Someone has killed Christopher Chance, he just hasn't died yet. Now this detective gets to investigate his own murder. Brian reviews issue #5 of this stellar book.
Writer: Tom King
Art and color by: Greg Smallwood
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Welcome friends to another Off The Shelf,Church of the Geek’s review of recent comic book titles. I am Brian Bennett, campus pastor of the Lutheran Campus Ministry in Greater Pittsburgh and our student group PSALM serving Pitt, Carnegie Mellon, Chatham and Carlow universities AND I’m also your regular co-host of Church of the Geek.
Anyone with kids knows there comes a time when they start learning about how stories are constructed. Each of my kids would come home from elementary school talking about how stories have a beginning, a middle and an end. They begin to learn about a linear model of story telling, because if your kid tells stories at younger ages, linear time is not a thing that exists. Following those meandering stories can be a chore and at the end you might not be sure what was just told to you. But that is only the starting point. We all know of stories that buck the linear story-telling mode and bounce around with multiple time lines or various perspectives or other ways to warp what is expected.
I bring this up because I have been reading The Human Target, written by Tom King with art by Greg Smallwood. The story has been fairly straightforward in each issue thus far. Christopher Chance is a private detective and master of disguise who is employed by VIPs to be a stand in when an attempt on said VIP’s life is suspected to be coming. That is where the series begins. Chance is standing in for Lex Luthor and is summarily poisoned. Now he only has twelve days to live so he has a clear timeline when he must discover who has murdered him. The poisoning is the beginning. His death will be the end. We are now in the middle of the story.
Every issue up until now has been a joy to read. Very linear. Classic noir detective story with an art style that feels like a 60s movie. Issues one through four have been straightforward investigation with Chance recounting the events with what would clearly be a voiceover in any film adaptation. And at the end of each issue, readers get one important nugget of information that only makes sense after reading the whole issue.
Issue #5 however takes the straightforward linear, beginning, middle and end format and upends it for us. A genius move for the story thus far. The rules of story telling are vital to know so we can be prepared to bend them when we need to. The Human Target #5 is a great example.
I will admit that I had a difficult time at first understanding what was happening. Four distinct story lines are all intertwined. Each from a different time frame. Telling the four in chronological order would have been boring and the reveal at the end would have been lessened by it. Tom King weaves a masterful issue here. It is clever in execution, basically taking place in an instant. And the reveal raises questions even as it brings answers. What might have seemed clear the issue previous is now a question regarding the murder of Chance.
The ability to play with narrative to make a point is at the heart of what is going on. Throughout this issue, I could not help but think about the gospels and the way each of the four plays with the narrative of Jesus to make a particular point. Mark gives us an urgent apocalyptic narrative. Matthew gives us another Moses in Jesus. Luke points to Jesus upending the powers of the world. John gives us a cosmic theological reflection.
Issues one through four might be more akin to the synoptic gospels, that is, Matthew, Mark and Luke. The story in each, while different, mainly sticks to a familiar pattern with different emphases.
The gospel of John though, is like a different creature compared to those other three. Rudolf Bultmann, the great biblical scholar, talked about John as if, once written, the manuscript was dropped and reshuffled, getting everything out of order. John shifts tales and omits others so that the fourth gospel is a completely different creature from the other three. But for John that is just fine. John doesn’t care about any claims of historicity, like Luke claims. John is telling a story that is at the core a theological reflection on who Jesus is. Jesus doesn’t eat a Last Supper with his disciples where he institutes the sacrament of the altar. He washes the feet of the disciples. Jesus isn’t crucified after the Passover, but the day when the lambs are slaughtered for the passover meal. John shifts the story to make his tale more emphatic regarding Jesus’ identity and importance.
King does something similar here, running four stories at once so we can see Chance’s skills and what that might mean for his urgent investigation. Issue #5 feels incredibly important. It didn’t end where we thought it might. But it feels really important.
The Human Target is a beautifully brilliant book that is what I have come to typically expect from Tom King, great writing that breaks the rules when necessary.
I remain waiting with baited breath to discover who murdered Christopher Chance.
Geek be with you.