Human Target is a competent thriller with just a smidgen of fantasy, to lift it from the humdrum of normal life and add a little touch of the extraordinary. Christopher Chance is a master of disguise and well-trained in combat. He uses both these skills to take on the identities of innocent people in dire straits, and resolves their problems by bringing the fight back to the bad guys.
While this makes up the crux of the two stories collected here, it doesn’t remain that simple. For starters, Chance is something of a method actor, and to get so far under his clients’ skins, he immerses himself in the role, leaving his true identity further and further behind him as he goes. His make-up and acting are so convincing that even the clients’ friends and family can’t tell the difference.
This is one of the story’s weaker elements – you’ll need to suspend disbelief when Chance moves seamlessly between a 15 stone preacher and a 10 stone weakling. Get past this, however, and you’ll be well rewarded.
There are sub-plots galore. Someone has hired an assassin to kill Chance, adding an element of lethal danger to the proceedings. Then there’s his assistant, who finds it even harder to come out from the personalities he’s covering than Chance does.
These questions of identity and self-esteem add a lot to the story, pulling it from a standard thriller and adding depth and sophistication. The characters are necessarily shallow but this is almost to the book’s benefit – it’s the action, intrigues and unfolding events that are the true stars.
This isn’t the first incarnation of Human Target – the character was originally created by Len Wein and Carmine Infantino, appearing in Action Comics in 1972. Nor was this series, originally published in 1999, his last appearance – Fox has since turned it into a TV series. Clearly the simple, repeatable premise makes for a great episodic drama. However, in this incarnation, Milligan paces his work well. He deftly spreads his two stories over a significant length, leaving plenty of room to interweave his subplots and minor dramas.
This is well worth a look if you like thrillers with a healthy kick of sex, violence and sophistication. The plotting is edgy and well-paced, and while there’s a requirement to get over the relative nonsense of Chance’s extraordinary doppelganger abilities, what remains is a rollercoaster ride of thrills and spills.