The Outhouse spotlights one of the more offbeat characters in all of comics: Paul Chadwick's Concrete!
Origin Story: It could happen to any of us. You go out camping in the woods with your buddy, when you're suddenly transported aboard an alien spaceship where extraterrestrial mad sceintists, for reasons known only to them, remove your brain and place it into a massive body not unlike that of Ben Grimm. To us it's a comic book story, but to former political speechwriter Ronald Lithgow, it's his life! Ron went into the woods a man, and came back something more (by way of a craft he refers to as an "art-nouveau nightmare"). With a new body as hard as, well, concrete, he can now perform phenomenal feats the rest of us fleshy humans can't (although he can't feel a human touch anymore). Under the cover story that he's actually an android constructed by the government (because that would be more comforting to the American public than the knowledge that aliens exist and are freely experimenting with peoples' brains, apparently), he lives his life as a minor celebrity – breaking world records, acting as a spokesperson for political causes he believes in, and doing what he can to learn more about the world.
Character Appeal: Despite the dynamic, science fiction-based origin story, Concrete is not a superhero comic. What it is is one of the most human, emotionally trenchant and expressive works of sequential art on the shelves. Concrete is many things, but more than anything else it's a wandering thinkpiece; it's a story of a man (and creator Paul Chadwick does show us that through it all, he is still the same man he ever was) relating to people around him and the world in which he lives. Ron uses his new body to explore the world and to expand his mind and his sensibilites. He's able to do things now he never dreamed of doing, and he sees the world through new eyes as a result. However, Ron stays the same gentle soul he started out as. He appreciates art, consoles his friends, and falls in love just like he might have before the transformation. Concrete is all very lyrical, and the beautiful humanity in the character and the stories is what makes it such a joy to read. It really is a singular achievement in comic books.
Top storylines: Concrete is really one long storyline broken into several storyarcs, which have been organized and presented by publisher Dark Horse in a series of seven trade paperback volumes. They're a great way to read up on Concrete from the very first short story (published in the original Dark Horse Presents #1) to the latest limited series, entitled The Human Dilemma. The later volumes start to take on a more overtly left-wing political tone, which may turn off a large segment of readers, but they all contain such solid storytelling that it's difficult to really find fault with them. Standouts include Depths, in which Concrete tries to walk across the bottom of the ocean; Heights, wherein he attempts to climb Mount Everest; Killer Smile, which is more of a tense thriller involving the kidnapping of Concrete's assistant and best friend Larry Munro; Strange Armor, which retells Concrete's origin; and The Human Dilemma, which tackles the global overpopulation problem.
Concrete Can Even Beat Superman: Ostensibly, Concrete and Superman would never come to blows. Big Blue would probably be impressed with the big gray guy's humanity, warmth, and wisdom, while Ron may find Superman's sense of heroism inspiring. However, if should come to a physical altercation, it would probably be a bruising blockbuster of a battle. Eventually, it would be Concrete who wins, even though he's an intellectual and not a fighter, as he doesn't feel pain, and cracks in his hide regenerate and heal up. Also, Superman would most likely give up and cry about how unfair the world is that he has to fight someone with such a noble spirit.
Where the character is today: In addition to the series of seven tradepaperbacks, which were mentioned earlier, Paul Chadwick is contributing Concrete stories to the revived Dark Horse Presents anthology, which in a sense is a homecoming for the character, as his first appearance was in the original anthology.
Written or Contributed by: Royal Nonesuch
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