Christopher Chance, The Human Target

Posted: June 19, 2018 in TV
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There probably isn’t another comic character who has had three fairly high profile appearances in television with such a low profile in the public consciousness. And honestly? That’s likely how Christopher Chance would want it. Created by comic legends Len Wein and Carmine Infantino for DC Comics, Chance is the man that you turn to when someone is out to get you. He assumes your identity and hides in plain sight in order to draw out your attackers. He becomes a human target.

Chance has starred in a number of series over the decades. The first of his appearances were backup stories in Action Comics. He would use his skills as a mimic mixed with elaborate disguises to engage in adventures involving assassins and conspiracies. For over twenty years the character remained loved but never quite popular enough to carry his own book. Then, in 1992, Hollywood came calling.

chanceThe character made the jump to the small screen courtesy of Danny Bilson and Paul DeMeo (fresh off of their work on The Flash). Rick Springfield took up the role of Chance and the show’s premise was remarkably similar in content and tone to that of the comic series. Chance would assist a person who’s life was in danger and assume their identity in order to draw their intended killer out and bring them to justice. Chance had a team of special effects and technical experts at his disposal in his flying lair to help accomplish these feats. The series wasn’t a hit and lasted only seven episodes before being taken off the air. Chance wasn’t seen much in the years that followed until DC passed the character over to their Vertigo line of comics centered on adult readers and created a new (and decidedly cerebral) take on the character.

valley chanceThe comic was popular enough that in 2010 Jonathan E. Steinberg developed a new take on the series for Fox. This time, Mark Valley played Christopher Chance not as a master of disguise but as private contractor and body guard. When a person’s life is in danger they call him to assume an identity which allows him the ability to stay close to the intended victim. He places himself between them and the assailant, thus becoming a human target. It’s a little bit of a stretch from what makes the comic series unique, but it maintains the core narrative of Chance protecting those in danger. The series lasted for 25 episodes and despite Valley being spot-on for the role, it was a rather generic action series that was quietly cancelled at the end of it’s second season.

chance2In the comics, Chance hasn’t been seen since the conclusion of the Vertigo series in 2005 (with a spin-off of the second TV series running for 5 issues in 2010). While his recognition with the general public is probably at an all-time low, that hasn’t stopped him from remaining loved by a sub-set of fans. It also hasn’t stopped his ability to be adapted. In 2016, Christopher Chance officially entered the canon of The Arrowverse with “Human Target”, an episode of Arrow‘s fifth season. Wil Traval plays Chance as a pretty direct adaptation of the comic version. He assists Green Arrow and his team with both his disguises (acting as a decoy for Queen) and as a fighter (helping in the melee during the episode’s conclusion). Traval was popular enough in the role that he returned in season six to once again use his talents; this time to get Queen out of jail.

So, given that Chance is so well represented in the world of comic book adaptations, why is it that he is so poorly known to the general public? One of the most difficult aspects in adapting a property like Human Target is the fact that the core concept forces the main character out of the narrative for a majority of it. For example, in the original television series, Rick Springfield’s Chance would ostensibly only get screen-time during the opening establishment of the plot and the closing resolution. A majority of the story was told while he was in disguise as whatever guest star was featured that week (and they had some great ones, from R. Lee Ermy to John Wesley Shipp). Unfortunately, this meant that Springfield had very little face-time in the actual narrative and it became difficult for audiences to connect him with the heroic deeds of his character.

This is a problem exclusive to adaptation. In the comic, when things like body language and tone of voice aren’t factors, it’s much easier to accept Chance as the man behind the deeds you’re reading about. That was seemingly corrected in the second television series, but that just lead to the blunting of whatever edge a character like Chance had. Take away his mimicry and disguises and he’s just another generic action hero. It seems like Arrow may have solved the problem by making him a reoccurring supporting character. That way, he’s not the focus of the plot and the reveal of his face following a caper elicit feelings of excitement rather than thoughts of “finally!” Whether Chance shows up again in the Arrowverse is anyone’s guess, but seeing how useful he can be in the proper setting it seems wasteful not to give him a few more appearances. It’s an elegant way of keeping his name slightly in the spotlight without going too far into it. I’m sure it’s just how Chance would want it.


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