But who is the Human Target? As readers of the DC character might attest, even he doesn’t know.
Confused yet? Well, you would be too if you were a counterassassin who assumed the identities of potential victims in order to draw their would-be killers out of hiding.
Christopher Chance, also known as the Human Target, was created by Len Wein and Carmine Infantino (the creators behind the All-New, All-Different X-Men and the Silver Age Flash, respectively) in 1972. Originally a Wein-generated concept for the 1968 series Jonny Double, the conceit for “The Assassin-Express Contract” was a fairly interesting ten-pager, considering it was just a backup in the Superman-dominated Action Comics — Christopher Chance assumes the identity of a businessman while aboard a train, hoping to draw out the would-be assassin using his detective and combat skills. While the Human Target was only in a handful of issues in this series, he did get the opportunity to get backups by Neal Adams and Dick Giordano, who described the versatile character as one of his favorites.
As years went by, the Human Target joined that ever-growing club of gumshoes not quite on the same tier as Batman in Detective Comics. Appearing in a smattering of issues between 1979 and 1981, Chance appeared in two really interesting stories at the end of his career: the first was a team-up with old-school P.I.s Slam Bradley, Jason Bard, and Roy Ramond (TV Detective, I kid you not) in “The ‘Too Many Crooks…’ Caper” in Detective Comics #500. But my personal favorite story was his deepest inclusion to the rest of the DCU: a multi-part crossover when Christopher Chance was hired to assume the identity of Bruce Wayne. But for years after this tale, Christopher Chance stayed mostly in limbo, with only a 1991 one-shot and seven episodes of a television series (starring rocker/soap opera star Rick Springfield and pitted against the 1992 Olympics, no less) to remind us of the character’s existence.
Now, for those of you who think this sounds awfully familiar to another DC Comics character — you’d be right. The character Nemesis, now a supporting role in Gail Simone’s Wonder Woman series, also shared a similar conceit — he was a nuts-and-bolts guy with no powers except for his total mastery of disguise. Of course, there are two main distinctions between Nemesis and Human Target: first, Human Target actually predates Tom Tresser by a good eight years. But most importantly, as the millennium came to a close, the Human Target franchise soon began to ask a deeper, more relevant question: when you wear the face of another man, how long does it take before you lose your own identity? When does the mask erode your soul?
These questions were asked in 1999 by writer Peter Milligan, taking the Human Target franchise to Vertigo. Somewhat similiar to 1997′s hit film Face/Off, the first four issues of Milligan’s series gave an older Christopher Chance a crippling new status quo, with an assassin’s attack leaving him literally without a face. But as you might know, one of the trademarks of a DC franchise is the idea of the legacy hero, and with an older protagonist, Human Target was no exception: the limited series introduced Chance’s protege, Tom McFadden, who assumed his mentor’s identity while protecting a Los Angeles reverend. The series proved to be both so brutal, so disturbing, and so popular that it launched Peter Milligan into the spotlight, earning him further adventures with the Man Without A Face as well as offbeat titles like X-Statix.
Under Milligan’s tenure, the stresses of losing one’s identity became a prevalent theme in both the original Human Target miniseries as well as the graphic novel Human Target: Final Cut. While the first series dealt with McFadden falling out of his depth, Final Cut returned the focus to Christopher Chance, who was shakily back in the game after undergoing painful reconstructive surgery. Still haunted by his personal demons after the events of the first miniseries, Chance eventually retired — in a dark twist, after failing to protect a celebrity son, Chance assumes the identity of the celebrity’s father, taking the man’s life and wife as his own.
Perhaps it’s fitting that that happiness would not continue. The complexity of Chance’s exploits proved to be too popular to ignore, and the character earned his own ongoing series (a series that was one of Green Arrow/Black Canary Cliff Chiang’s first big projects). Chance, having fully convinced himself of his Hollywood identity, is finally found out. Returning to the counterassassin game, Chance is psychologically and physically tested by the stresses of his identity hopping. But the Human Target has never been a straightforward franchise, and his relationship between original and legacy soon twisted in on itself. The series rose to a fever pitch, however brought back into the fold when Tom McFadden learns there is only one identity he can assume that will save his sanity: that of Christopher Chance. As the two men clashed, the series ended in 2005 on an ambiguous twist: was the Christopher Chance we had been following all this time really been Tom McFadden? We’ll never know, and neither will those closest to him.
Nearly four years later, the Human Target has come into vogue again, with Warner Bros., McG, and DC Comics eying the property for a possible pilot. The only question that remains: will the Human Target score a bull’s eye, or will the cerebral premise be as elusive as its protagonist?