Fantastic Four’s Thing, and like Ben Grimm, Ron Lithgow wants nothing more than to be human again. The power his concrete body gives him means nothing compared to the physical and social isolation it creates. By this time in the series the general public has come to accept Concrete as a man, not a monster, but that doesn’t mean that people flock to be his friends. Other than Maureen and Larry, Concrete’s only companion is his three-legged dog, Tripod. While this is bad enough, the lack of genitals on his new body makes him feel like a eunuch, and the loss of the ability to engage in the most intimate of human experiences haunts him, especially in the presence of the beautiful Dr. Vonnegut.

It would be tempting to call this an anti-superhero comic. Concrete tries to use his amazing new body for good, but not in the traditional comic book manner. He doesn’t fight supervillains or evil corporate overlords. His problems are rooted firmly in the real world where complex societal and economic factors create injustice and inequality, and those evils cannot be punched, no matter how great your strength. The three stories presented here are quiet character pieces, the last one acting more as a platform to discuss the dangers of Tasers. They end, but they don’t always resolve, and Concrete’s presence serves more as a catalyst for an examination of human nature than a typical protagonist that instigates change. To call this an anti-superhero comic would be a misnomer because I don’t believe that is Chadwick’s intention with this character. This is not set in opposition to titles like Spider-Man and Batman, or a critique of the genre in general. Like all great stories this seems to begin with the question “What if?” as in “What if somebody in the real world was changed into a rock monster?” The juxtaposition of the realism with the single fantasy element make this an unique comic and serves to highlight the more mundane but incredibly important aspects of the human condition.

Despite his power, Concrete feels no more in charge of his life than anyone else. His body allows him to explore places no human being could go and to perform great feats of strength, but it does nothing to alleviate his loneliness or uncertainty about his purpose in life, which is the point of the series. As much as I enjoy reading about the exploits of super powered or simply extraordinary individuals, those are power fantasies at heart. They can certainly illuminate aspects of the human condition and tell universal truths, but those moments can become lost in the spectacle. What Concrete does so well is use the idea of a super powered individual to illustrate the uncertainty of the human condition. This is Ben Grimm without the bluster or the Yancy Street attitude.

In Summary:
Concrete: Three Uneasy Pieces is a great jumping-on point for readers new to the character and a great continuation of the character’s story for those already familiar with Paul Chadwick’s creation. Although the main character possesses a superhero’s origin with his body made of living rock, his story and attitude run contrary to superhero tropes. For all his strength, Concrete is just a man with the same desires, needs, and fears as us all, and that is what makes this such a great read. These three stories tell small tales full of empathy, honesty, and humanity. They just happen to also include a man trapped inside a 1200 pound rock monster’s body.

Grade: A+

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