05th April 2010

Human Target: Chance Meetings

Review by Gavin O'Reilly

The Human Target, another older, arguably second to third tier character that has had the luck to be successfully re-invigorated under DC’s Vertigo imprint. Meet Christopher Chance, The Human Target; a pseudo hit-man with the uncanny handy ability to take on the identity of his clients, or of whoever might be appropriate to progress his investigations into the seedy underbelly of grim and gritty LA. Mister Chance was introduced in the 70’s as a back-up story character, and has intermittently appeared in the DC universe since then, including a one-shot entitled “Human Target Special#1” in 1991 to coincide with the then new “Human Target” (and short lived) TV series. Now it seems history is part-repeating itself, with a new TV Christopher Chance taking centre stage we see a collection of the stories told between his early 90s incarnation and now. This, thrillingly, is a fast-paced page-turner collecting the initial 4 issue miniseries re-birth, and the subsequent graphic novel “Final Cut”.

Both story arcs are the work of Peter Milligan, with art chores on the first story arc covered by the late Edvin Biukovic and the second handled by Javier Pulido.

The first thing that appealed to me, before delving into the specific stories here, is just the unmistakable coolness of the concept- the capability of perfect espionage by way of complete impersonation- straight away I can see how this would translate well to TV, the idea instantly grabs the imagination with an unmistakable cool factor. Previous incarnations of Chance tended to be set up in the tone of lighted hearted action drama, but this series being of the Vertigo Imprint takes on a more noir thriller direction, and deals with the psychological consequences of somebody immersing themselves completely in someone else’s identity. Make no mistake; Daniel Day Lewis could learn a thing or two about method acting from the at once utterly charming Chance.

The first story deals nicely with this theme with a backdrop of religious context, as Chance takes the personality of a preacher immersed in gangland LA. Milligan refers to his own use of the religious bent through one of the characters advising her partner on the writing of his own hitman tale- this is self-knowing without winking too openly at the reader- it doesn’t break you away from the tale. Chance has been training his assistant Tom to eventually be his replacement, but Tom is ending up in a very intense identity crisis. The problems he has with his family, and the relationship between Chance and Tom, come off authentic and believable. This in part to the writing, but is helped by Biukovic’s natural talent for making each character look truly individual under his artistic style, probably a pre-requisite for an artist telling a tale of impersonation and identity adoption and theft. The first story arc is a great intro, it sets everything up nicely and above all, makes you feel and care for the characters.

The second story arc feels a more elaborate affair, which is fitting considering the change of setting from Gangland LA to the Hollywood hills. The analogy between the shallow identity of Hollywood game players and the multiple role switching of Christopher Chance is obvious, but thoroughly enjoyable. We all like to imagine how the rich and famous live, and a story is even better if they are despicable, nasty pieces of work- Milligan delivers on all fronts here with an intricate thriller. The art takes a change here for slightly more expressive line work, the colourists change but the pallets do not differ wildly, and give a sort of consistency to this collection as a whole.

This collection is on target as way of introduction to the source material for the new US show, premiering on these shores on April 13th on Sky. It also works perfectly well as a stand-alone graphic novel, and is making me want to hunt out the back issues of the 21 issue run that these two story arcs sparked. Here is hoping that the onus on the new TV show will get Vertigo to tempt Milligan back to a new title of this great premise of a character, so he can be fleshed out some more for us. The collection lacks any extras which seem par for the course for these kinds of trade paperbacks now, some may argue that this means it is a rush job to get it to coincide with the TV show, but at 9.99 you get a 4 issue miniseries and graphic novel brought together here, a great value addition to your collection.