Publisher: Dark Horse Comics
Writer(s): Tony Puryear, Erika Alexander
Artist: Tony Puryear
Release Date: 16th October 2014 (UK)
The outcasts from Earth are exiled to a distant planet to be forgotten about, forming a violent, gang-based society. Concrete Park, from the minds of Tony Puryear (writer of the film Eraser) and Erika Alexander (star of The Cosby Show and Living Single) is an sexy, sassy and unflinchingly honest series. Taking a unique look at the all-too-familiar ‘prison planet’ trope, as well as making some fairly direct statements about urban unrest and gang culture in general, this is a book that instantly grabs your attention by virtue of its unique premise, not to mention Puryear’s vividly eye-catching artwork.
This first volume collects the shorts published in the award-winning Dark Horse Presents, and serves as an extended introduction of sorts to the world of Scare City and its myriad of colourful inhabitants. Unfortunately, as impressive as Concrete Park undoubtedly is, the narrative can be a little confusing in places precisely because there’s just so much going on. In this collection we have a barrage of characters being introduced, each with their own backstory and motivations, and while some – Isaac and Luca in particular – get the lion’s share of the attention, it can still be a somewhat daunting task for the reader to try and take everything in, at least for the time being.
Taken in isolation, each of the main characters are undoubtedly compelling, but none are even close to one-dimensional – with the possible exception of wheezing gang boss The Potato King (but, to be honest, with such an awesome nickname – not to mention character design – how many dimensions do you really need?). We have gang-bangers trying to project their kid sisters, lovesick mob bosses struggling under the pressure of their role, and wide-eyed shapeshifters obsessing over the unrequited objects of their affections. Like I said, there’s a lot going on here, but Puryear and Alexander do a solid enough job of trying to keep things flowing smoothly, even if the book can occasionally come across as a little overwritten in places.
The one defining characteristic of Concrete Park is undoubtedly the burning passion that the creators have for the project, passion which is evident on pretty much every page. This is clearly a labour of love for the huband-and-wife creative team, and this hardcover collection takes full advantage of their impressive attention to detail, cramming in bonus content including a detailed map, glossary and ‘slang’ guide to the lingo of Scare City. The book also features a neat touch whereby you can head on over to their website ConcretePark.com to listen to Scare City’s radio station Radio Gigante. Gimmicky perhaps, but I personally got a real kick out of the added sense of flavour, and I love seeing this kind of out-of-the-box thinking from creators.
Overall, Concrete Park is an interesting series with a lot of positives. The characters are strong, memorable and well-defined, even if their individual stories don’t quite tie together all the time. Tony Puryear’s artwork is also undoubtedly a joy to behold, and his firm grasp of the unique gang fashion and visuals give the series an extra edge. It’s also great to see a female lead who manages to convey her sexuality without being reduced to an impossibly proportioned Barbie doll. This is eye-opening stuff, filled with confidence, swagger and creativity. Well worth a look.
You can purchase Concrete Park vol. 1 from Turnaround Publisher Services (who generously provided the review copy of this title) via their official website.