Think Like a Mountain
"How lovely to be so hard to hurt. But someone who never experiences danger and trouble can't generate much of a story. So I find ways, and Concrete suffers."
— Paul Chadwick, introduction to Concrete Volume 1: Depths
Take the mind of a sensitive political speechwriter, put him in the body of a slightly scaled-down Ben Grimm from the Fantastic Four
, and you have Paul Chadwick's Concrete. This series has run on and off since the mid 80's, and while it has never been a massive seller, it never quite goes away, with a small but solid core of dedicated readers. The series is known for Chadwick's realistic while still slightly stylized (and occasionally bizarre) art, and his elegant, musing, introspective writing.
Ron Lithgow is a political speechwriter who, while on a camping trip with a friend, is abducted by aliens and their brains are removed from their bodies and placed in the alien's bodies. He is able to escape (though his friend dies), and returns to civilization. Contacting the senator who he works for, he is sent to be studied by government scientists, led by Maureen Vonnegut. Eventually, he tires of the testing and wishes to rejoin the world to whatever degree he can. Unwilling to admit to the existence of extraterrestrials, the government presents him as the lone survivor of a cyborg program, his identity classified. With Maureen still employed to continue researching what else there is to find out about him, Ron hires Larry Munro as an assistant to help him navigate a world that has suddenly grown much smaller and more fragile, but at the same time much larger and more accessible to his strong, tough, indefatigable body.
- Adaptational Villainy: In Concrete's original origin story, Stamberg the CIA agent in charge of his "case" is portrayed as fairly reasonable. The worst he ever gets is in "Fragile Creature", where he threatens to ruin Maureen's career if she continues corresponding with a fringe scientist, but this is at least partly justified by the nature of his needing to keep a lid on Concrete's actual origin as an alien body, rather than a human-created cyborg. In the "Strange Armor" retelling of his origin, Stamberg is much more villainous, trying to turn Concrete into a covert operative and killer, eventually kidnapping Maureen and threatening her life to force him to cooperate.
- Asexuality: Maureen starts out seeming to be this, apparently totally uninterested in romance or sex. She briefly responds to Larry when they are adrift in a life raft in the Atlantic, but seems to have forgotten afterward. Completely thrown out during the "Fragile Creature" storyline, where she has a relationship with another scientist.
- Badass Normal: Hinted at throughout "Killer Smile", but ultimately averted in a psychologically devastating way. Larry, who like most people has often thought he would be this trope in a crisis, ends up being nothing more than a hostage, and his attempts to escape or send messages for help either fail completely or make the situation worse.
- Based on a True Story: The "Fragile Creature" storyline is based on Chadwick's experiences working on the set of Masters of the Universe.
- Bizarre Alien Biology: Concrete eats rocks, which he then breaks down and the minerals are precipitated into his crust to restore it. He has few senses other than hearing and incredible vision. He can hold his breath for an hour. His internal body temperature is just above boiling (and Maureen can't even figure out why his brain isn't getting cooked). Instead of crying, he vomits fluid that can dissolve wood. He just plain doesn't get physically tired. He's also stronger than muscle mass ratios allow. A fair amount of this strange "biology" is because his body seems to be at least partly mechanical.
- Blessed with Suck: Concrete is the ultimate survivalist, he can live on just about anything, is immune to most naturally occurring temperatures other than, say, lava, sees well, is very strong, and doesn't get tired. He also can't feel anything, is rather ugly, and will need help interacting with the world for the rest of his life.
- Brain in a Jar: Ron is essentially this. His brain has been removed from his human body and placed in a largely insensate biomechanical alien body. Somewhat subverted in that the body is humanoid, mobile, and fully under his control, but the spirit is there.
- The Casanova: Larry is very successful with women. There are slight implications that one of the things Concrete likes about Larry is living vicariously through him and his conquests.
- Cassandra Truth: When the government is initially trying to sell the public on the idea that Concrete is a human-made cyborg, rather than an alien body, the National Enquirer points out that this kind of technology is beyond what is currently available, and advances the theory that Concrete is an alien. Concrete himself lampshades that their lack of credibility will help sell the "cyborg" story, and lead most people away from the "alien" angle.
- Cyborg: Ron's alien body is at least partly mechanical.
- Does Not Know His Own Strength: All the time.
- Does This Remind You of Anything?: Concrete's body starts growing horns that eventually split into antlers. Eventually he breaks them off, and thereafter he has to sand them down to keep them from overgrowing. He offhandedly compares the process to shaving, and then abruptly asks Maureen if he has just gone through puberty.
- Extreme Omnivore: Concrete can eat just about anything, though what he really needs to eat is rocks. He also seems to need to ingest water, as while climbing Everest, he mentions that he will constantly melt snow in his mouth for the water, in order to prevent his blood (or rather what passes for blood in his body) from thickening too much like many climbers experience, though he isn't completely sure that it would happen with him.
- Healing Factor: Concrete's crust can regenerate itself, though it takes a few days. He once had his leg almost blown off by an RPG, and the leg was able to regenerate itself into a whole limb, though the crust had solidified and had to be sledgehammered into mobility.
