Action-Plus: Human Target (December, 1972)
“The Assassin-Express Contract!”
Writer – Lein Wein
Pencils – Carmine Infantino
Inks – Dick Giordano
From: Action Comics #419
Been trying to think of a way to zshushz up the blog a bit, considering how little time we’re actually spending in the DC Universe proper these days. Ever since we went to these “abbreviated” pieces, I’ve really wanted to tackle various back-up features… but just couldn’t figure out how to make it “work”, ya know?
I mean, it’s not like there are any “rules” to this… or, really even a “format”… but, my own compulsive nature kept me from pulling the trigger, for one simple reason: What could I use as a “cover image” for a back-up story? Know what I’m sayin’? When we did the Bonus Books/Insert Previews, we really lucked out in that 95% of them actually had covers mocked-up.
That isn’t the case with back-up features though… and, it really stymied any progress on covering them here at the humble blog. It wasn’t until we started New Talent Showcase, and I saw just how easy it could be to “design” a cover, that I figured we might oughta finally give this a shot.
But… where to even begin? Well… when you’re looking for direction, you start by looking at where your comfort lies. You reflect back to past projects. You think about #Action100, and yeah, you think about #ActionComicsDaily. What I’m trying to say is…we’re dipping back into the well… of Action Comics.
That’s not to say we’ll only be doing Action-Plus back-ups… however, for my own sanity, I’ll probably just brand all of the backups as “Action-Pluses”. We’re going to start with a review I actually did way back in the long ago, featuring the first appearance of Christopher Chance… the Human Target! Consider this post a “try-out” on a new rotating feature, and lemme know what you think!
If you have any backup features you’d like for me to cover, please send your recommendations my way. If I have ’em, I’ll cover ’em!
Our story begins with Christopher Chance being just the coolest guy ever. Think James Bond if he were on a regimen of GNC shark cartilage pills. He’s drinking a glass of Mouton Rothschild… which I’m assuming is impressive, I don’t drink. It gets shot out of his hand… so, he nonchalantly fires back… killing his would be assassin, before pouring himself another glass. I mean, the story could end right here and I’d be perfectly satisfied.
But alas, that’s just our introduction page. The story proper begins while… good God, Chance is practicing his knife-throwing. I swear, they’re about three panels away from bringing in an alligator for him to wrestle! Anyhoo, he is visited upon by a man named Smithers who has a job for him. He got mixed up with some bad dudes while on his way to the top of the corporate ladder. T.C. Newman is the President of Horizon Chemical… a position (I assume) he wants for himself. He arranged with these baddies for Newman to take a fall… which they took to mean, ya know… offed, so rather than sending a spy to trail him… they sent a hitman. According to Smithers, that was never his intention. Yeah, likely story, pal.
Chance considers the offer… and ultimately decides to take the contract. We see a bit of his “method” here, as he checks out the most recent picture of Newman… noting that he’s wearing an eye patch, to ensure his disguise is spot-on.
Next we see Chance, he has become a new man… er, become Newman, that is… T.C. Newman. He’s decked out in some dazzling duds while boarding a train. After tripping and nearly breaking his neck, he is directed to his berth. This is a cool scene because it shows how deeply he is paying attention to his surroundings… while neglecting his own two feet, or… so it would appear, you’ll notice his hand went right into the train’s emergency brake mechanism… more on that in a bit.
While on board, a man with his right arm in a cast enters Chance’s berth unannounced. Our man gets the drop on him and cinches in a hammerlock. The fella swears he just entered the wrong berth. This allows us to see more of the Chance method… he judges the man’s face and eyes… and deduces he is telling the truth. And so, he lets him go.
Time passes, and Chance is joined by the conductor he almost tripped over while boarding. They share an awkward apology session… and some light chatter. Chance asks when the next stop will be, to which the conductor says 5:47. Chance notes that the conductor didn’t peer at his pocket watch like he did the last time somebody asked him about stops (scroll up two images to see!)… and he gets a sneaking suspicion that something’s about to go down!
Chance ransacks the berth until he procures the pocket watch… which, at this point, is ticking loudly. He busts out a window with his briefcase and tosses the watch before it goes BLAM!
Looks like the “conductor” is really our hitman! Chase gives chance… er, Chance gives chase, that is… and when he has the baddie cornered, presses a button on his watch, which triggers the emergency brake… and sends the hitman a’flyin! I’m picturing the sound Goofy would make in an old cartoon while trying to ski… but instead, falling into a bottomless pit.
After ahem, “scraping up” the hitman, the train arrives at the station. Chance is met by Smithers who is pleased to see him, but is wondering where Newman is. Well, ya see, real-Newman is standing right there… in a different disguise, in fact… he’s who our man tripped over to set up the train-brake scenario. Smithers is fired for being a jerk-ass, and we are out.
I’ve tried getting into the Human Target every now and again… I believe his last couple of launches came out through Vertigo, and I’m mentally-associating Peter Milligan with like all of them… maybe he wrote one, I don’t recall. All I know is that it never really captured me, and I’m pretty sure I never went back for a second issue. This short story here was more engrossing to me than any of the Vertigo stuff.
I swear, that introduction just oozed stereotypical masculinity… to the point where if it had been written today, it would immediately be dismissed as parody. I really thought he’d be wrestling alligators before retiring to a bed-full of beauties before this was all said and done. Let’s not get it twisted, I thought he was cool… but, this might’ve veered a bit into the realm of cartoon-silly.
The story, while I really dug it, left me with a few questions. When Chance boarded the train and “tripped” our narrative caption made it seem like it was an accident. We later learn it was all part of the plan… but why would he hide the plan from “us”? Like, the narrative bits are his own thoughts… why would he lie in his own thoughts? He doesn’t know we’re reading them! It kinda took away from the story, because I had assumed that he was just so focused on his surroundings that he kinda lost himself in them… and goofed!
Also, the ending was a bit outta nowhere. The real Newman (which, ya gotta figure is a play on “new man” for this Human Target introductory adventure, right?), is also on board… but disguised as another fella. Smithers should know that, right? I mean, he knew Newman was going to be on the train, surely there wasn’t going to be real Newman and Chance-as-Newman on board at the same time, right? And, wasn’t the point of this to keep Newman safe? Of course he’s going to be disguised! Not sure why Newman waited until he arrived to fire Smithers either. Oh well… only so much you can do with the pages afforded by an Action-Plus backup.