The new twelve-issue Human Target series from DC Black Label is the story of a slow, slow murder. One that the dying Christopher Chance has twelve days to solve, only because it’s the last thing left for him to do. “Human Target” is an apt name for what the man does, after all. Since his debut in 1972’s Action Comics #419, Christopher Chance has specialized in impersonating his clients and uncovering their would-be assassins by drawing himself into the line of fire.
In this month’s Human Target #1, drawn with an appropriately similar early ’70’s detective story aesthetic by Greg Smallwood, it’s a case impersonating Lex Luthor himself that proves to be Chance’s fatal one, succumbing to what evidence suggests is a poisoned coffee, containing trace particles from another dimension—a dimension which had only been visited by the roster of the Justice League International. Hard to believe, but that’s where the evidence lies. So the question is, which of these heroes tried to kill Lex Luthor? Or, perhaps, Christopher Chance? More clues will surely present themselves as the series continues, but...we have some early thoughts. Here, we’ll make a case for why anyone and everyone in the JLI is a suspect.
Although it wasn’t his first twelve-issue DC series (that would be the sleeper hit Omega Men), Tom King’s most lauded turn at the format has been his 2017 Eisner-winning Mister Miracle. We don’t know why Miracle would attempt murder (yet), but his tantalizing inclusion in the roster here suggests a revisitation of King’s most beloved series to date. Could Human Target be a stealth Mister Miracle sequel? Only Darkseid knows…and is.
In interviews, King is outspoken on his background as a former agent for the CIA and a familiarity with spycraft which equipped him to co-write 2014’s Grayson. With its Cold War era aesthetic, Rocket Red’s inclusion invites Soviet intrigue King has yet to explore. Even in modern Russian politics, political assassinations through radiation-poisoned caffeinated beverages are quite relevant. With King’s penchant for exploring his own international espionage interest and experience, this series could end up being more about the radiation which still exists to this day between Russia and the USA.
The end of DC’s “age of innocence,” to many long-time readers, was the arrival of Infinite Crisis—an event preceded by such horrifying events as the murder of Blue Beetle by his longtime friend and ally, Maxwell Lord. Beetle was once the only hero willing to confront Lord in his apparent plans for world domination. Could he be taking justice into his hands here once again, in the name of foiling a would-be global despot no one else takes seriously enough?
Booster Gold is a man from the future. That’s pretty much his whole deal. You’d be excused for not knowing that, though, considering his status as “the greatest hero you’ve never heard of.” One of the most intriguing angles on Booster, first established in the 2006 52 maxiseries and continuing through his own subsequent Booster Gold solo, was that Booster’s facade as an incompetent blowhard belied the truth that he was surreptitiously protecting the timeline. But this wouldn’t be the first time Booster bungled an attempt to fix history. Did Booster try to kill Luthor because he had to go?
Okay, let’s be honest, there’s no way it’s Black Canary. She would never debase herself with an attempted murder like this—and if she wanted Luthor dead, he’d be dead. But this gives us space to explore a different theory, which could well apply to any of the suspects involved. What if Black Canary isn’t Black Canary? Dr. Mid-Nite tells us that these Justice Leaguers traveled to another dimension together…but maybe not all of them came back. Could there be an imposter among us?
Going into promotional art and solicitations for the series down the line, it seems like Tora Olafsdotter will be playing a significant role in this series, seemingly as an end-of-life love interest for the loveless Christopher Chance. But as fans of these mid-century style detective stories know well, the femme fatale should always be considered suspect #1, before even the butler. Could Ice be cozying up to Chance in order to throw off suspicion?
On the other hand, while Ice may have ulterior motives in throwing Chance off the case, they may not be for herself, but for the person she’s closest to: Beatriz da Costa, alias Fire. Once an agent for Checkmate, there’s a good chance the US government itself may have had interest in getting Luthor off the board and Fire may have been their agent in place to make the play. Does all this skullduggery go back to Lord versus Luthor?
Is Guy brash enough to try and kill the leader of the Legion of Doom? Well, the answer to any question that begins with “Is Guy brash enough” is “yes.” You could even play the “jealous boyfriend” angle and say this wasn’t a case of mistaken identity at all. After all, we’re not sure how far back Ice and Chance’s relationship really goes. The only flaw here is that poison really isn’t Guy’s style. He’s more likely to come at you ring-blazing. (Unless, you know, he’s gotten tired of being laid out by one punch to the nose.)
J’onn J’onnz is almost invariably the heart of the Justice League, in all its myriad incarnations. He’s overseen more missions than anyone who’s ever called themselves a member of the team. So apart from Superman himself, J’onn has had more opportunity than anyone to just be completely exhausted by Luthor’s shtick. J’onn is not a killer, but he is a mind-reader. Maybe he saw something inside Luthor’s skull that was too vile to be let loose into the world. But putting aside that there are much easier ways for J’onn, who can turn invisible, to kill a man without suspicion, it’s hard to believe a telepath like him would miss his target. Unless Chance was who he wanted to kill…?
Captain Atom is as straight-laced a hero as they come, but there’s as much reason to suspect him as Booster Gold and Fire combined. Like Booster, Captain Atom has some experience with time travel—an extreme expenditure of his powers often sends him skipping through time. And like Fire, Nate has ties to the US military. That “Captain” in his name isn’t just for show. If Uncle Sam wants Luthor out of the picture, then Captain Atom delivers. Or uh, attempts to deliver and poisons a body double instead. Whichever.
Batman never kills. That’s pretty much his whole deal. He’s so not a suspect in this murder that you’re expected to write him off on-sight. Dr. Mid-Nite even goes so far to suggest that Chance enlist the World’s Greatest Detective to assist with the investigation. But all this is exactly what Tom King WANTS us to think. For a mystery to persist over twelve months without discovery, there’s a pressure to make the impossible into reality in order to preserve the secret. After all, this is a Black Label series. And outside of continuity, even a Batman may kill.
If G’nort did it—and for all we know, he could have—it was probably a genuine accident. Maybe he got a job temping for Luthor and accidentally mixed-up uranium and sugar. It’s tough making an Earth coffee when you have no familiarity with the human digestive system. Yeah, that sounds like him. Freakin’ G’nort.
So, that leaves…everyone, we guess. Let’s hope Christopher Chance has better luck narrowing down the list of suspects. Who do YOU think really did it? Maybe let us know in the DC Community and gloat about it after you find out you’re right. Personally, we think…come on, it’s Luthor himself, right? It’s gotta be.
The Human Target #1 by Tom King and Greg Smallwood is now available in print and as a digital comic book.
Alex Jaffe is the author of our monthly "Ask the Question" column and writes about TV, movies, comics and superhero history for DCComics.com. Follow him on Twitter at @AlexJaffe and find him in the DC Community as HubCityQuestion.