Tuesday, January 11, 2005


Okay, I’m jaded, no question. Very little excites me anymore, comics-wise. But something I’ve been waiting years for finally hit. And I’m happier than a pig in shit.

Published by Dark Horse

It’s this simple. Those of us who developed a taste for black and white indy books in the eighties usually did so in one of three ways: CEREBUS, LOVE AND ROCKETS… or CONCRETE. I fell into that latter category in a huge way.

At first, it seemed like an unexplainable oddity: the guy who drew DAZZLER was doing a book about a speechwriter stuck in a body made of stone, and the book was all about plumbing the depths of the character and his cast, and exploring the human condition and what it meant to our modern society. And yet as time passed, it moved further and further up the new books stack, whether it was a short in DARK HORSE PRESENTS or the eventual regular series, until it reached the top. I got hungry for the stories, as brilliant pieces such as Concrete’s journey to work on a family farm deserted by its patriarch left me slack-jawed in amazement at their power and heart.

Writer/artist Paul Chadwick quickly became one of my favorite creators; one of the first things I do when the artists’ alley list goes up at the Comic-con International website is see if Chadwick has a table, because that’s one place where I will always stop. This past year, he wisely had a sign posted at his table announcing the schedule for HUMAN DILEMMA and the status of the long in development feature film adaptation. Wise man, that Chadwick.

So after a lull of years, Concrete is back with this issue, and I’m beyond pleased. Chadwick has used the miniseries format over the years to have Concrete explore various ideas and concepts that can be considered controversial (gun control, monkeywrenching) and this mini is no different: Concrete is approached by a wealthy patron who is looking for a spokesman for a program that encourages population control through voluntary sterilization. A hot button topic to be sure.

That said, HUMAN DILEMMA is also about reintroducing the characters, period, and giving a new generation an idea about who Concrete and his friends are, and this is where the heart of every Concrete story ultimately lays. His assistant Larry has asked his girlfriend to marry him. Concrete himself has been in love with his other helper, Maureen, almost since he met her. These are the true human dilemmas that Chadwick will bury himself in exploration of.

Not content with making his fans happy with a new story, Chadwick also throws in an article written by “Concrete” about his favorite painting, plus some art pages for a comic that Chadwick briefly worked on before deciding to concentrate on publishing CONCRETE all those years ago. I don’t get excited about too much these days, but you can bet your sweet ass that when this series is over I’ll find the time to pull out all those trades and dive back into what easily ranks among my top five comics of all-time.

Published by Marvel

Speaking of long-awaited returns… Peter David returns to the character that he, more than any other creator, helped define over a run of more than 130 issues. It’s one thing for Chadwick to come back to CONCRETE; no one else has done the book in his absence, and he owns the character. It’s another, more risky, thing for a creator like David to take on an assignment like this. He has to compete not only against the work of other creators, but also against the memory of his own great work in the fans’ minds. It definitely isn’t for someone with small cajones.

You run the risk of turning into Chris Claremont, a creator who came back to the place where he was best known and refused to evolve, rendering himself a shallow parody of his former self whose work reads like comics have passed him by.

David wisely seems to realize this and addresses it by writing an issue of HULK that bears virtually no resemblance to anything he did on the title before his departure many years ago. Indeed, it feels like an interesting hybrid of the work of the previous scribe, Bruce Jones, and some of the darker and more introspective stuff he’s been doing in FALLEN ANGEL. He’s also acquired a bit more of the “decompression” flu that pervades Marvel these days, but I’m willing to forgive it for the moment.

Apparently sales have been good enough so far that David has been offered the gig through the end of the year, which is a good sign for David. I’m very curious to see if he can keep up the quality of this issue over the long haul. I think he can.

Published by Fantagraphics

Another sweet dose of Hernandez Brothers goodness… ahhhhh. This issue’s highlights are the opening story, “2 Rs, 2 Ls” by Jaime, and the Gilbert’s closing story, “A Gift For Venus.” As usual, what works best is the brothers’ absolute commitment to not getting overwhelmed by plot; LOVE AND ROCKETS works because you get sucked in to what the characters are saying and feeling. The rest is really peripheral to whether or not you enjoy the book. A latecomer to the world of L&R, I always find myself amazed at how deep I let the hook get stuck into my cheek as I plow through the Hernandez’ work. I’ve got PALOMAR checked out from my library right now; 512 pages of Gilbert goodness. I just need to find the time to read it. That’ll be a happy day, indeed.

Published by Fantagraphics

Sophie Crumb returns with another terrific set of autobiographical stories in this collection. Now, normally I can take a very dim view on autobio comics; too many people who do them use them as an excuse to discuss how much they jerk off and how that makes them a brilliantly tortured soul. Spare me, you know? But Crumb’s work is a lot smarter than that. Yes, she discusses in depth her issues, problems, and dysfunctions; fair enough. She also discusses those same issues as they pertain to her friends. However, what she never does is try to make excuses for her behavior or make claims that her errors make her something of a tortured genius that no one can appreciate. She just gets the story out and lets the reader decide. Why is that so goddamned hard for others to figure out? You may read her work and come to the conclusion that spending the day with Sophie Crumb isn’t your cup of tea; however, you will read her work and come to the conclusion that you’d like to spend more time reading Sophie’s work.