Yesterday in talking about the recent episode of Arrow, I also talked about the upcoming appearance of The Human Target in the series. Since the appearance will be less than a week away, I figured now would be a good time to do a quick primer on the character.
The first time DC ever used the name The Human Target was back in 1953 in Detective Comics #201 by Edmond Hamilton and Sheldon Moldoff. The story was about a man named Fred Venable, a skilled impersonator who uses his abilities to stand in for people who are in danger. When mobsters use his sick daughter to force him to use his skills to throw off the cops, Batman disguises himself as one of the gang to try and save him. But Batman is caught and Venable must pose as Batman to save the day. The character would appear one more time in Gangbusters #61.
Nineteen years later, a new Human Target would appear in Action Comics #419. This one was created by Len Wein and Carmine Infantino and goes by the name of Christopher Chance. The impersonation skills carried over with the name, but Chance is a bodyguard, private detective, a master of disguise and almost unmatched in his combat skills. He works the way the first one did, assuming the identity of his client while they are in danger.
As a kid, Chance's father got in deep with the loan sharks and feared for his life. One day a hit man came to make an example of him. Chance tried to fight the killer of but was brushed aside. After watching his father die, Chance vowed to never let anyone feel the fear that his father did. He trained relentlessly until he was ready to stand in for those in danger.
The problem with taking on other people's lives is that you don't live your own. Chance buried his own personality and feelings so often that he became addicted to being other people, leaving him incapable of having real personal connections since he's not sure if it's his true feelings or someone he's pretending to be.
Chance would appear occasionally in different comics even getting a one-shot TV tie-in in 1991, but it wasn't until Peter Milligan and Edvin Biukovic took the character over to Vertigo in 1999 that he got his own series and any real fame. A four-issue miniseries was followed by a graphic novel and then an on-going that ran for 21 issues until 2005. He would get another shot as a tie in with a television series in 2010, but that didn't last long.
The Human Target isn't about a look, if anything he doesn't have a look as he's a master of disguise… it's about the gimmick and the courage of someone who literally steps in front of a bullet for his clients while trying to figure out why.
Now, unlike some of the other characters that I've been doing these primers for, The Human Target has come to television two other times. The first time was in 1992 by the same creative team that put together the original Flash television series, Paul De Meo and Danny Bilson. In the role of Christopher Chance was Rick Springfield and he had a few interesting guest stars like R. Lee Emry, David Carradine and John Wesley Shipp who once played Barry Allen and is now Jay Garrick. The other version was more recent as Mark Valley became Chance for two seasons and worked with Chi McBride and Jackie Earle Haley. The show departed from the way the Human Target normally worked and made him someone who inserted himself into a target's life so they could be there to stop the hit. Haley's portrayal as Guerrero was a highlight of a pretty good series.
How the new chance, played by Jessica Jones' Wil Traval, works is something we won't know for sure until next week, but if I had to guess, I'm thinking it will be the take on the person's persona version.
And if you're curious, here is the pilot for the Rick Springfield version and an extended trailer for the Mark Valley version.