With so many big names and big events plastered across the shelves of your LCS, sometimes great comics get left behind – buried in longboxes until someone comes along to find these Hidden Gems.
Written by Peter Milligan
Art by Javier Pulido and Cliff Chiang
The private investigator is one of the most enduring character types in all of fiction, and yet few have made a successful transition to the comics page. In 1972, DC comics introduced readers to Christopher Chance, a.k.a. “The Human Target”, a private detective with the uncanny ability to convincingly disguise himself as anyone. Chance remained a proficient but relatively obscure character in the DC Universe until writer Peter Milligan reinvented the character under the Vertigo imprint as a dark, violent, morally-challenged man who has impersonated so many people that his grasp on his own identity is shaky at best. After a mini-series and an original graphic novel featuring the character, Milligan got the greenlight from Vertigo to create an ongoing Human Target title in 2003, which featured noir-inspired, socially relevant storylines and beautiful, Silver Age-inspired art by Javier Pulido and Cliff Chiang, both of whom alternated penciling duties during most of the run.
The series started out as just a series of three- or four-issue arcs, with Chance impersonating a series of clients whose lives are threatened. As the book progressed, however, an overarching plot began to develop. During one of his cases, Chance falls in love with the wife of one of the men he impersonated, and after that man is killed, he moves in with her, publicly impersonating her husband. This further intensifies the difficulty he has with reconciling his true self with the many other lives he takes on. It’s the standard crisis of identity that many comic book characters deal with, but this unique situation set Human Target apart from your usual run of the mill comic and provided a compelling human drama to what was also a thrilling detective series.
Human Target was one of the most critically-acclaimed mainstream comics on the stand during its 21-issue run, but sadly those accolades did not generate the big sales needed to keep it going. Still, Milligan did a great job of tying up any loose plot threads and giving the book a satisfying, albeit tragic, ending. The first two arcs have been collected in trade form, and the remaining issues are easily found in back-issue bins and online. Still, it’s a shame that such an excellent series has not been fully collected in trade yet.
This month, Fox will debut a new Human Target series starring Mark Valley as Christopher Chance. This will be the second time the character has graced the small screen. A TV movie was also aired in 1992 starring soap star / 80′s rock has-been Rick Springfield as Christopher Chance. While it’s doubtful that the show will delve into the darker aspects of the Vertigo series, the overall concept should translate well to a weekly TV show. If the show proves successful, it will hopefully persuade DC to print the rest of the series in trade form and give readers a chance to rediscover one of the most underrated comics of the past decade. The entire series gets 4.5 out of 5 Misplaced Name Tags.