Tuesday, February 1, 2011

Human Target #3 (Miniseries)

Milligan’s third issue sets up all the pieces for the finale of the story. Players are moved into place accordingly, though Milligan still provides room for character development and subtext. Often times, the penultimate act of a story tends to involve moving the players around like chess pieces in a way where the characters simply feel like they’re going through the motions because we don’t see them grow or learn. I think Milligan circumvents this trap easily because so much of the drama inherent in the Human Target is psychological drama, and conversations and narrative captions give us more information to appreciate the story.

Not to say that everything in this chapter is all inner turmoil and psychological. It opens up with Dee Noyz and some of his thugs unloading submachine guns and assault rifles on a residential home. Rev. James, soon revealed to be Tom, also cleans out a den of gangbangers before inviting the neighborhood to hear his sermon on Sunday. Chance, meanwhile, has another battle with Emerald.

One of the best scenes in the issue is during their fight, when Chance knocks the pistol away from Emerald as they struggle. They talk to each other to buy some time, and Chance asks if he can buy her off. Emerald declines, because, as Chance already knows, she has a reputation to think of. It’s another example of how seamlessly Milligan reinforces the idea of identity by reminding us of a reputation and what it truly means. Is a reputation all that we are? If everyone thinks of us in a certain way, does that make them right? Does that make it true?

Then they decide that, as the pistol lies on the floor equidistant from them both, there is a fifty percent chance for each of them to reach it. They both agree to make a deal to back off. The next panel, as we flip the page, is of both of them diving headlong for it. In the ensuing struggle, with their hands fumbling over the gun, they exchange some of Milligan’s trademark deadpan witticisms. “Christopher! You lied to a lady!” shouts Emerald. (60) Chance responds, “It’s what the modern world has brought me to.” (60) He headbutts her in the nose, gets the gun, aaaaaaaaaand scene.

Tom, as Rev. James, returns to Becky, his estranged wife, and says that they can finally be a family again with their son Sam. The only catch is that he must remain as Earl James. This obviously doesn’t go over well with Becky, and there’s this great bit of dialogue that Tom (as Rev. James) says to her: “What’s a name? What’s a personality? What’s a person? What do these terms mean? Love me. Forget which me it is you’re loving. Becky, can’t we just pretend?” (63)

That dialogue is one of those bits of writing that really encapsulates what Milligan’s trying to accomplish with this series. And Biukovic does a keen job on illustrating their conversation. He captures the emotion within them both, not only with their facial expressions, but with their body language. Tom has clenched fist in one panel, then open palms in the next. It’s very fluid work, drawn from different angles. There’s a pair of panels where we’re looking at them through a window in Becky’s house, only the window panes serve as the panel borders. It’s a fantastic, yet particularly subtle way of showing how two people who are in the same room can still be light years away from each other. And their expressions say it all: Tom, with a somber yet honest look, and Becky with her eyes wide open in disbelief and shock at what she’s hearing, with both of her hands clasped to her neck.

Another interesting scene is when Emerald, who was apparently released from Chance’s mercy, is in her civilian life for a fleeting moment, and then confronts Dee Noyz in an attempt to pump him for info. Dee Noyz, in this scene, however, is actually Tom in disguise, and he later goes into the bathroom of a local diner and begins removing his makeup and disguise. As he walks out into the diner, though, he sees that he’s only removed half of his face, and he just loses it and begins shooting the mirror behind the bar. He looks a bit like Two-Face. Maybe not the most subtle scene Milligan’s written, but I think it balances out the conversation Tom had with Becky.

On the next page, we see that the real Rev. Earl James, who has been on life-support in the hospital, has finally died. His widow Bethany returns to their house. There’s an excellent panel where Bethany, framed in the doorway and surrounded by pitch black darkness, asks, “Hello? Are you home? Earl?” (69) Each question she speaks is lettered in its own separate word balloon. There’s something about seeing three separate word balloons in this panel that just adds to the sense of loneliness and uncertainty. You know it’s good comics when even the letterer (in this case, Robert Solanovic) knocks it out of the park.

Eventually, Bethany and Becky find Bruno and make him take them to Chance in one final, last-ditch effort to have him help them solve their dilemmas. The issue ends with Rhea, the junkie whore who had the affair with Rev. Earl James, slitting her wrists in front of Dee Noyz (the real one, this time) on a beach. I guess dealing with the shame of selling out “the finest man [she] ever met. . . for a few rocks” was too much for her. (77) She asks Dee Noyz (whose real name is Dennis, which is what she calls him now), if he ever loved her. It’s a dramatic, perhaps melodramatic way to end the issue, but in a way it also complements the conversation between Tom and Becky earlier. Are there any happy endings in sight?

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