The Human Target, Volume One by Tom King and Greg Smallwood #BookReview #GraphicNovel

The Human Target Volume One by Tom King and Greg Smallwood

DC Black Label, HB, £17.95

Reviewed by Sarah Deeming

Christopher Chance is the Human Target. He’s hired to disguise himself as his client, so would-be assassins focus on him instead of the client. His last job was to draw out Lex Luthor’s assassins, but instead, Christopher was poisoned and now only has twelve days left to live. Some people would spend their remaining days with family and loved ones, but Christopher has other plans and begins an investigation into his own soon-to-be murder. All fingers point to the Justice League International. Who can Christopher turn to when his usual support could actually be his killer?

This first volume of Christopher Chance’s final days contain the first 6 editions of this series. Straight away, Chance is poisoned but was the poisoner aiming for Lex Luthor or Chance himself? The story is written like a 1950’s detective noir with lots of dry inner dialogue. There is a femme fatale and side characters who hide dodgy dealing behind respectable fronts, and lots of twists and turns.

Despite his situation, Christopher is laid back. He’s dying and there’s nothing he can do about it. In that respect, he is quite likeable for all his rough edges because he is getting on with what little time he has left. Even when he knows he is being played, Christopher lets things play out with a laid back air, seeing what people reveal about themselves. There is an excellent panel in chapter 4 where Chance is with Ice and Blue Beetle while they stop a bank robbery. Chance is leaning against Blue Beetle’s ship drinking from a hip flash, listening to a scene of graphic violence take place behind the bank doors. He is aloof from the scene, separate from the action, but always watching.

The art matches the 50’s detective noir style. It is retro comic style with clean lines, sharp angles, and bold block colours. There are no black lines around the panels which is striking, and the panels themselves are square or rectangular. There are no curved edges, except for the target on the front, sticking with the time period’s feel and giving the whole book an authentic atmosphere.

I also loved the issues’ front pages which come a few pages into the issue and take inspiration from movies and TV from the 50s and 60s like episode 2 reminiscent of Bewitched and episode 3 with a nod to King Kong. It was playful and often shows Chance as separate from the action, an observer as everyone else runs around.

Chance only has twelve days to live and each issue covers one day, with the days crossed off on a pinup calendar which gets more and more blood splattered over it because, as if dying isn’t enough, Ice’s ex-boyfriend, a Green Lantern, has decided he doesn’t like the time Chance and Ice are spending together. The Human Target shows the Justice League Internal as fallible humans which I enjoyed.

I came into The Human Target with no expectations. I hadn’t heard of Christopher Chance, but I have loved Tom King’s previous work, most recently for me being Rorschach. I was blown away with the clever marriage of words, art, colour and lettering, and I completely fell for Christopher Chance as a world-weary, cynical protagonist, charming and well-mannered but not afraid to pull a punch. As this book only covers half of the series, I’ve put the rest of it on my Christmas list because I can’t wait for volume 2 to find out what happens. Highly recommended.