Crossroads Alpha: Indie Haven Muse Hack Psycho Drive-In Seventh Sanctum

The Human Target

A column article, Comics Bulletin Soapbox by: Thom Young
"Pilot" and "Rewind"

Writers: Jonathan E. Steinberg ("Pilot") and Robert Levine ("Rewind")
Directors: Simon West ("Pilot") and Steve Boyum ("Rewind")
Starring: Mark Valley as Christopher Chance, aka "The Human Target"

Thom Young:

So FOX television has a new show that is purported to be based on a DC Comics property. The show, of course, is called The Human Target--as is the DC Comics property, which is usually credited to Len Wein and Carmine Infantino as the creators. In fact, in the show, the protagonist's Rottweiler is named "Carmine" (I tried to listen for another character or animal that was named "Len," but I didn't notice one).

However, Len Wein and Carmine Infantino didn't actually create the concept of the Human Target for DC. It was Edmond Hamilton and Sheldon Moldoff who created a character called the Human Target in Detective Comics #201 (cover date November 1953). Of course, Hamilton and Moldoff's Human Target wasn't known as "Christopher Chance" (the name of Wein's character).

In the lead Batman story in Detective #201, a celebrity impersonator named Fred Venable must find a way to raise the money for a series of operations that his daughter needs, so he offers to impersonate people who believe their lives are in danger. His services are used and he raises the money for his daughter's medical bills. He then retires from being The Human Target.

However, a gangster named Blinky Grove, whose life is in danger, kidnaps Venable's daughter to force him out of retirement. Venable is forced to impersonate Blinky, but Batman and Robin are made aware of the plot. Thus, with Venable's help, Batman and Robin rescue the daughter and capture Blinky Grove.

Did Len Wein know about that 1953 Batman story when he introduced his own version of the Human Target in 1972 as a back-up feature in Action Comic #419 (December 1972)? My guess is that he did since about a year and a half later Wein re-introduced the character of Professor Milo in Batman #255. This minor Batman villain had only appeared twice before that--in Detective Comics #247 (September 1957) and Batman #112 (December 1957).

Both of those 1957 Professor Milo stories ("The Man Who Ended Batman's Career" and "Am I Really Batman?" respectively) were written by Bill Finger and illustrated by Sheldon Moldoff (and inked by Charles Paris, who also inked Moldoff's pencils on the 1953 Human Target story). Wein had obviously read and borrowed from Batman comics from the 1950s, so I think it's likely that he was familiar with Hamilton and Moldoff's Human Target in Detective #201.

However, perhaps it was another comic published by DC (National) in the 1950s that gave Wein the idea for his Human Target--Gang Busters #61 (December 1956 / January 1957). I actually read that story, but I don't remember anything about it--and I no longer have it in my comic book library.

I have no idea who wrote "The Human Target" in Gang Busters #61, but it was illustrated by longtime DC penciler Nick Cardy. It was also reprinted in Detective Comics #419 (January 1972)--which is where I read it back when I was a boy. Thus, Wein would have certainly read "The Human Target" story that had been illustrated by Cardy and that was reprinted less than a year before his own Human Target appeared.

There is one Web site that claims that a character named "Christopher Chance" appeared in the Gang Busters Human Target story, but I haven't been able to confirm that. If anyone has a copy of Gang Busters #61 or Detective #419, I'd be interested in hearing from you regarding the details of that Nick Cardy Human Target story.

What I do know about the story comes from the cover of Gang Busters #61, which tells us that a detective named "Perry" is impersonating a prince named "Nargar." Thus, it would seem that Cardy's Human Target was also someone (Detective Perry) who impersonated men whose lives were in danger.

Of course, that's the premise of Len Wein's Human Target as well--as a private detective, Christopher Chance impersonated his clients in order to draw out the hitmen and assassins who were after them. I read many of those Len Wein and Dick Giordano Human Target stories.

Giordano inked Infantino's pencils on the first story, and then penciled the series after that--though Howard Chaykin penciled the installment that appeared in Detective Comics #483 (April/May 1979), which was inked by Giordano.

However, I have not read the most recent Human Target stories (neither the miniseries nor the ongoing) that were written by Peter Milligan and published by DC's Vertigo imprint. I have read, though, that the premise was essentially the same--Christopher Chance impersonating clients who were in danger. Apparently, the Vertigo twist is that Chance loses his hold on his own identity as he is constantly submerging himself into the personae of the people whom he impersonates. It's a series that I hope to buy and read at some point.

Anyway, in all of the variations of DC's Human Target concept--Hamilton's in 1953, Cardy's in 1957, Wein's in 1972, and Milligan's in 1999--the protagonist (Fred Venable, Detective Perry, or Christopher Chance) always impersonates his client in order to become the "human target" of the hitman or assassin. Thus we come to FOX's new Human Target series in which Christopher Chance does not impersonate the targeted clients (which would have been difficult for him to do in either of the first two episodes since they were both women).

In fact, Chance doesn't "impersonate" anyone--and he's not actually a human target. His clients are out in the open, and they are still the targets; Chance is merely the bodyguard who operates under an alias and a cover story in order to stay close to the actual target (he's a Japanese interpreter in "Pilot" and an insurance salesman in "Rewind").

