“Thing is, I can just picture him meeting some girl, and getting involved in some wild folly…”
Paul Chadwick is one of the cornerstones of Dark Horse’s creator-owned comics. Hell, he can be considered part of the foundation since his Concrete appeared in the very first issue of Dark Horse Presents. Like Stan Sakai, I think his work definitely should be talked about much more often.
Concrete as a series is a bit of a weird one. Despite the titular character having an artificial body, his mind being placed there by aliens, the series is steeped in reality. It’s most often slice-of-life tales, with some humour and a fair amount of philosophical introspection. With Concrete: Killer Smile, Chadwick, along with Jed Hotchkiss and Bill Spicer, took a different, darker path with a thriller.
The story focuses on Concrete’s assistant and chauffeur, Larry Munro, as he’s kidnapped on his way to driving Concrete to an appointment. He starts by flirting with a woman at a gas station. Then soon finds himself a hostage of her pyromaniac boyfriend. What follows is a deadly drive across Los Angeles at gunpoint, blowing up a gas station, cars, and more, as Larry and his captors work to evade police. For a while anyway, as the boyfriend is intent on going out in a blaze of glory.
It’s very much a change of pace for Concrete, though there are a number of well-placed humorous notes to buffer the tension. I also particularly enjoy the flashbacks. They give us more on the childhoods and backstory for the two criminals and Larry. It fleshes out the characters very nicely, giving us a better insight into the trauma that helped shape the kidnappers. There’s an interesting literary quality to it. It also gives Bill Spicer even more opportunity to change up his letters. Like how the series also often utilizes thought bubbles to great effect.
Chadwick’s art style here is open and naturalistic. There’s a realism and a simplicity to his people that reminds me of other ’80s artists. Particularly June Brigman, Thomas Yeates, and Ron Randall. Though for some reason his Larry always reminded me of George Pérez’s Terry Long from New Teen Titans. Might just be the beard. I’m not sure if there’s a common influence, especially with Jed Hotchkiss providing inks, but the hashes, shading, and figure work to me hearken back to Hal Foster. It’s beautiful work. With the realism of the other characters making the absurdity of Concrete’s golem-like form stand out all the more.
In the most recent editions, how the stories are collected is also quite interesting. Although there is a continuing story across the various series, especially among the major instalments, these collections (circa 2006) are done thematically. It essentially means that you really can read them in mostly any order. Along with the four-issue series of Concrete: Killer Smile, the fourth volume (which shares the mini-series’ title), also includes some of the other darker entries into the character’s history as well as the 100 Horrors back-up feature.
Concrete – Killer Smile by Chadwick, Hotchkiss, and Spicer is a gripping thrill ride of being in the wrong place at the wrong time, trying to hit on the wrong woman.
Classic Comic Compendium: Concrete – Killer Smile
Concrete – Killer Smile
Writer & Artist: Paul Chadwick
Art Assist: Jed Hotchkiss
Letterer: Bill Spicer
Publisher: Dark Horse
Release Date: July – October 1994
Available collected in Concrete – Volume 4: Killer Smile
Read past entries in the Classic Comic Compendium!