By Andrew A. Smith
Scripps Howard News Service
Fox is promoting its new show Human Target
(debuting Jan. 17) pretty heavily. And why not? It’s another property based on a comic book, and those seem to be doing well these days.
And, although Human Target in comics is a minor strip canceled numerous times, it has somehow managed to keep coming back. Some elements of all those versions are found on the TV show, so they’re worth exploring.
The Human Target debuted in the back of Action Comics
#419, way back in 1972. Written by Len Wein (Swamp Thing
) and illustrated by Carmine Infantino and Dick Giordano, Target starred Christopher Chance, a square-jawed hero and bon vivant. Chance would use his amazing disguise abilities to impersonate someone whose life was in danger, and then use his astounding command of martial arts, firearms, explosives and so forth to confound and capture the would-be killer. In between gigs, he would hang out at Bruno’s, a high-end restaurant owned by a chef and aide-de-camp of the same name, drinking expensive wine, eating gourmet meals and picking up extremely attractive women.
As a male fantasy, that can’t be beat. And the disguise angle was a new wrinkle on the old private-eye genre.
But the concept never really took off. Chance had eight stories in the back of Action
before moving to Detective Comics,
where he appeared five more times (still written by Wein, but illustrated by Howard Chaykin). Chance played an important role in a 1982 Batman story, and had a cameo in the 1986 Crisis on Infinite Earths,
but his headline strip ended in 1980, and Chance seemed destined for funnybook limbo.
But then Chance was rescued … by Rick Springfield. For some reason, ABC thought the series worth resuscitating in 1992, with the singer in the title role. The adaptation was pretty straightforward, except that it dropped Bruno in favor of “Philo Marsden,” the now-cliché eccentric computer-genius sidekick. The series only lasted seven episodes – but in all fairness, it was competing with the Olympics.
For the sake of completeness, I’ll also mention that DC published a one-shot that dovetailed with the series. Human Target: The Mack Attack Contract
(1991) was by Mark Verheiden and Rick Burchett.
This is all pretty standard for comic-book detectives. Most have their brief moment in the sun before fading into limbo or becoming supporting characters for guys in Spandex.
But seven years after the ABC experiment, DC did something very, very odd to Christopher Chance. They moved the concept to their mature-readers line Vertigo, and handed it to Peter Milligan, a British writer known for surreal and/or kinky stories (Shade the Changing Man, Enigma, The Extremist
). Milligan wrote a complex four-issue miniseries in which it is revealed that Chance’s psyche has become unstable and fragmented. He not only assumes new identities, but he becomes that person, forgetting who he really is. And since he doesn’t know, the reader is often left guessing as well.
That apparently did well enough for an original HT graphic novel. Human Target: Final Cut
(2002) where once again, the nature of identity was explored. (The mini and the GN are available in the trade paperback Human Target: Chance Meetings
Milligan was again rewarded, this time with a Human Target
ongoing series. Not only did the readers have to play Whack-A-Mole with Chance, but Milligan introduced another character with a similar problem: Tom McFadden, a former Human Target protégé who had completely lost his original personality. With that, the reader never knew if the character narrating the story was Chance, McFadden, the original – or some combination, as everyone impersonated everyone else, and often they didn’t know who they were themselves.
That series lasted only 21 issues (2003-05). But that was longer than Chance’s original run as a stock heroic type, and seems to have re-defined the character. Even the new TV series says of Chance (Mark Valley): “Does anyone know who Christopher Chance really is? What secrets lay buried in his past?”
Otherwise the show seems like a typical action-adventure series, with Chance playing human shield more than target, Guerrero (Jackie Earle Haley) replacing Philo as the eccentric computer genius and Winston (Chi McBride) replacing Bruno as Chance’s business manager.
And that’s probably good enough. Chance’s disguise twist is at least as interesting as Monk
(the “defective detective”) and that show had a good run. And if they add the identity problems, it could break new ground. On TV, at least. Chance is already pretty odd in the comics!
Contact Andrew A. Smith of the Memphis Commercial Appeal at firstname.lastname@example.org.