Reviewer: Tim Stevens
Story Title: Pieces of Lead
Written by: Peter Milligan
Art by: Cliff Chiang
Colored by: Lee Loughridge
Lettered by: Clem Robins
Editor: Karen Bergin
Publisher: Vertigo > DC Comics
Two months ago, I gave issue #14 of this series a 10 out of 10 and, truth be told, I would have given it a higher grade if one was available. A 12 out of 10, for example. It was one of the best installments of an excellent series, plumbing questions of faith and the legitimacy of religion, while expressing how much and how little one had to do with the other.
The second installment arrived and I felt a bit disappointed. Milligan had again turned inward and chose to focus on Christopher Chance’s tenuous connection with identity. Not a surprise, given how fertile that creative ground was, but a little disappointing considering the religious angle seemed the more difficult and, thus, more interesting road to hoe. Human Target is an incredibly introspective title as its lead must live in his head nearly all the time. When he is on the job, it ensures the ruse is complete and off, it maintains his fragile sense of identity and sanity. However, the book is never better than when it acts as a reflection of American life, most predominantly displayed in the Weather Underground issues and in the first chapter of this storyline.
Thankfully, (and perhaps as I should have expected) Milligan makes that return to Chance’s interior a worthwhile one. While his outpouring to Bruno about losing himself in Paul is nothing we have not heard already, it is worthy of note that this is the first time Chance has ever really discussed it to anyone else with this level of candor. They may be the “same old issues” that Chance has deliberated on from issue #1, but for the first time he seems to be seeking answers and help not just acknowledging the problem for moments before sweeping it away again.
More impressive is how the story reconnects with two key concepts introduced in the first issue: how true is the idea of Paul as savior (or, at least, healer) and what kind of person is Paul at his core. On the latter, it initially appeared that the book was content in taking the easy route. In the “real” world Paul was not a particularly good man. In fact, he was actively hedonistic to an impressive extreme. This issue returns to Paul to find that the fun of the forbidden has quickly worn off to him. In indulging his freedoms, he has found how little the excesses, be they drugs, sex, or alcohol, interest him. Paul has no interest in being a cult’s figurehead and little faith in his own divinity, but he has realized the solution to his malaise is not found in bar bathrooms.
In a sense, he is farther down the slope of identity loss than Chance. Chance is still tethered to reality by Bruno and a sense of self that remains, despite its rather fractured quality. Paul, on the other hand, does not believe in himself as a savior and found no better identity in the role of a pleasure seeker. It is this fact that makes his return to his “ministry” all the more melancholy. He knows this world is not for him, but having found no other one, he simply resigns himself to his place in it. While Chance experiences wider and more dangerous fluctuations in his psyche, he has never simply given up. Paul is doing exactly that.
The second concept concerning that of the truth of Paul’s role; has he been touched by divinity in some way or has it all been a lie. In a smart decision, the reality is never revealed. While it is clear that a few “elders” have perverted the role of the church, it is unclear if that role has ever based on a true miracle. The question of the divine words spoken by Paul during the divine fever is raised twice. The first time it is raised by Paul himself, moments after he has returned to the church to find his father is indeed dead. The second time, more interestingly, is raised by Chance to the elders. Chance had, heretofore, been entirely unconvinced by Paul or, really religion as a whole, and had generally shown little interest in “bigger” truths beyond what he needed to know to get the job done. Here, again as in his conversation with Bruno, he seems to be reconnecting with the outside world. He may be asking simply because it was the only aspect of Paul that he was never able to fully embody, but it seems to more resemble an actual grasp for the truth. For the first time, we are seeing a Chance who is not only concerned with the immediate, with the knowledge needed to play a role, but with a larger question.