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Concrete: The Human Dilemma #4 (of 6)

I know this project has been in development for half a decade, but I’m curious about the actual production schedule. This and last issue have covers dating from 2002. Issue #1’s cover was finished in 2001. I wonder how long the interior art took, or if the covers were created before anything else with beats from the unrefined story already in mind. Certain images from this series have haunted their creator since nearly the beginning: the cover to issue #2 hails from 1989. Perhaps writer/artist Paul Chadwick felt that he’d finally found the proper venue for placing the image in a story? Or did glimpsing that old piece, the air of longing about it, spark something in the creator’s brain?

This is a nice issue. This is the sort of thing the crew over at “Ex Machina” should be taking notes on; it’s not only a political story but a heavily debate-based political story, yet it largely comes off as natural and organic. Last issue also seemed natural enough in execution, though it was nearly overwhelmed by non-stop edutainment infobursts of stuff and stuff and stuff. This time around it surely helps that Chadwick is just as interested in the procedures behind big media debate as he is in the substantive issues under discussion. It’s not a perfect issue (which becomes particularly apparent when Chadwick turns his gaze away from the politics), but it’s a fun one.

Concrete is still bringing the message of paid sterilization to The People, but things are starting to go wrong. Many parties obstinately on his ‘side’ of the debate see the execution of the plan he’s selling as silly or counterproductive. Well-meaning (or purely mercenary) entertainers can’t help but constantly poke fun at the large, obvious, loud, constant target that old Conc has become, a big rocky Michael Moore of overpopulation. And such characteristics naturally make the former Ron Lithgow a perfect focusing nemesis for a content-craving conservative media; Concrete makes the outstanding miscalculation of allowing a stonewalling talk show host to drag out the fact that he’s pro-choice (first two trimesters only, as if that’s worth anything in a debate) and verily the grandstanding and bandwagon-hopping begins in earnest, climaxing with Ann Coulter calling for no less than Our Hero’s death, her televised face reflected in the glasses of that obsessive fellow we’ve been occasionally peeking in on throughout the miniseries. “Hmm,” he murmurs, probably putting too much exclamation onto Chadwick’s observations of news-as-entertainment. But when Conc pontificates on the superiority of Michael Medved over Rush Limbaugh as a hostile audience, or when Maureen delivers a flawless reaction to David Letterman’s special brand of humor (“That’s funny. Kind of.”), one is prone to forgive an overuse of boldface. At least in that area.

The rest of the issue doesn’t fare quite as well, as Larry’s personal life (and the book’s script) dives into some extra soapy waters, complete with such Daytime Emmy dialogue as “I want to be all of them for you. Your muse, your confidant, your Madonna, your whore,” or the Cinemax-after-11:00 PM-worthy “I can’t wait for that. I need you in me,” or even the beloved “Don’t thank me. Take me.” And that’s all before the big ‘coitus interruptus via answering-machine bombshell’ finale. Given the care Chadwick lavishes on the nitty-gritty of argumentative distortion, perhaps the melodrama as presented in these intimate character moments is more pungent than it otherwise could be in a less grounded story (this all despite the towering man of stone in the lead role).

But fizzy or canny or otherwise, it all looks gorgeous. Chadwick knows exactly how to use the page, covering sudden scene-shifts with grace and the utmost in clarity, attractively conveying feeling through total page design (witness the teeny panel of Concrete laying in the back of his truck pasted in the center of a wide overhead map of the city), and even busting out some fancy visual tricks with genuine utility: we occasionally get X-Ray glimpses literally beneath characters’ skin, visually contrasting the familiar creepiness of the human skeleton with the fantastical innards of Concrete, handily highlighting his separation from his friends and audience, until a last-panel reveal demonstrates that all the technical flair has a more immediate storytelling application as well. And this command of the medium carries Chadwick far, even over the potholes and sudden curves in his narrative.