The Human Target #5 review

Christopher Chance is one week from death. A poison aimed at billionaire scumbag Lex Luthor was ingested by the Human Target and he’s on Day Five of 12 in his final countdown. He’s accepted that death is inevitable but is determined to solve one last case – who’s sending him (fingers crossed) heavenwards.

His investigations have pointed the finger, shockingly, at members of the Justice League. He’s trying to eliminate them from his suspects list, one by one, but is smitten with his first suspect, Ice, putting her in the perfect position to manipulate his inquiries.

So far we’ve seen him quiz the aforementioned Ice, and her Bwaa-Ha-Ha Justice League chums Booster Gold and Blue Beetle. Chance is putting together a sinister picture.

So what can J’onn J’onzz, the Martian Manhunter, add to the picture after he accepts a dinner invitation from Chance?

As it turns out, nothing – we don’t see any conversation between the two heroes; instead the meal forms the backdrop for Chance’s thoughts. And what he can’t stop thinking about is the night his father died at the hands of a debt collector’s goon. And happier days prior to that.

Tom King’s story flips back and forth between these memories, more recent ones involving bedtime with Ice, and past times spent with a mysterious young woman from far away. Far, far away.

Now that’s a surprise. The future Human Target trained with a woman from the world of Imra Ardeen, Saturn Girl of the 31st-century Legion of Super-Heroes.

Another surprise

Chance spent five years training with the League of Assassins… five years! Did he actually mean to be a hired killer before setting up his benign protection racket? Anyway, it was one of Ra’s Al-Ghul’s men who introduced him to Emra.

The idea of aliens training would-be assassins is bonkers, but not out of the question in the DC Universe. And it does bring us one of the best scenes I’ve ever seen in comics so far as psychic warfare is concerned.

Little by little, a story emerges from the patchwork of images and moments, perhaps explaining why Chance might be so accepting of his situation. And the full colour art by Greg Smallwood brilliantly brings King’s ideas to life, with nuanced figurework that allows us to project emotions onto the characters. I especially like the sultry Emra – who’s she based on? Gemma Arterton, maybe?

But there is a problem with Book Five. It’s when Tom King ‘does a Tom King’. The way he’s played Christopher Chance is fine, the Human Target has appeared in probably fewer than two dozen stories over 40 years and by dint of his gig, he’s a cipher. So I can buy that this sentimental, would-be hardboiled gumshoe – he’s actually a bodyguard – would fall for a bewitching woman like Ice, while recognising it’s almost certainly a massive mistake. We’re seeing Ice through his eyes, it’s a subjective view of someone we’ve always known as a good person.

But Ice’s Justice League was with us every month for almost a decade, their every move watched by a massive audience. We loved those well-meaning boobs! You can’t suddenly ascribe a suspicious money trail to these shining knights. And you certainly can’t ask us to take what Ice says here seriously.

Either that’s not Ice, or it’s Ice telling a ridiculous lie, or more likely, given how King has written Mr Miracle, Adam Strange, Supergirl and the entire blooming cast of Heroes in Crisis, he really doesn’t give a stuff. Once more, he’s steamrolling over well-established characterisations to fit the story he wants to tell. Seriously, look at this.

Just. No.

Perhaps this scene – which isn’t seen through the prism of Chance, it’s a non-motivated moment in the story – will turn out to be a feint. But I’m very inclined to believe it is King telling us that the very unpopular Martian Manhunter and a colder-than-Ice Fire were having sex at some point in their JL days, with a cruel Beatrice Da Costa very much having the upper hand.

So I’m out. I’ve just spent eight months hoping, issue after issue, that Supergirl: Woman of Tomorrow, would quit crapping on my fictional friends. It seems very likely that the next seven issues of this series will contain more of the same, before dropping in a ‘twist’ out of thin air.

So while I don’t doubt there will be more great moments such as this issue’s Emra scene, if I’m ever going to get my comic book ulcer down to a manageable size, I have to stop spending money to be pained.

I’d love to hear your thoughts.

25 thoughts on “The Human Target #5 review

  1. Actually, I think all of the scenes are seen through the prism of Chance, this is Chance seeing a memory of J’onn’s, right?

