Is Human Target a thinly veiled marketing ploy to bring the comics-market on as a regular viewing audience for the John E. Steinberg show?
Human Target #1Publisher: DC Comics
Writer: Len Wein
Contributors: Bruno Redondo (penciller), Sergio Sandoval (inker)
Publication Date: 2010-02
Secretly, the thrill of reading the new Len Wein-scripted, Bruno Redondo-penciled Human Target limited series has nothing to do with Human Target creator Len Wein being back in the saddle. Secretly the thrill of reading Human Target is reading a Human Target backup-story in a Human Target comicbook.
There is an inside joke here, of course. Created by writer Wein and legendary artist Carmine Infantino, the Human Target (aka Christopher Chance) began its publication history as a backup-story in Action Comics, circa 1972. To read a Human Target backup-story in the pages of Human Target the comicbook, in many senses that's just a dream come true for longtime fans.
But unlike the Human Target of yesteryear, this is a Christopher Chance squarely based on the John E. Steinberg adaptation of the character for television. Like the Steinberg TV show (aired on Fox on Wednesdays), the character has turned away from makeup and acting to completely subsume himself in the identity of a client targeted for assassination. Instead, the character newly returned to mainstream DC from the adult-themed Vertigo branding, adopts a cover identity that will put him close to the professional life of his client at all times. From there, he lures the assassin into exposing himself, and invariably neutralizes the would-be killer with much physical mayhem.
The comicbook follows the same sensibility, and logical conventions as the TV show. The main story relates a single case of Christopher Chance, rollickingly titled "The Wanted: Extremely Dead Contract". This 'contract' (Chance ostensibly deals in contracts, not cases) seems primed to continue the course the limited's entire run of six issues, as the lead story. With Human Target backup-stories filling out the required 22-pages, the limited promises a redefinition of the character for a mainstream DC audience. And of course for the audience that comes to the comics by way of the TV show.
While the re-conceptualization of the character is a definite benefit to longevity (noughties-era reboot writer, Peter Milligan, seemed to have exhausted his model of psychological crisis with the character's closing Vertigo storyarc, "The Stealer"), there is a certain slickness in the TV show, seemingly missing from pages of the comicbook. Or is this intentional?
Writer Len Wein seems to go blow-for-blow with the McG executive-produced TV show; filing in backstory by switching to narrative elements during high-intensity fight sequences. And penciler Bruno Redondo and inker Sergio Sandoval seem to frame each panel in much the same way shots are lit on the Steinberg drama. But rather than read as an homage, or a cheap ploy to lure comics-fans of the character to the viewing audience of the TV show, the comicbook seems a genuine attempt to coordinate the launch of the latest reboot for the character. Without the psychological dissonance, without the perpetual identity crises, how is this Christopher Chance even the same Human Target as before?
With the most recent character reboot, Wein and Steinberg seem to introduce an entirely new and completely engaging psychological depth. What is presented, is the psychology of the employee, and the psychological fortitude it requires to break with the very seductive model of selling your skills for apparent lifelong employment.
If anything is at stake here with the newly rebooted Human Target, if anything is in this Target's line of fire, it is the illusion of permanency of employment. The Wein-Steinberg reboot lays bare an old truism of motivational speaker Tony Robbins, that it is never a question of resources, rather a question of resourcefulness. With the intellectual resources to understand the complexities of almost any job, the new Human Target is able to perfectly mimic any employee. And with concerted resourcefulness, he is able to lure any threat into the open. The real drama of the comicbook and the TV show then, is not the psychology of an actor preparing, but of an active mind, willing to embrace the full complexity of life.