*Back to full power tomorrow, my darlings and dearests. Since absolutely nobody is going to read this until 'tomorrow' anyway, I'll be updating again at some point on Sunday afternoon, eastern standard time. Fare thee well, stand-in computer...

Concrete: The Human Dilemma #3 (of 6)

With my options in researching “Concrete” history slowly decreasing, I turned to a slightly less immediately relevant (though no less valuable) source: my dear friend “Boris the Bear”. Cheap route to take, with four assorted issues for one dollar total. Boris beat Concrete to the comics page by a few months, with the former’s solo book appearing just before the latter’s debut in “Dark Horse Presents” issue #1, although the two are close enough in initial prominence for a certain measure of inter-company cross-pollination to be expected. Plus, some of Boris’ adventures are fairly funny; there’s a nice short in issue #11 where Boris needs to mind the local comics shop when the clerk is dragged away on obscenity charges, and he sets about reconfiguring the stock to reflect his personal tastes in ‘good’ comics. It turns out that he really doesn’t like anything but his own book. So anyhow, please excuse my madness for a little while as I dawdle about advertising instead of getting to the review itself or anything else of merit beyond the boundaries of my own softening skull.

There were a number of full-page ads for the initial ten-issue solo “Concrete” book in later issues of Boris’ book (an ad for “Concrete” #2 in “Boris the Bear” #9, and an ad for “Concrete” #3 in “Boris the Bear” #11, to be exact), which stopped publishing under the Dark Horse banner with issue #13. If nothing else, these ads provide a glimpse of a decidedly loose attitude toward spoilers, perhaps on the part of writer/artist Paul Chadwick himself, though I’m unsure of whether or not he crafted this material himself. These ads are set up as mock newspaper or magazine articles, always in black and white, even on the color-capable back cover of the book. Each ad has a large ‘photo’, actually a panel from the book, plus an image of the cover, and a large text piece, essentially providing a full synopsis of the comic in question. This isn’t a cursory Previews-type piece either; I’m talking six to eight paragraphs of prose, not explicitly narrating the story but providing an overview of nearly every scene, and concluding with something of a mock critical analysis, always glowingly positive. For issue #2 we’re told that “This second outing with the ‘Concrete’ crew is as rich with irony as the first, only this time in a setting of rousing adventure and natural splendor.” Even a touch of uncertainty is allowed for issue #3: “It’s an atypical ‘Concrete’ tale, a shade darker than most.” Fortunately, “...a trim, carefully constructed plot moves us along handily.” It’s a cute, slightly cheeseball type of ad, utterly enthusiastic about writing a thorough (if synopsis-heavy) faux-review of the book yet to be sold, and the language is rather lovely, certainly more eloquent than the average bit of hype text you see around. It could have very easily have gotten very mawkish or irritating, but it’s so affectionate toward the product that it’s shilling that it doesn’t even mind that if it tells you all about the high points of the story, since you’ll obviously be so excited about the execution that you’ll have to experience it for yourself.

Maybe that’s what more recent solicitation texts have been aiming for. Landing short of these vintage ads, though.

Right. So this particular issue is an ‘explaining’ issue, which is to say that a whole lot of things are explained by one character to another, all of them speaking for the benefit of the reader. Concrete explains the details of the controversial population-control program he’s been nudged into, first on a bizarrely confrontational early morning chat show (unless all of those diverse people our vantage keeps cutting to enjoy waking up with cable news), then onto various roundtable discussions and academic forums, in which we are also given the high points of the alternative ‘cornucopian’ viewpoint, for our edification. Then an eccentric ‘population radical’ pops in to explain to us his proposal for a custom-made sterilization STD, a speech he first makes at the panel, then again to an assembled crowd outside (he’s standing on no less than the steps of some university building as he orates to the masses). And luckily, the casual nature of this second assembly gives Concrete’s pal Dr. Vonnegut ample time to enlighten us all as to the history of an ultra-deadly artificially engineered strain of Mousepox. I came for the overpopulation debate; I stayed for the discussion of cell-mediated response. And hey, if that’s not enough for you, much of the above is reiterated in even greater detail in a mock magazine article (hey...) included as a supplement to this issue.

But I shouldn’t make too much fun; for one thing, Chadwick nails the tone of that magazine article. I also found most of the chit-chat to be at least sort of interesting in the context of the plot, and Chadwick intercuts everything with the continuing adventures of Cold Feet Larry, as he engages in a bit of exploitation of his Concrete-related fame. I’m unsure if the bit at the very end is meant to be a joke or some intensely clumsy foreshadowing or maybe a certain wink at a certain something that some of us have managed to find out already. Gah! This “Concrete” search has gotten me all paranoid now, much like the recurring crackpot character who’s proving to be this miniseries’ most interesting character, drawing connections between the events of this miniseries and miscellaneous happenings in prior adventures, to some mystery end. At least he’s not poring through back-issues of “Boris the Bear”.

*Special Bonus Editorial Comment from “Boris the Bear”:

The days when a comic could be slapped together and hurried onto the market with no intended audience other than the speculator... are over.”

- Randy Stradley, editor, from “Boris the Bear” #7, February 1987.