Shiny Shelf

Human Target #4

By Eddie Robson on 21 November 2003

I understand that some people found issue #1 of ‘Human Target’, which tied up loose ends from the ‘Final Cut’ graphic novel that preceded it, somewhat confusing. That’s understandable: I hadn’t read ‘Final Cut’ either but I just decided to go with it and breeze past any incomprehensible sections, the way you do when you’re watching ‘The Big Sleep’ or ‘Mulholland Drive’ – just enjoy the mood.

Remarkably, over subsequent issues ‘Human Target’ has become one of the easiest monthly books to pick up without knowing anything about it beforehand – the storylines are short and the premise is simple. Christopher Chance is an investigator-cum-hitman with an extraordinary talent for disguise, working in a New York that’s still trying to re-establish its identity after 9/11: an ambiguous hero for ambiguous times. In this first part of a new two-part storyline, Chance investigates the suicide of a baseball player whilst disguised as one of the dead man’s under-achieving team-mates.

Peter Milligan’s ‘Human Target’ scripts differ substantially from his work on ‘X-Statix’. ‘X-Statix’ is cynically witty and whilst it functions as media satire, it also works superficially as a super-team book and can be enjoyed as such. ‘Human Target’ features subtler, more muted humour and whereas the members of X-Statix play out their lives in front of cameras, ‘Human Target’ takes place beneath the attention of society. It is dense, involving and brilliant.

It’s a joy to discover a comics concept that would not work as well in any other medium, and Milligan – with artist Javier Pulido – has honed this old DC character into just such a concept. You couldn’t replicate Chance’s ability to become a person from the inside out on screen, and in prose one might wonder how he can achieve such changes in appearance: Pulido’s character designs render both aspects plausible. His layouts are also impressively imaginative, working with Milligan to juggle ten or more panels on a page, but also broadening out when the material demands it.

The book not only possesses substantial depth of character, it uses it as a plot point: Chance takes on the psychological make-up of whoever he is impersonating and this is what makes him so good at it. The premise may initially seem implausible, but go with it: you’ll believe a man can fly, so why not this? It would have been easy to make Chance’s abilities supernatural, but he’s a far more interesting character if they aren’t: his talent borders on schizophrenia, including the ability to fool even himself into believing that he is somebody else.

Milligan has done it again: along with ‘X-Statix’ this is another essential monthly read.

Order the first ‘Human Target’ miniseries as a trade paperback and the ‘Human Target: Final Cut’ graphic novel from Amazon.

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By Eddie Robson

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