Last week, DC Comics released a collection of Peter Milligan's Human Target comics to promote the new Fox television series it's the basis for. This may have been a very bad decision... for the show. Spoilers and ranting ahead.
From its earliest incarnation, the comic book Human Target was a psychological drama of sorts; even when Len Wein and Carmine Infantino created him, there was an element of personality confusion to the character, and the stories - Christopher Chance didn't just go undercover, he gave up his very identity (and took on that of his client) to find the bad guy> That was the original gimmick of the character, and what made him different from every other bodyguard/detective/good guy out there. Years later, the character reappeared under the Vertigo label, and writer Peter Milligan took that idea to its logical extreme: After years of pretending to be other people, Chance had literally forgotten who he was and even seemed somewhat unclear over whether there really was a "Christopher Chance" at all. It's a compelling, disturbing, take on the idea that gives it a gravity and purpose that the series had lacked until that point... and it's entirely missing in the television version.
I can understand that, of course; Giving the televisual Chance the psychosis of his comic book counterpart would make it a much different show, and potentially one that would be less likely to draw in mainstream audiences at 9pm on Fox (To be slightly cruel, I'm also not sure Valley could pull off that role). But even without the psychosis, Human Target's core concept is still entirely absent from the television series: Chance no longer lives up to his billing, but instead becomes Human Standing Really Close To The Target. Where's the fun in that?
Well, okay: Human Target the TV show is, taken on its own terms, kind of fun. It's a little light, sure, but it's fast-moving and has a sense of humor that suggests that it knows just how ridiculous it is for the most part. Plus, while Mark Valley may be (intentionally?) a black hole in terms of personality, Chi McBride and Jackie Earle Haley bring a lot to their roles and fill things out well... and those opening titles are great:
But the thing is, it's not really Human Target.
I've given up wondering why certain things are adaptations as opposed to original creations, for the most part, but Human Target just confuses me; it's different enough in concept, characters and tone from the original that, if the names were different, it would be its own thing. It's not an adaptation, or even a recreation; it's an appropriation of the name and idea that someone will be protecting clients, and little else. It's not even as if the comic Human Target would be difficult to do as a television series; it'd be the anti-Dollhouse in some senses - multiple actors playing the same character, instead of one actor portraying multiple characters - but as much about identity and personality... which, come to think of it, may be as much a turn-off to mass audiences as Dollhouse seemed to be. But it's hard to deny that Human Target the comic - and especially Peter Milligan's more nuanced take, as demonstrated in Chance Meetings - is much more interesting, individual and worthwhile than the TV version. It's an ironic shame that the concept's very identity was sacrificed in order to make it to television.