Rather than The Human Target, FOX (and series creator Jonathan E. Steinberg) could have saved themselves from paying a licensing fee to DC Comics by renaming the protagonist and titling the series The Bodyguard (as a more accurate description of the premise--that, that title might have caused them to pay a fee to the producers of the 1992 Kevin Costner film of the same name).

Hey! That Costner film came out in 1992; that's the same year that ABC produced the first Human Target series starring Rick Springfield as Christopher Chance!

Anyway, the premise of this Mark Valley vehicle is not actually the premise of DC's various Human Target iterations. Of course, it's obvious why the idea of Chance impersonating people would be eliminated; it would give Valley less screen time.

As it is now, Valley is in 90 percent of the scenes of the first two episodes. If his character actually had to impersonate the client in each episode, most of the "Christopher Chance" scenes would be played by the guest star of each episode.

Personally, I would have loved to have seen Tricia Helfer in "Pilot" playing Christopher Chance impersonating Helfer's other character in the episode (Stephanie Dobbs). Of course, any excuse to give Helfer as much screen time as possible would have been okay with me.

Okay, so this series isn't actually based on DC's Human Target property other than in its title and the names of some of the characters--but is it any good?

Well, it's mostly good.

It's well-acted, and the guest stars are very appealing (three actors from SyFy's Battlestar Galactica series have appeared in the first two episodes--which probably indicates that some of the producers and/or show runners working on Human Target also worked on Battlestar.

Additionally, the plots and the personal intrigues have been fairly engaging. These are not plots and subplots that will be winning any awards for originality, but they are well-executed action series standards.

However, there is one minor problem that has shown up in both of the first two episodes--a glaring lack of logic in how certain aspects of the scenarios are being carried out.

In "Pilot," a disgruntled man who had recently been fired (played by Mad Man's Mark Moses) has taken his former coworkers hostage. He has also tied his former boss to a chair and placed a convenient black hood over the man's head. In the establishing shot, we see that the boss is wearing a black pinstriped suit and has hands that are mottled with "age spots."

Outside, a police negotiator gets Moses's character (Hollis) to agree to let all the hostages go except for the boss (Lydecker).

The hostages are released from the office building, and we then see that the man tied to the chair is no longer wearing a black pinstriped suit and no longer has mottled hands. He still has a black hood over his head, but he is now wearing a gray flannel suit and has younger-looking hands.

Obviously, either a huge mistake has been made with scene-to-scene continuity or Christopher Chance is now in the chair and wearing the black hood.

Sure enough, Christopher Chance (Mark Valley) slips his hands from the ropes and removes his hood. Hollis is shocked! How was the switch made?

Indeed! How was the switch made?

Through the magic of television, of course--that, and by the hope of the writer that the viewers won't notice or critique such a glaring lack of logic.

Another such lapse in internal logic occurred later in the pilot, but I watched that episode a few days ago and I have already dropped the lapse in logic from my memory. However, a similar lapse also occurred in the second episode, "Rewind" (a title that I do not understand--though this episode could also have been titled "Pilot" since Chance had to pilot an airliner in it, I remark facetiously).

In "Rewind," Chance assumes the alias and cover story of an insurance salesman traveling aboard an airliner flying from San Francisco to Seattle to deliver an Internet hacker to Microsoft (or a reasonable facsimile of that company). This hacker knows "the skeleton key" that will unlock all aspects of the Internet--and against which there is no defense.

Chance doesn't know who the hacker is, but Bill Gates (or a reasonable facsimile of that mogul) has told him that the hacker, "Casper," will be on that specific flight. Thus, Chance will mingle with the passengers by trying to sell them insurance in order to determine who the client is and who the assassin/kidnapper is.

However, Chance can't do it alone. Thus, he enlists his partner, Winston (played by Chi McBride), to also assume a cover identity aboard the plane--and it's Winston's cover that is the problem. He plays the role of a flight attendant.

Now, the writer attempted to fix this lapse in logic by having it stated that Winston was able to work as a flight attendant by getting past a Transportation Security Administration (TSA) agent who was a friend--or who was bribed or something.

However, getting Winston past the TSA agent isn't really the problem; it's getting his fellow flight attendants to accept him as one of the crew. How exactly is it that Winston could just start working as a flight attendant on a plane that the airline company would have staffed with its own workers?

That lapse in story logic is never addressed--such as Winston claiming that the president of the airline is an old college buddy of his . . . or something.

However, don't worry about that problem because . . . SPOILER ALERT . . . one of the hired assassins is also working as a flight attendant on that plane--and the background of her character is such that she must have been a trained assassin posing as a flight attendant rather than a trained flight attendant who is suddenly trying her hand at assassination (or kidnapping, actually, in this particular case).

Yes, there are lapses in logic in this series, and it is not actually based on the DC Comics property in any significant way. Still, FOX's Human Target is an entertaining show with loads of action, appealing guest stars, and good acting.

If I had more time in my weekly schedule, I'd probably continue to watch it.


Got a comment or question about this Soapbox?

Community Discussion