Christopher Chance is not a DC character many people will be familiar with. He wasn’t the first “Human Target” from DC Comics, but since Len Wein and Carmine Infantino reimagined the character in Action Comics #419 December 1972, he’s been impersonating people who pay him to take their place and save them from assassins and others looking to harm them. Chance is part bodyguard, part private investigator. In this latest iteration, he is hired by Lex Luthor to find who was trying to assassinate him and wound up taking a bullet from a would-be assassin. The twist is that this isn’t the only person trying to kill him that day and someone else with much more sophisticated methods poisoned Chance by mistake. He now he has 12 days left to live and try to solve the puzzle of who poisoned him and why they wanted Luthor dead.
Doctor Midnight diagnoses Christopher after he passes out from the poison and crashes his car. He gives his some medicine to try and help manage the pain, but more importantly makes a discovery. The poison in his system gives off traces of radiation from another dimension and the only people to have traveled there and returned are The Justice League International. Now, with 11 days left to live, Christopher has to try and figure out who in the JLI would want Luthor dead bad enough to poison him and why. This is where Tora Olafsdotter enters the picture, Ice of Fire and Ice, and JLI fame. She will be the key to all of this as Lex once had her killed and most of the JLI hasn’t forgotten. Ice, however, is full of surprises herself. There is a bond growing between her and Christopher and the more time they spend together the further complicated his investigation is getting.
Of all the books I’ve read in 2022, The Human Target is the one that made the biggest impression and the one I’ve talked about the most since reading. This is the first of two volumes, covering the 12 part mini-series written by Tom King and illustrated by Artist Greg Smallwood. Both have equally contributed to why this book stays with me and why I enjoyed it so much. While both are producing great work respectively, as a team they have elevated the work and created a truly distinct, riveting book.
Tom King is doing what I would argue he does best, taking characters outside of their normal continuity in universe and telling interesting and unusual stories with them. Some of his most popular and well regarded work falls under this category, like The Vision or Mister Miracle. This is also a detective story and King excels at having people solve mysteries that involve a human element.
I mentioned before that Greg Smallwood’s art made a lasting impression and that is an undersell. I haven’t seen a book like this maybe ever. It has the feel of a chalk or soft pastel ad from the 1950’s. There is a timeless quality to the entire book that makes it impossible to place, while at the same time you know exactly where and when it is. It feels akin in style and dress to a show like Mad Men, while somehow being more colorful and vibrant. When I recommend this book to people (which I do constantly) my inability to articulate everything that is important and beautiful about Smallwood’s work frustrates me and makes my point. I simply don’t have the words to do justice to what he’s managed here and for that reason you should read it for yourself to understand.
Because The Human Target, aka Christopher Chance, and the Justice League International aren’t the best know or most compelling characters at DC Comics I can easily understand this book flying under the radar for a lot of readers. An author like King being attached should help it gather some attention, but it may not look like the most accessible story. For the uninitiated reader there is enough introduction and background information included in this volume to give you everything you need to enjoy this story. If you do know something about the JLI or its members this is a fascinating look at how King pulls characters apart psychologically and presents them as flawed individuals who are trying their best despite their shortcomings.
An absolutely worthwhile addition to any library collection for older teen and adult readers, this particular 12 issue story is coming out under DC’s Black Label. Since 2020 is Black Label has been defined as “The imprint intend(ed) to present traditional DC Universe characters for a mature audience with stand-alone, prestige-format series.” DC rates this as an ages 17+ book and I would agree that between the drinking, language and romantic intrigue it’s best suited for older readers. It feels like a hard-boiled detective novel in both tone and look, something of a throwback. It’s not as brutal as something like Ed Brubaker’s Reckless series, but will certainly shares an audience with those books.
The Human Target Vol. 01
By Tom King
Art by Greg Smallwood
DC Black Label, 2022
Publisher Age Rating: 17+
NFNT Age Recommendation: Adult (18+), Older Teen (16-18)