Paul Chadwick’s Concrete stories — about a giant rock monster with a human brain — have always pulled in two different directions. On the one hand, Chadwick is interested in slice-of-life narratives, emphasizing character development and quiet, realistic plots. On the other hand, he wants to write pulp adventure stories with spies, alien invasions, and gunfights.

At his best —as in the first Concrete stories — Chadwick blends the two genres, producing tales that are more thoughtful than typical super-hero fare and more entertaining than typical literary fiction. The balance is a delicate one, though, and in Strange Armor (Concrete Volume 6) it is, unfortunately, blown to shit. Originally, Strange Armor was meant as a Hollywood movie pitch, and that’s how it reads. The characterizations are all dumbed down — Maureen, for example, comes across as just another spunky Hollywood heroine, rather than as the spacey braniac and ambivalent ice-queen long-time readers know. And, of course, there’s more violence, more conventional romance, and a Bad Guy with a capital BG. Each change in itself isn’t all that important, but the overall effect is to neatly excise the qualities that made the series worthwhile. A few nice details remain — all of which would no doubt have been deleted if this had ever gotten to the screen. I’m sure Chadwick could use the money, but I can’t help feeling that it’s a godsend no studio wanted to pick this up.

Volume 7: The Human Dilemma, is somewhat better — the main characters are all recognizable. at least, and the long-anticipated tryst between Concrete and Maureen is sweet and believable. But the story creaks under the burden of its heavy-handed environmental message and a series of poor story-telling choices. An omniscient narrator spoils the books central mystery half-way through; there’s a convenient miscarriage right out of prime-time television, and a convenient loony assassin right out of the comics mainstream. And then Concrete makes a fool of himself on television over and over again — a trope Chadwick thoroughly explored in the first stories he wrote about the character.

That was quite a while ago, now; Concrete’s been around for twenty years. He’ll probably be around for many more, too — The Human Dilemma unaccountably won an Eisner, and Chadwick says he has further ideas for the character. Still, looking at these latest books, I get the sad feeling that the big guy’s best days are behind him.

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This review first ran a while back in The Comics Journal. I’ve stumbled on a number of older reviews I somehow failed to post here, so they’ll be showing up in dribs and drabs over the next couple of weeks.