Human Target: Tom King Teases His Unconventional DC Comics Murder Mystery

This week saw the release of Human Target #1, a new DC Comics maxiseries from writer Tom King and artist Greg Smallwood. The twelve-issue event comic takes a unique approach to DC Comics canon, melding the story of Christopher Chance / Human Target with the Justice League International, as well as a retro '60s and 70s aesthetic. At the center of the series is a murder mystery which (spoilers for Issue #1 below!) occurs after Chance impersonates Lex Luthor, and appears to be poisoned by a substance that could be tied to a member of the JLI. ComicBook.com recently got to attend a roundtable interview with King, where he spoke about how the book and its murder mystery came to be.

"This is not a book that I went hunting for," King explained. "I very rarely go hunting for books. My best books that I've I've ever written were given to me, things like Vision and Mister Miracle, those came from someone being like, 'We have a project, Tom. You do this,' and me being in a corner and writing my way out. And Human Target was the same. I literally made a joke on Twitter. People say nothing good comes from Twitter, I got some work from it once at least. The editor called me that day and said, 'Hey, would you actually like to write about Human Target?" And I thought he was joking, so I said yes, because I didn't really get the joke, and it kept tumbling forward from there."

'I went back and I read the original stuff, the Len Wein and Dick Giordano stuff, and it was just absolutely amazing," King continued. "That's when it sparked my interest, and I sort of went 'Oh, I can do something cool with this.' I came up with this pitch — and again, I was putting it on the side-burner because I didn't really think it was that important. It wasn't until I saw Smallwood's art, his first cover he sent in, where I was like, 'Oh, this could be something special. This could be something unique in comics, something that transcends the moment — an opportunity to do all those things that I always say I want to do on my best projects, which is be in a genre and tell a great genre story, but also comment on our moments of the day.' So, that's how I came to Human Target, and it ended up being a story about a guy facing death and what you do when you think you're going to die soon, which is kind of the mood of the entire world for the last two years."

The very premise of the series — that Chance's days are numbered because of a stealth attempt to poison Lex Luthor — is expected to provoke conversation in and of itself. As King argued, that set up allows for an interesting exploration into the way superheroes see revenge.

"No, no, it's not bad to want to kill Lex Luthor," King added. "The man constantly tries to take over the world. He's killed many, many, many people. He deserves to be in jail and he keeps getting out. He has done things — including, as we will reveal in the second issue, some very bad things to some very good people [who are] wanting revenge and wanting him to be off this Earth. If you watch John Wick and you think he's justified after killing a puppy, I don't see how you could watch the DC universe and think Lex Luthor should be so high in mighty. That said, if you're a superhero, you're a good person. If you're Superman, if you're Batman, you're someone who's sort of against death and always believes in redemption. But I don't believe that the people on this Justice League team are of that mindset. There are some people there — there are probably many people there — that don't have that feeling that everyone should be forgived, that everyone can become good again. That's why Superman is Superman. That's why he's the number one hero, is because he's transcendent in that way. The fact that other people aren't that way is okay too. So yeah, I don't think wanting Lex Luthor dead is bad. Now, aiming for Lex Luthor and hitting Human Target is just a uniquely JLI thing to do, so that's why I enjoyed it."

And despite the death looming over Human Target, King revealed that it is actually one of his most hopeful entries into the DC universe yet, alongside both Supergirl: Woman of Tomorrow and another book that has yet to be revealed.

"It's funny, the way I write books is not always how they're published. But this and Supergirl — and another book that hasn't been announced — are the next generation after Strange Adventures and Rorschach, which were very angry and bitter mysteries that were about through the dark side of 2020. That generation of books, I think you're hopefully seeing a little bit with Supergirl, they're tough books. They delve into the extremes of pain and anger and all that stuff. But at the end of the day, they're books I wrote to be like this new '20s, this new 'emerging from the darkness' kind of books. Books that are a little bit more fun, books that are a little bit more optimistic. More on the model of — if you're looking at books I've written before — of Superman: Up In The Sky, than, say, Heroes in Crisis. Even though there's a certain warmth to those."

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"This is a love story," King continued. "This is just a genre mystery story. This is a fun story. It's got a lot of humor in it. It's got a whole issue dedicated to Booster Gold, for God's sake. So, yeah, it's less grim. If you have any comparisons, it's to Supergirl — which, again, Supergirl has some darkness to it, but that's really a story of triumph. And so will this one be, which is my hope in the future. I'm in an optimistic spirit these days, which I'm sure will eventually be crushed, but might as well dig into it now."

Human Target #1 is now available wherever comics are sold.