Peter Milligan has breathed new life into a character that made his first appearance as a back-up strip in Detective Comics. However, he has fleshed out Christopher Chance into someone with a pathological compulsion to disguise himself as other people, an impersonator-for-hire, offering protection as a bodyguard or decoy, a chameleon adventurer who doesn’t so much get his man by going undercover, but prefers literally getting under the skin.
However, Milligan’s scripts are crafted to operate on a number of levels, to dig beneath the surface of a straightforward thriller and excavate underlying themes of identity and the roles we play in life. They take us beyond the mask of reality and, of course, LA and Hollywood provide the ideal playground in which events unfold.
The two stories in this first volume are taken from the 1999 Vertigo mini-series and the graphic novel from 2002. They present us with a group of individuals who are pretending to be something they are not, hiding from their true selves for a multitude of reasons.
In the first story, Chance Meeting introduces us to Rev Earl James, a devout family man who uses his strength of his faith to protect the community from local drug dealers. However, he’s also concealing the fact that he’s having an affair. Tom McFadden, Chance’s part-time partner, can’t face up to caring for his wife and young son, so he avoids his personal responsibilities by assuming both his employer’s role and identity. A high-flying young business exec, Zoe, is trying to help her husband develop the character for his book, but unsuspectingly, she’s bringing this imaginary mercenary to life as the assassin, Emerald. A battle with inner demons and life-threatening adrenaline addiction. All of their double lives are set to unravel at huge personal cost.
In Final Cut, Frank White hires Chance to track down his kidnapped son, Ronan, who’s also a child star. The relationship between father and son, though, is not all it appears to be. A brooding animosity between them has meant both have hidden involvements in the chain of events. Actor Dai Thomas has asked our human chameleon to play him in order to flush out a killer, but then takes credit for his heroic actions to make him a more bankable star. Perhaps it is only the scriptwriter Davey King who only ever plays himself, a bitter, selfish, manipulative wannabe, whose death at the start of the story starts unraveling the chain of events and exposing the truths behind the public facades.
These stories address issues of how we assume roles and the dishonesty of not being true to one’s self. This is particularly the case with Chase himself ,who is gradually eroding his own sense of identity, increasingly withdrawing from his own life and escaping into the roles he assumes, method acting to the extreme as he surrenders completely to the thoughts and emotions of his chosen subject. On each occasion he seems to slip further into an irretrievable position of never returning to being Christopher Chance, almost as if he is afraid of inhabiting his own skin for long.
Then again, the strip’s themes set out to explore and question what makes people who they are and what compels them to escape from themselves and live in a state of self-denial. However, these themes reinforce Peter Milligan’s exploration of the human condition which he addressed in the cult series, Shade The Changing Man.
He’s ably supported in this volume by two artists of international repute. In his last work before his untimely death, Croatian-born Edvin BiukoviÄ’s pictures ebb and flow between brooding atmosphere and detailed clarity, but both punctuated with dramatic explosions. On the other hand, Javier Pulido (Robin: Year One) fills his compact panels in loosely imagined settings, but intense with the actions and emotions which populate them.
On the strength of this initial foray into the world of the Human Target, it’s easy to see why it has been turned into a TV series. As a Vertigo series, though, I get the feeling we’ve only just scratched the surface of Christopher Chance’s duplicitous life and our own desires to escape into borrowed selves.
Human Target Vol 1 : Chance Meetings is out now and available from the Den Of Geek Store.