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The Dead and the Dying in The Human Target #12

The Human Target #12 is about saying goodbye without letting go.

The Dead and the Dying in The Human Target #12
The Human Target #12 by Tom King, Greg Smallwood and Clayton Cowles (DC/Black Label)

Note: There are some spoilers here for The Human Target #12.  Proceed at your own risk.

Saying goodbye is not the same as letting go.  By the end of the eleventh issue of The Human Target, Tom King and Greg Smallwood wrapped up most of the mystery.  The series started with Christopher Chance finding out he had been poisoned while standing in for Lex Luthor.  And that’s what Chase was hired for; to be the proverbial human target for whoever may want to kill Luthor.  But he was expecting something more straightforward, not being killed by sharing a drink with Luthor after he thought the job had been wrapped up.  He had 12 days until the poison would kill him.

In those 12 days, he investigated the mystery of his own imminent death and he fell in love with Ice, a member of Justice League International.  All signs pointed to her as being the one who tried to kill Luthor but Chance couldn’t help it.  The heart wants what the heart wants.  And by the eleventh issue, Chance learned that all of his suspicions were true; Ice tried to murder Lex Luthor for revenge for killing her years ago.  Remember, this is still a comic book and bargains in comic book tropes.

The Human Target #12 is about saying goodbye without letting go.  This issue shows both Christopher Chance and Ice holding onto the past even as life goes on.  This issue is neither an epilogue nor a coda even if it feels like the mystery was wrapped up in the last issue.  It’s not about loose ends but It is about what happens after the story ends and life goes on even after you think you’ve lost everything.  King delivers one of his most heartfelt stories here, about two people who meet, fall in love, and then that love ends.

In the end, Chance solved the mystery of who killed him.  King and Smallwood’s story hasn’t been about justice or revenge even if it maybe turns a bit into the latter in the end.  This issue feels like it should be zigging and zagging everywhere.  Chance’s whole thing is about escaping death.  It almost feels like there are a couple of moments where a character should rip off a mask Mission Impossible-style, revealing Chance smiling at his love and saying “You didn’t think I’d really die on you?” but this isn’t that story.  King isn’t the type of writer to take the easy way out.  But if you stuck with the series over its 12-issue run, you probably kind of hoped he was.

But that would be too easy.

King and Smallwood’s ending doesn’t pull any last-minute miracles or use any superhero comic book logic to cheat the ending this series has been marching toward since the beginning.  Christopher Chance, the Human Target, did what he was hired to do; to protect his employer and, if necessary, to take the bullet for them.  That cost him his life even as he found love in his last days.  And Ice is the one who has to live with everything that they’ve both done.

This series told the tale of a man paid to put himself in the path of danger but who doesn’t want to die.  This final issue makes that clear but that’s what the whole series has been about; the mystery and the thrill of love have overshadowed that fear.  Smallwood’s creamy artwork has had a tinge of melancholy to it, his lines and colors being far more optimistic than the story he’s telling.  This is a story told through the ways that characters look at each other, whether it’s Chance and Ice, Ice and the Martian Manhunter, or even Lex Luthor and Ice. You read these characters by the ways that they look at or avoid the eyes of others.  With that, it’s only fitting that Chance and Ice share just a couple of panels together where we see both of their eyes, facing the other and facing the end of this story.

In many ways, this issue caps off what has been an 11-issue wake with a one-issue funeral, a last moment to say goodbye to these characters by King and Smallwood. You know that someday, Christopher Chance will be back cheating death and Ice will be back to being the innocent sweet one.  But whoever those characters will be, they won’t be the Chance or Ice whose story King and Smallwood told.  So this issue is the funeral, their and our time of mourning.  It’s sad but King and Smallwood also end it with just enough of a wink and a nod to let us know that life and the story will go on.