Concrete: The Human Dilemma #1-2

By Paul Chadwick
32 pages, black and white
Published by Dark Horse

In the early ’90s, anyone who really knew anything about comics knew about Concrete. Paul Chadwick’s signature comic about a speech writer whose mind was transplanted into a stone behemoth, Concrete tackled social issues that didn’t have easy answers, using a mixture of drama and humor to get Chadwick’s points across. Six and a half years ago, Concrete quietly slipped off the radar. And now, finally, he’s back.

Over the years, Concrete has been asked to help and endorse a number of different organizations of all shapes and sizes. Now he’s been approached by a multi-millionaire businessman to speak in favor of a controversial new program, one that encourages young adults to be voluntarily sterilized in order to help curb the population growth. Even as Concrete considers this proposition, his assistant Larry prepares to ask his girlfriend Astra to marry him, and Concrete’s confidant Dr. Maureen Vonnegut has a secret of her own to reveal…

It’s really strange reading Concrete again after so long. Chadwick approaches the new series like almost no time has elapsed since his last visit with these characters, jumping right into their puzzles and problems waiting to unfold. Chadwick’s always been careful to assume that each issue could be someone’s first and treats his audience appropriately, introducing the characters through their dialogue and interactions with each other (and without resorting to exposition dumps). The basic story behind The Human Dilemma is in many ways a typical Concrete story, one that makes you think. Chadwick presents both sides and then lets his characters loose to fumble their way through the situation and figure things out for themselves, and that’s something I approve of greatly. At the same time, though, Chadwick does run the risk of crossing the line into “preachy”. The story is peppered with little sidebars and asides stating various facts to back up the idea of overpopulation, and it doesn’t help that Concrete’s monologues often come across as a little too stilted and over the top. Concrete’s former profession as a speech writer does go a way towards explaining his lengthy internal soliloquies, but it can still be a little off-putting to a new reader.

There’s a bit more grace and beauty in Chadwick’s art; from the large, almost featureless body of Concrete to Larry’s slightly off-kilter face. Chadwick draws the human form with a great deal of care, almost as if his brush is slowly feeling its way across the body and sculpting what it senses. It’s a very meticulous line, one that uses its craft carefully to form people. What always struck me the most about Concrete was how at a glance the title character looks like a stone statue… but then you see his eyes and you instantly recognize him as human. Chadwick is able to draw Concrete’s emotions on largely immobile features, and being able to do so is a pretty amazing feat in its own right.

Seeing Concrete in stores again is a pleasant feeling, both in evoking nostalga for earlier times as well as knowing that Concrete is hopefully finding a new group of readers that are only familiar with Chadwick as an artist and not as a writer. Hopefully we’ll see the earlier Concrete comics brought back into print (and if you’re listening, Dark Horse, could we have a consistant size and trade dress for the collections?) because in many ways Concrete is timeless. Chadwick’s life work in comics will no doubt be Concrete, and his stories of the unaging stone body are as solid as his title character.

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