The ‘Human Target’ #1 hits a beautiful, noir-tipped bullseye

"Human Target" #1 came out on Nov. 2. via Amazon

You’ve probably never heard of Christopher Chance, the Human Target. Don’t worry though, it just means he’s good at his job. As a private detective who poses as his vulnerable clients to find their enemies, Chance is felt through the DC universe more in his actions than his persona. He’s a quiet, unrecognized, soulful man from DC’s detective-focused past who most readers could never pinpoint next to the major players like Superman or Batman. In short, he’s the perfect next target for a Tom King 12-issue miniseries, and with the help of artist Greg Smallwood, “Human Target” #1 hits dead center.

The premise for this issue is remarkably simple: Christopher Chance has been hired by Lex Luthor. Explaining anymore of the actual plot would spoil the twists and overarching mystery of this miniseries, so I’ll just leave it at that (also that the eagle-eyed viewer may see from the cover that the Justice League International has a role to play here). Instead, like most of King’s work, the beauty is in how he tells the story rather than the story itself.

 King is no stranger to a mystery. See his work on “Heroes in Crisis” (2018–19), “Rorschach” (2020–21), “Batman” (2016–) and “Strange Adventures”  if you need any proof. He excels at setting up a thought-provoking puzzle that combines the standard tropes of the genre with a reevaluation of what the readers may think of the supposed ‘heroes’ they know and love. Here, King has pulled out all the best tools from his usual bag of tricks. His dialogue is as short and introspective as it’s ever been, bringing the energy of both old and modern detective stories. His story structure immediately grabs the reader’s attention with a series of flash-forwards and breaks in memory. Even the few major story choices in this issue are great (namely the decision to contrast the darkness of Chance and Luthor’s story with the silliness of the Justice League International and other heroes). It’s nothing we haven’t seen from King before, but it’s executed to such perfection that it’s impossible not to be enthralled by what’s on the page. Yet, I would be crazy not to mention the real star of this issue: Greg Smallwood.

Smallwood, alongside letterer Clayton Cowles, makes this comic literally shine. The mix of a 50s/60s style in the vein of “DC: The New Frontier” (2004) and detail-oriented character designs makes the issue absolutely gorgeous to look at. Colors pop, but also mix into obscurity. Pinks and greens are matched alongside greys and yellows, and cartoony edges stand with realistic curves. Cowles also deserves special attention for his lettering, as he expertly displays differences in volume, mental state changes and more, all through the size and style of the lettering. This entire design portfolio fits the contrast in the story between dark realism and campy action perfectly. King has a history of challenging the artists who work with him to experiment with their styles, so I’m incredibly excited to see what Smallwood has planned for the rest of this miniseries.

This seems like the comic King has been building toward for years. It fits in with his usual themes and styles, yet it has such a sense of certainty and craft behind it that I can find very few flaws. The story is fascinating, the mystery is captivating and the art is astonishing. All are standards of a Tom King 12-issue miniseries by now, to the point where one might start to become almost bored with how good his stories continuously are. Looking at the man behind “Human Target,” all I can say is, if it ain’t broke, don’t fix it. King has a track record of storytelling that hits right on the mark, and this comic is no exception.


Summary

Tom King's "Human Target" effectively draws on classic detective stories to tell a mystery that pops with complexity.

4.5 stars
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