Friday, February 19, 2010

Christopher Chance vs the Pulp Trope

The Human Target, Fox's new show based loosely on the DC comic, has had complaints from fans of the comic about the disparities between the comic and the television. The television show does share ideas with another property, the pulp magazine. The main character Christopher Chance follows the majority of the tropes of the pulp hero of old. Human Target is helping to fill in the void of the pulp storyline for today's modern audience in the manner of the Doc Savage style hero.

Pulps were stories told in a magazine format. They were cheaply priced, printed on cheap paper, the books falling apart soon after the first read through. The pulps featured such characters as Doc Savage. The heroes that grew out of Doc Savage's style of pulp were a specific set.  These heroes would be faced against villains with high stakes on the line. They would often be joined by a variety of assistants each with their own specialized skills. Yet the hero himself would be just as skilled in many of the specializations that him companions are in as well. The companions are loyal to the hero. And the hero would often be faced with bigger threats from new villains in every new issue, with the villain often defeated and the characters back to their iconic set up at the beginning of the next story.

One factor that helped in defining the pulp hero were his fighting skills. Often, they would be trained in multiple martial arts. They would be strong, often stronger than a normal man. They would be faced against masters of martial arts, dispensing with the attackers with ease, proving themselves stronger, faster, and more skilled. They also are shown as intelligent and capable in all disciplines, from science to law to history to whatever else the story needs him to be. He will appear to gain new knowledge and skills as the story dictates, as any problem the hero comes across he will be shown to have full knowledge of the area of study and prove himself more than capable of solving the problem. The pulp hero is all of these qualities and more.

Christopher Chance in Human Target possesses these same qualities. He is capable in a fight with as many men as he can. He has taken on from one trained assassin to a group of crooked police officers. No matter the odds or training of his enemies, Chance has proven himself the more capable. Chance has also proven his driving ability, escaping from pursuers. He proved his capabilities in leading a monastery in prayer, quoting biblical verse. When a pilot is needed on an airline, he took over the flight control, including rolling the plane over to douse flames from the bottom of the plane. When pretending to be a lawyer, he was able to quote court cases that proved his point from memory. And when dealing with an engineer aboard a train, he proved himself her equal in engineering knowledge. He has shown strong knowledge in every area of the person he is protecting. And yet when asked by each person who he is hired to protect, he always tells them he is not whatever profession he is showing expert knowledge in.

The pulp hero also has friends who help him along the way. While the pulp hero is capable in all things, these friends are the best at what they do. They are often the top surgeon in the world. Or they are the world's smartest man. Often, the pulp hero travels with an engineer who can build him almost anything. There is a lawyer who is unbeaten or has only lost one case. Usually there is a strong guy who is sometimes shown to be stronger than the hero, but at other times the hero will match him during play with each other. And oftentimes there might be a faithful companion, who follows the hero and tends to him, much in the same way as Alfred does for Batman. No matter how many or few, the hero's friends usually play a role in assisting the hero overcome the villain and help win the day, even through it is the hero who is given the credit for the win.

Christopher Chance has two such people in his life, who help him through each of his adventures. First, there is Winston, Chance's friend and business partner. Winston is a former police detective, retired but still with the knowledge from the job. He helps set up Chase with his clients as well as supplying support for Chance when needed, using his contacts and skills to assist Chance in each case. He is both Alfred, and more. Chance's second compatriot is Guerrero. Guerrero is a master at computers, he has hooks in all parts of not exactly legal affairs. He is mysterious, and he can solve almost every problem presented with. He has also used his skills and shaky morality to save Chance from having secrets exposed, as well as protecting Chance in other ways. While Guerrero seems to possess no morality, he is fiercely loyal to Chance, as the companions often are.

The last commonality between Human Target and the classic pulps is the larger than life stories. In the original stories, the hero would face some world or city conquering menace. But the important thing was not so much the goals, as the trials created for the hero to pass. Whether the hero was aboard a burning zeppelin, or in an underground base, he would have to use his wits and skills to escape what should be certain death.  While there is no yellow menace (thankfully), each week Chance must help someone get out of a ridiculous situation they have been placed in, often by villains with big plans. From Chance on a speeding train without brakes to an airplane out of control to being chased by the San Francisco poise department Chance must fight these menaces, using his assistants to get him through each problem. He takes control of the situations and finds ways out of flying, speeding, or inescapable deathtraps.

The one thing Human Target is lacking is the nemesis. He does not yet have an enemy who keeps coming back time and again to harass him, although even that has been hinted at, with a mysterious third party having hired Guerrero to steal the files to Chance's first case. While Guerrero accepted the job in an effort to learn the identity of the mysterious villain, the job ended with the contact dead, the files destroyed, and the villain still a mystery from Guerrero and the audience. Whether this person will become a nemesis for our hero or not, only the future can tell.

Looking through the criteria that helped define the pulp hero of the Doc Savage mold, Christopher Chance fits inside of the mold rather easily. He is capable in almost all things, he has companions who assist him during his adventures, and his adventures often contain crazy situations that should lead to certain death and yet he finds a way out. Christopher Chance would find no difficulty in fitting in with the world of the other pulp heroes, and that is what makes his adventures enjoyable.



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