Isaac’s not a bad man. He’s done bad things but so has everyone else. In a very near future where its been decided there are too many people, Isaac and countless others like him have been forced to whatever they can to survive. That usually means murder. Which always means revenge. But there’s another option, one no really talks about but which is much, much worse; Scare City.
Co-created by Tony Puryear and Erika and Robert Alexander, with Puryear and Erika Alexander sharing writing duties, Concrete Park feels like a book that’s been around for years. It moves with the same wary eyes and quiet confidence as Luca, one of its leads and like her is all too aware of the danger on every page. The idea is simple; a prison planet where Earth dumps it’s criminal. But, just like thematically similar Bitch Planet, it folds countless new twists into that premise. The first, and most chilling, is just how big Scare City, the town where inmates are ‘released’ to is. This is a city, a different version of the same streets these people fought and died on, but with none of the resources and even less of the hope. Although it’s never said out loud, its clear that no one goes home after their sentence is done. Instead, they find their way to Scare City and to whatever life they can make, steal or kill to construct.
The second new angle the book finds is in format. This is a collection of shared world, near simultaneous short stories that introduce us to the world at the breakneck speed of a heist movie montage but with none of the comforting distance. In the space of a few pages we meet Isaac, the supremely tough and very rash gang leader Luca, her lover Lena, their sometime rival The Potato King and countless others. The story hot potatoes from one to the next, Alexander and Puryear giving his constantly shifting, nervy perspectives that unveil a little more of the world every time they change. By the end of the book we understand how Luca’s gang interacts with their rivals, the role that hyper-articulate DJ Chavez plays in this world and the first tiny hints of just how much is at stake on this deceptively simple, brutal world. All of these characters are either vital or will cearly be vital later and all of them feel like people we’ve known for years. My personal favorite is Monkfish, the endlessly suave shape changer whose stutter is the only break in his stride but there are countless others. Alexander and Puryear’s cast is large, diverse and completely engrossing. You won’t like some of them but you won’t forget any of them in a hurry either.
Puryear’s art makes sure of that. The constant focus shifts give him a chance to play with perspective as a means of storytelling and each character is shown in a different, fitting way. Isaac’s introduction is close up, showing us inside his head even as he recoils from what’s in there. The first time we see Luca she’s taking stock and it’s a mid-shot of her looking at Lena’s sleeping form. The first time we see Monkfish is from behind, the thousand faced man rendered faceless as he watches the action he’s part of not a participant in. It’s endlessly clever and Puryear’s strong lines and clever use of colour to delineate the past from the present and the real from the digital gives it a strong, direct voice that unifies the different characters.
Concrete Park is an unflinching, often violent look at a world whose inhabitants have been forced to make their own rules and what happens when those rules are broken. It’s gripping, clever comics and I look forward to seeing where it goes in future volumes.