Christopher Chance, the Human Target, is pure Hollywood.
Human TargetPublisher: Vertigo/DC
Subtitle: Final Cut
Contributors: Javier Pulido (Artist)
Writer: Peter Milligan
Item Type: Comic
Publication Date: 2003-09
Hollywoodland. The place you go when you don't want to be you. The place where dreams are made and anyone can become somebody else. If Horatio Alger is the icon of the rags-to-riches American Dream, the Hollywood sign is the talisman of the New American Dream, measured not in success, but in successful re-invention.
It's a vertiginous place of forever shifting identities, a world in flux, tinged with the faint desperation of its continual rebirth. David Lynch personified it in Mulholland Dr. as a smelly, filthy homeless man lurking behind Hollywood's glamour.
Christopher Chance, the Human Target, is pure Hollywood. His existence is a series of brief lives, where he takes on the identity of a person in danger. His latest life is that of Dai Thomas, a washed-up action star and the latest recipient of a celebrity death threat. The previous two victims who didn't pay woke up to find themselves dead, but Thomas has blown most of his fortune on cocaine and other Hollywood accessories. He can't explain to his wife where the money's gone, so instead hires Christopher Chance to impersonate him.
Unfortunately, Christopher hasn't been himself lately. After being nearly killed by a mysterious female assassin, he underwent extensive plastic surgery to rebuild his face, almost dying in the process. The shock has only increased his feeling of being adrift, lost in other people's lives. He has a feeling that one time he might become someone else and never come back; each time he loses a piece of what makes up "Christopher Chance." Like Peter Sellers, who once commented, "There used to be a me behind the masks, but I had it surgically removed," Chance is a collection of frauds. Underneath there's only a shadow.
Even amid all this existential angst, the Human Target does his job well. He flushes out the killer, who attacks him on pier. After a brief struggle, Chance fires a bullet into the killer's fleeing speedboat. The boat explodes, but there's no body to be found.
Coming back to his life, Chance is increasingly more despondent, unable to convince himself he is anything more than the roles he plays. Such wallowing might be a play for cheap sympathy in a lesser writer, but Milligan's script has a wry darkness to it that diffuses any bathos. After a restaurant incident where he's unable to distinguish between himself and the character he'd recently played, Chance refuses to enter another brief life.
But the Hollywood furies won't let him get off that easily. It turns out that the man he'd killed as Dai Thomas may have been responsible for the kidnapping of a child star named Ronan White. White's parents are at a loss; they turn to Chance to impersonate the kidnapper and retrieve their soon.
He agrees, partly out of a sense of obligation. More than that, though, he finds himself drawn to the Whites, particularly the wife, Mary. He admires their centered life, so full of the decency and simplicity he lacks within his own. They are complete while he is not. Like any good actor, he asks, "What is my motivation?" The answer is not pretty: he wants to feed on them, absorb their certainty. He's falling in love, because Mary makes him feel solid again, more than a shadow.
So he sets off on a tour of the Hollywood underbelly. The kidnapper turns out to be an amateur screenwriter whose self-proclaimed genius goes unrecognized among the California wannabes. Chance's descent into the kidnapper's mind provides a running commentary on the illusion of Dreamland, the ugly truth that's just beneath the surface. The screenwriter, unappreciated artiste extraordinaire, wants to destroy it all; Chance just wants to live the dream instead of the illusion.
I won't reveal whether he succeeds. All I'll say is that this story takes place in Hollywood, where enemies sometimes look like friends and everyone always has a pitch. In this golden land, not even dreams are what they seem.