Thursday, January 14, 2010

Human Targets

As I say in my review for Las Vegas Weekly, Fox's new TV-series version of Human Target is a big waste of time; even setting aside the abandonment of the core concept of the DC Comics character, it's still a generic action show with wooden dialogue, flat characters, lame special effects and recycled plotting. The first two episodes have nearly identical central set pieces, and they air three days apart. Whose stupid idea was that?

Before watching the new show, I was only vaguely familiar with the character created by Len Wein and Carmine Infantino in 1972. I had to check Wikipedia to verify that, yes, the TV show does do away with the character's one distinctive element (he disguises himself as other people so they can stay out of harm's way), and I don't really know if any of those early Human Target stories (always as back-ups in books like Action Comics and Detective Comics) were any good. But I did happen to have issues 10-17 of Vertigo's short-lived 2003-05 mature-readers revival of Human Target lying around, picked up probably years ago at one of the many awesome 10-cent sales at the late Dreamwell Comics. I have piles and piles of these comics to read "someday," so this seemed like as good a day as any to catch up on Christopher Chance.

Luckily, writer Peter Milligan was doing fairly self-contained stories for a Vertigo book (maybe one reason it didn't last long), and it was easy to jump right in without having read the earlier issues. Obviously, the main difference here is that Milligan's Chance isn't a generic bodyguard with flimsy cover identities, but an actual master of disguise who's completely convincing posing as the various clients who hire him. With the simple, kinetic linework of artists Cliff Chiang, Javier Pulido and Cameron Stewart (on various issues), plus the noir-ish tone of the stories and the relatively realistic subject matter (implausible physical transformations aside), Vertigo's Human Target reminded me a lot of Ed Brubaker and Sean Phillips' Criminal, with seedy characters who make sometimes fatal mistakes even while trying to do good.

The best issue of the eight I read was the last one, which had Chance as more of a supporting character in the story of a mob wife turned informant he helped adopt a new identity. From its hard-boiled narration to its neat little ending, it was a finely crafted crime story in its own right that almost didn't need the Human Target angle at all. Less successful was the three-part story with Chance nearly losing his sense of self while posing as a cult leader. It seemed a little too ponderous, and the whole identity-crisis thing was played kind of clumsily and on the nose.

It looks like DC has put a trade of some of Milligan's earlier Human Target issues back in print to coincide with the new TV series, and even if these aren't classic comics, they're entertaining reads and worth a second look (and certainly far, far better than the crappy series). The original two trades look to be readily available online, and I imagine all 21 issues are probably in dollar bins everywhere.

Less easy to find is the very short-lived 1992 ABC series also based on the Human Target character, with Rick Springfield as Chance. It did use the disguise element, and was run by Danny Bilson and Paul De Meo, who previously oversaw the much-loved (by me as a kid, anyway) but also short-lived Flash live-action series on CBS. There aren't any DVDs available or planned for the Springfield series, but there are a few amusingly cheesy clips on YouTube.

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