- Hot Scientist: Maureen.
- Inscrutable Aliens: The aliens never attempt any communication with their captives, and their motives remain a mystery. Even their "biology" is a mystery, as Maureen hasn't been able to definitively determine whether Ron's alien body is an odd form of Cyborg, advanced Organic Technology, or an out-and-out Mechanical life form.
- Iron Butt Monkey: Concrete is always getting hit with things, but he is so resistant to damage he can usually shrug it off. Something of a deconstruction of the trope, as it causes no end of embarrassment for poor Concrete.
- The Klutz: Concrete's body is strong, as well as quite large and heavy, and he largely lacks a sense of touch. This all combines to make it very easy for him to damage or break things around him without meaning to.
- Like Reality Unless Noted: Concrete is the one and only thing that is not completely normal in the world. Chadwick used aliens as his origin because it was the closest thing to a realistic source of a body like this, along with a way to get Ron into it.
- The Masquerade: Set up by the government in order to sell the idea that Concrete is a cyborg, rather than an alien body. They spread rumors about a cyborg program, which they then spend a fair amount of time vigorously denying so that when they finally "come clean", the public will be more willing to accept it, having "dragged it out of them".
- Meaningful Name: Ron's last name is Lithgow. Lith means "stone", and -gow means "worker".
- Mechanical Lifeforms: The aliens might be this, not just due to being partially mechanical, which could be explained as them being cyborgs, but since they are able to give birth, as Concrete does in "The Human Dilemma", they might be this rather than organic tech (see that entry). However, the fact that the "baby" is completely unresponsive gives some weight to Maureen's hypothesis that it might not be an "offspring" so much as a clone for spare parts.
- No Biological Sex: Concrete's body has no sexual organs. Unfortunately, he still has at least some of his sex drive.
- Organic Technology: Concrete's body could be this, when he gives birth during "The Human dilemma". The alien ship in "Strange Armor" uses this to a greater degree than was shown in Concrete's original origin story, with a broken wall panel revealing flesh with an eye in it alongside more traditional wires and circuitry. It also looks like a giant jellyfish when it leaves, rather than the more traditional mechanical version in the first telling.
- Potty Emergency: In "Killer Smile", Larry is taken hostage by a psychotic gunman. During much of the ordeal, he's preoccupied with how badly he needs to urinate.
- Show Within a Show: Concrete enjoys watching "Sky of Heads", an in-universe TV show about an afterlife where the heads of the deceased float around randomly and tell each other stories about their former lives. At one point, he wonders: "If I showed up there, would I have this head, or my old human one?"
- Super Not-Drowning Skills: Concrete can hold his breath for an hour. The series has lots of stories where he simply walks into the water to look around for a while.
- Terrifyingly subverted in "Think Like A Mountain", where he almost drops off a boat, and realizes if he does fall off in the middle of the channel, he will have no idea of which way to go, and could easily run out of his hour of air and drown before getting to shore.
- Super Senses: Concrete has no sense of smell or taste, a severely reduced sense of touch (the only thing he can really feel is pain when he takes a fair amount of physical damage), and normal hearing. His vision, on the other hand, is superb. He can read license plates from an airplane, see in the dark, and make out details way above and beyond the unaided human eye. The ultimate example of this is a story in which he encounters a man so drunk he isn't sure if he is alive, and can't check his pulse. So he uses his vision to detect the microscopic spittle the man exhales while breathing. Also, Concrete is seeing this with little other than starlight for illumination.
- Super Strength: This trope is done two ways. The first is a perfectly straight use: Concrete is unusually strong, capable of lifting a small car. It's pointed out that he is stronger than muscle/mass ratios would indicate. The other is one of the more unusual examples, which is strength in the sense of endurance. He just plain doesn't get tired. He can stay on the move, exerting himself to his full capability, almost indefinitely. The only time he ever got tired was when he attempted to swim the Atlantic Ocean, and had to break open his floatation tank to catch water for the three people washed overboard from his chase ship. And even then, he spent over a week with nothing more than his swim fins to help him keep his almost half-ton of non-buoyant mass from sinking.
- Super Toughness: Concrete is, in his own words, about as tough as a rock his size. Enough bullets will eventually chip through his crust, but it takes a lot of them to do any real damage. In the "Strange Armor" story, he takes a 30-bullet clip to the top of his head and it leaves him "raw and smarting", and looking as if little enough of his crust is left that another clip would get through.
- The World Is Just Awesome: Just when you wonder why Ron keeps going, he will get one of these experiences, aided by his incredible vision. Unusually for this trope, he goes through this either underwater or in the forest, not from the air, although he sometimes does it by looking up at the night sky, again aided by his vision letting him see something not unlike pictures from the Hubble telescope.
- The World Is Not Ready: Why the government covers up Concrete's true origins.
- The Topic of Cancer: In the story "A Remarkable Life", Concrete sprouts antlers that grow uncontrollably and apparently without bound. Chadwick mentions in his blog that the antlers are "a metaphor for cancer". Deprived of food during this time to see if it has any effect on the growth, his normally bulky body dwindles and leaves him looking like a skeletal human in the depths of chemotherapy.