The bare bones of Concrete's origin story have always dissatisfied me. It's too fantastic. I wanted him in the real world, not an alternate history with aliens visiting Earth .

The hanging questions of when they might return, what they want, how the world might change hum in the background.

The simple music of Concrete's personal triumphs and humiliations is threatened by those great bass notes.

So I try not to remind readers of them too often. Still, logic draws me back there. It's the same logic that compelled me to tell the origin story in the first place. I had to get my hero in a rock body. Magic doesn't fit my worldview. Aliens, uncomfortably, sort of, theoretically, do.

When it came time to write a movie script, the early drafts with the talented screenwriter Larry Wilson, and then some drafts solo, everybody felt the origin ought to be part of it.

I'm not so sure. (The recent Fantastic Four movie suffered from having their retooled origin; it took forever for them to get over their astonishment and be the great, dysfunctional superhero family they are. Better that it had started a few years in, dropping references to Namor and The Impossible Man and Paste Pot Pete, the rich backstory they've built up.)

So we wrote those scripts. Flashes of cinematic genius flashed, or so it seemed to me as I sat in a room typing. Concrete rising out of the Potomac, to Maureen's relief, then more, revealing his shattered leg, to her horror. The instant irrelevance of the arm wrestler's test of strength, at the same moment Concrete breaks the lintel, showing he doesn't fit in the world anymore. The grid drawn on Concrete, taking him to his lowest point, an object divided up like a side of beef. The tape-wrapped pen, showing Maureen could help him back into the world. Now really, those are good ideas.

Some time passed. The movie momentum cooled. The script would probably never be filmed. Why not use that stuff in a comic's version?

This is what I did. I think the story's better in this iteration. It's drawn better than the first origin, too; the alien ship, in particular, was closer to the art nouveau fever dream I was aiming at. I was ten years into my comic's career by then. I'd improved somewhat.

There are less benign traces of its film script roots. There's a conventional antagonist, and he gets killed real good. Standard Hollywood storytelling, that, but not in the Concrete spirit.

The original ending where I had Concrete visit a periplegic Stamberg (a variation on the we-get-damaged-and-we-somehow-manage theme) was about as popular as pasta-with-tapeworms. Zoom, it was gone!

I suppose I might've restored it for the comic's version, but I like the payoff of the border -panel motif that is repeated, with variations, throughout the story. The backflip the helicopter does so perfectly fits the U-shape. And, I must admit, tying up a loose end has its charms.

Some credit where it is due. The he-starts-avalanche-then-joins-it notion was Larry Wilson's inspired borrowing from Buster Keaton's Seven Chances. Larry also had the great idea of Concrete being paralyzed with indecision outside of Lisa's house, and remaining immobile while a time-lapse day and night pass. And the "lady, you forgot your kid" gag was Mike Richardson's, a perfect bit of business to seize the hysterical crowd's sympathies. There are probably other contributions I'm forgetting. Screenwriting is one third imagination, one third collaboration, and one third negotiation. Every script runs a gauntlet of development notes, real-world logistics, and personalities. It always impresses me that every year, a number of good films get made, because it's almost always a heartbreaking process. But there are actually lots of uncommonly smart, determined people in the movie business. They make it work somehow.

One more thing. This is the first, and I think still the only time, that Concrete has narrated a story. It might not seem that way, since I am profligate with thought balloons, so Concrete's voice is familiar. Some of the short stories in this collection are almost nothing but. How I like those scalloped borders.

The short stories here include my earliest ("Brighter" was in the first comic Dark Horse ever published), my weirdest ("I Strive for Realism" and "A Sky of Heads") and a sentimental favorite, "The World Beneath the Skin"). Its last line was one of my young son's earliest sentences, a statement of such elemental simplicity I can't think of a simpler sentence in concept and structure: "I'm me." He said this with such gusto , and repeatedly (he had just learned to talk), that I wondered if it was his first realization that he was an individual entity, apart from his mother and from the world.

Alas, he didn't have the words to elaborate.

--Paul Chadwick
Friday Harbor, WA

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