    I more enjoy these books for the art, but to stomach the story, I pretend all of these Tom King Black Label stories take place on Earth-K (for King)…

    …and some Crisis on Infinite Whatzits will eventually wipe Earth King out.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Thinking on, Chris’s ‘Ouch’ in the next panel does indicate he’s seen that memory in Jon’s head, which works if we’re taking it that this whole issue occurs in the time it takes to pass the salt, and he’s using the Titan techniques to ping back into J’onn’s head as J’onn is trying to read him. I take it Emra didn’t teach Chris telepathy as that’s a gift rather than a technique, he can only get onto J’onn’s head because J’onn is trying to probe him – which is something J’onn would never do to a non-enemy. He doesn’t go inside people’s head’s uninvited unless there’s an urgent need… Ah, the joys of being written – rewritten – by Tom King.

      Lovely to have you drop by, Isamu!


  2. Wish I could say I’m surprised by King’s off-character writing but I’m not. It’s not just “off.” There seems to be a cruelty to it, too. Like a glee in tearing down these heroic characters, be it Adam Strange or Wally West or Supergirl or the JLI, and really for no good reason other than to force them into his stories.
    Years ago DC published a miniseries called Twilight. It was a revival of its Silver Age sci-fi characters. And it was daaaaaark and depressing and really sh** all over those wonderful creations. Just seems like that is EVERY Tom King story, save maybe his Batman work.
    John Ostrander did a great job in his Martian Manhunter series with developing a relationship between Manhunter and Fire. And it had nothing to do with sex (that’s too easy for a someone as talented as Ostrander) and was about her resentment of him, as a man, being treated with more respect than her in her native Brazil.
    Unfortunately for us, Tom King is one of the few writers today that DC is allowing to tackle these lesser used B, C, D characters. Next we have his take on Warlord, the Creeper, etc. to look forward to in that just-announced Black Label series.
    So Martin, I’m telling you right now. You’ve been burned how many times by King? Do not buy that book!:)

    Liked by 1 person

    1. I

      Hi Brian, I finally bought that Twilight series a few years back, but fearing it was going be as you indicate it was, still haven’t cracked it open.

      I didn’t see the MM book by Ostrander regularly but loved the issues I saw, if we ever get access to the DC app over here, I’ll track the Fire story down.


  3. I have been living with radical reinventions of DC heroes for most my life. It really does not bother me. If Tom King wants to build his own corner of the DC multiverse, then fine. Grant Morrison did it for years.

    Still, I don’t get why he used these characters for this story. The Giffen-DeMatties Justice League has to be the least hard-boiled characters in the DCU. There are at least a dozen other semi-dormant teams that fit the story King is telling better. Why not use one of them?

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Doesn’t King plot first, ask what characters they want him to use, and then shoe horn them in? The JLI characters are gone, rebooted repeatedly, and none of them headliners or currently cherished like they are when you reread the best of their past exploits. King can shit all over them without damaging valuable IP.

      Liked by 1 person

  4. I didn’t find it too hard to buy into Martian Manhunter and Fire as a pair, but maybe that’s because the MM pairing I’m most familiar with is J’onn with Scorch, a pyrokinetic supervillainess back in Joe Kelly’s JLA run? In comparison, it hardly seems like the most questionable choice J’onn’s made regarding his love life.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. He should settle down with that nice law lady, Diane! As for Scorch, wonder if she’s appeared again. I mist reread that Joe Kelly run, and the JLElite book, there was some interesting stuff there.


  5. Heroes in Crisis has always been treated as in continuity – Wally needed the Flash Forward mini-series to begin his redemption arc, and Poison Ivy’s resurrection continued in the Harley/Ivy mini-series. But since then (and maybe before then?), King’s is just its own universe. He just had an elderly Catwoman killed in the street (in a special), and she murdered the Joker in the main book). And now he did this to J’onn. This was really sad to see.

    This one is so clearly out of continuity, but nevertheless it feels abusive.

