Sunday, October 31, 2010

Human Target #2 (Miniseries)

The second issue of the Human Target miniseries begins with a splash page right where the cliffhanger from issue one left us. Chance, the real Chance (we can tell because he’s wearing the trenchcoat) looks out the hotel window and shouts, “I think she’s gone!” (29) It’s a very effective splash page, with detailed architecture surrounding the area, populated with people enjoying the night. Biukovic brings L.A. to life. And the crescent moon is really well done, well-colored and with a subtle but effective glow effect by miniseries colorist Lee Loughridge.

At the top of the splash, we can see Emerald hiding on a ledge a story above. It’s fairly subtle and I remember the first time I read this, I didn’t notice her at all because my eyes moved too quickly and a I just thumbed to the next page.

The real Chance and Tom McFadden (as fake Chance) have a few moments to talk to each other a bit, and we get our first hint about their true identities. Then Emerald returns through the open window, beginning a well-executed action secquence. She pulls the real Chance out the window and the page where she and Chance tumble out the side of the hotel has a beautifully fractured layout.

I can’t stress enough how impressed I am with Biukovic’s artwork in this miniseries. He really comes through. It’s enough to me that his style appeals to my sensibilities but his storytelling is crisp and his layouts are exciting and actually add to the subtext. His characters are wonderfully expressive, not just in their facial expressions, but with their body language as well. Just look at Emerald in this hotel sequence. Biukovic effortlessly depicts her as sexy, and then pretending to be helpless, and then lethal. Biukovic excels whether it’s two people in a room talking or an explosive action scene. In this issue we get to see Emerald at her “other” life, that of a typical suburbanite mom with a husband and daughter. Biukovic draws a very cute little girl and pet cat.

It’s a shame that the artist passed away some time after illustrating Human Target. But the work he left us is something we can appreciate and enjoy for years to come.

At this point I feel morally obligated to point out a very entertaining line that the real Chance says, as he and Emerald face off in the streets. Wielding a knife he picked up from an outdoor cafĂ© they stumbled into, Chance says, “In my former unreconstructed days, I might have balked at using a steak knife on a lady. So you can thank the feminist movement for your demise.” (32) I don’t know why, but I find that line very funny.

Later on, Chance and Tom (looking like he naturally looks), meet up and talk. Chance describes how the job of impersonating can eat at one’s soul and how one’s identity becomes “polluted.” (37) Interestingly, we learn through their conversation that Chance doesn’t like being touched during sexual acts. When Tom was impersonating Chance at the hotel, he told Emerald just about the same. Chance, however, never told Tom that dirty little detail. Rather, Tom intuits it himself; it’s a hint for us that Tom may be just as talented as Chance himself, if not moreso.

Another important part of the issue is when we see the real, actual Reverend Earl James. He’s just received a letter from Rhea, a streetwalker with whom he had a secret affair. Apparently, she’s sold out his secret to Dee Noyz (leader of the gang of hoodlums that have been stirring up problems in the community, as seen last issue) just to get another fix.

Again, Biukovic does a masterful job with the layout on the page where Rev. James, ashamed of his transgression, decides to take the coward’s way out and end his own life. Biukovic essentially draws a full-page splash of Rev. James sitting on his bed, holding the letter in his hands. He’s looking right up at us. At the corner of the bed, there’s a suicide note he wrote for his wife, Beth.

What makes this page interesting is how Biukovic adds four more panels: one above Rev. James, one on each side of him, and one below him. The top panel is a picture of his face as he solemnly reads the letter. The left panel is a picture of his right hand holding his glasses, as he’s in obvious shock over the consequences. The right panel is a picture of his left hand crumpling Rhea’s letter in anger and frustration. The bottom panel is a picture of her letter, crumpled into a ball at his feet. The panels form a crucifix, and the original picture of Rev. James is dead in the center of the cross. It’s made all the more poignant because of the way he’s looking right at us. Narrative captions are placed tastefully in the negative space outside of the four panels.

I also want to point out how a page like this can only be done in comics. Each of the four panels shows a different breadth of action, in sequence from top to middle to bottom tier, yet the image of Rev. James in the center of the splash remains static. Our minds understand all the actions that occur in the four panels, but we also comprehend that Rev. James is stuck in the middle of it all. The page effectively captures the psyche of how the character feels boxed in by his own actions, not to mention crucified.

Chance also takes the time to see a shrink in this issue. (I think it’s something of a recurring episode with Milligan’s works, where he has characters visit shrinks. But that could just be because he enjoys writing about psychological stuff.) The shrink’s office has Warhol-like prints on his wall: paintings of the same face only in different shades of color. Again, this reiterates the themes of identity and faces.

I also like this line the shrink says: “You do that a lot, Christopher. Turn something serious into a joke. A pun.” (47) I actually feel that this is something Milligan himself tends to do in many of his works. Is he adding some commentary about himself here? I don’t know, but either way it works.

Afterwards, Chance goes to visit Tom’s wife, Becky. He mentions that he spends two thousand dollars a week seeing a therapist. When she asks him what the shrink says, Chance answers, “He wonders what I think the answer is.” (49) An obvious joke, perhaps, but to me, still a funny one.

At the end of the issue, we learn that the real Rev. James survived his self-inflicted gunshot wound to the head. The doctor, however, tells his wife Bethany that even if somehow pulls through, “He might not be the person you knew.” (50) Bethany goes back to the church and her narrative captions discuss how people change themselves to relate to others; “How much,” she asks herself, “do we invent about ourselves?” (51) Again, even at the end of the issue we return again and again to the underlying themes of the series.

The cliffhanger is another interesting one, as Rev. James meets Bethany at the church. The only question is, is this Chance posing as the Reverend, or is it Tom?

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