Review by Frank Plowright
Ostensibly Human Target is about a man who takes on the lives of people in danger of losing them, but while Peter Milligan is interested enough in the masquerades to weave continually good crime dramas from it, his methods run deeper. Interesting him even more are the people whose lives Christopher Chance assumes, what they may have done (or not done) before needing Chance’s talents.
As was the case in Strike Zones, Living in Amerika provides three stories over five chapters, with the title story running to three. It starts with a satirical look at left wing revolutionaries in the early 1970s, but misguided crimes committed then come back to haunt the survivors thirty years later. Milligan’s twist is that Chance isn’t impersonating anyone, but people who are in danger of being killed believe he is. Meanwhile, all hell’s heading to the small town of Middle Rock. It’s very clever, with multiple narrative voices laying everything out for readers while the cast attempt to put it together, and develops into something horrible from which Milligan wrings every last drop of emotional tension, although the ending is rapid.
When he drew these stories Cliff Chiang was a relatively unknown artist, yet there’s understated quality in every panel. He’s already the complete artistic package, defining the cast, drawing attention to the necessary moments, telling the story clearly, and surely almost unique in 2004 in sticking to multiple small panels in doing so.
While good, the stories in Strike Zones gave the impression that Millgan’s Human Target was better suited to longer outings, but the two single chapters bookending the title story prove that isn’t the case. Both clip along at a fast pace, and both have a surprise to drop, in the case of the opener a couple, including a very tidy ending. This is Chance back taking on other lives, becoming a Catholic priest and an escaped convict with a point to make. They’re very different people, but each eventually requires a form of redemption.
When the Human Target TV show briefly aired, Living in Amerika was combined with Strike Zones as Second Chances, but that can’t have sold well because another thirteen of Milligan and Chiang’s Human Target stories have never been gathered in collections, and they’re all worth reading.