    I wasn’t going to pick up this series until I learned the JLI would be in it. And then I found myself mesmerized by Greg Smallwood’s art. This issue – not so much. Nothing wrong with Smallwood’s work at all, it just didn’t wow me the same way.

    King has two upcoming series: “Batman: Killing Time” starting in March, which I’ve pondered buying only because David Marquez will be the artist, and “Danger Street” coming in May, drawn by Jorge Fornes.

    But King’s books always look great, and always leave us feeling terrible.

    So I think I’ll see Human Target and Batman/Catwoman through till their likely very bitter ends, and will pass on future King projects.

    Liked by 1 person

  6. Well it is Black Label, and the way folk are acting puts it out of continuity, but it’s using events from in-canon League stories, the stuff with Overmind. Sorry, Overmaster. Someone I read about, anyway. Just watch, the evil Mastermind will turn out to be The Yazz.

    ‘King’s books always look great, and always leave us feeling terrible.’ Perfectly summed up.


  7. Sorry you didn’t like it, Mart. (And, um, everyone else.) I just read issue 5 this morning, and am still enjoying the hell out of it. Like you, I really dug the description of psychic judo that Emra teaches Chance. But also… I’m fine with the out-of-character stuff. This is noir — part DOA, part whodunnit — and few people come out of a noir smelling like roses. So a turn like this was bound to come, and I’m here for it. (Although I still think Luthor’s the culprit, and Chance’s poisoning was intentional, not an accident, event though King protests it’s not.)

    But it’s a King story, and it’s definitely only as in-continuity as we (and future creators) want it to be. As I was thinking last night (about the finale of Justice League Incarnate, which treats Darkseid as cavalierly as anyone gets treated in this book) one bad comic doesn’t invalidate a great comic. Whatever DC does with Darkseid will never invalidate Kirby. Whatever King does with the JLI will never diminish their original stories.

    In the context of this story, I don’t have a problem with any of it. Will I want to see these characterizations continue in the future? Probably not. But for now it serves the story being told, and as a huge noir fan, I’m enjoying the ride.

    Liked by 2 people

    1. Thanks for another perspective. I’d be fine with the Noir but of it were set in the Forties and this was a proper Elseworlds JLI, but it’s using so much from the canon series that it’s irksome. And yes, we can argue about whether DC has such a thing as canon, but I’m having an emotional reaction, so what can I say.

      Is Tom King entirely incapable these days if creating new characters? He’s either taking advantage of existing fanbases to give his books good launch numbers, or just unwilling to let DC have copyright.


      1. I think King is capable of creating new characters, but I don’t think DC wants that from him. Familiar characters are what sells, so that’s what they publish. But if you’re interested in what he does with new characters, he and Elsa Charretier have launched Everlasting Love, a romance comic — sort of — on substack. The first 5 issues, at least, will be free.

        And an emotional reaction is fine, and expected! These are friends he’s messing with! And by using established characters, King (and everyone else writing *any* book in a superhero universe) is counting on us having an emotional connection to the characters. Half the writer’s work is done for them before the pen hits the page — the characters are already there. (Which is why, they suggest on the Wait, What? podcast, Geoff Johns’s recent work with Geiger doesn’t resonate — he’s not using establish characters, and he’s un-used to having to lay the groundwork of character and motivation for new ones, so it all comes out flat and trite.)


      2. I’d argue that everything Tom King writes is, technically, Noir.

        The genre was thematically about the trauma of living through history (the Great Depression, WW2) and then trying to re-enter ‘normal’ life. That is basically Tom KIng’s great theme.

        The problem is that DC doesn’t always give him characters who fit that theme and he is loathe to expand the casts of the properties that he is given. So, you get masterpiece like MISTER MIRACLE (the Fourth World is about a war in heaven, after all) followed by STRANGE ADVENTURES where the cast didn’t really work for what he was trying to do.

        Liked by 1 person

      3. He did give Marvel Viv Vision and her dog so there’s that and Batman got Gotham Girl. I’d love his Mister Miracle to become canon some day. His asshole father has been resurrected before and so has Darkseid so none of that would go against the ongoing need at DC to pretend the Fourth World series were good.


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