concrete: fragile creature

5 04 2007

Paul Chadwick (1994)

Concrete is an intelligent, literate and human take on the comic book staple of the indestructible, made-out-of-rock dude. It’s ponderin’ time…

In this collection, crunchy-on-the-outside, soft-on-the-inside travel writer Concrete gets involved with a trashy fantasy film to earn some cash. Chadwick clearly has a lot of fun with the film-within-the-comic, a toy franchise not a million galaxies away from Castle Greyskull. But the real joy of the story is in the relations and interaction between the well-realized ensemble cast of characters.

There’s a stunning opening, a double-page spread of beautifully rendered perspective as our hero lumbers down a monochrome street, colour spilling into the second page like a pot of Technicolor washing across the page.

Unfortunately, from hereonin the composition is often a bit muddy and unclear when things are actually happening, as opposed to when we are just looking at panels of people sitting and standing round talking. It’s hard to tell what’s actually happened in the action beats, rare as they are.

A poor editorial decision in this collected edition also causes some confusion, as a separate short story, ‘Fire At Twilight’ which takes place in the Fragile Creature continuity, is placed at the end of the book rather than in the correct chronological place. This led to some head-scratchin’ and page-flippin’ as one of the major characters suddenly acquires a bandaged head.

‘Fire At Twilight’ apparently received criticism at the time for being racist. To be fair, as Chadwick points out, the antagonists are never seen, so perhaps the story serves to expose prejudices in those who assume the characters are ethnic minorities. We don’t see them, so for all we know they could be white or black or any combination of the racial rainbow.

But I doubt it’s that clever. The events of ‘Fire At Twilight’ just aren’t that interesting even taken as part of the main Fragile Creatures story; the decision to make a whole standalone story out of them is just mystifying.

But if the ‘action’ in Fragile Creature is a bit clunky, the human drama is spot-on. There are plenty of nice character details, with a wealth of characters that avoid stereotyping. We get a nice insight into low-budget (almost amateurish) film production and the slightly desperate camaraderie involved.

In one great scene, Concrete meets the filmmakers for the first time and we read their thoughts throughout the conversation. Both sides are internally nervous, awkward, intimidated by the other, and both mistake the other’s awkwardness for command of the situation.

The standout moment is when we think something is going to happen, and it just… doesn’t. A musing Concrete spots a car running someone over in the distance, and pounds to the scene, only to find no evidence that it ever occurred. It’s a lovely, contemplative, and slightly weird moment that adds nothing to the narrative but everything to the character of the story.

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