Bank robberies, robot samurais, and bears, oh my! DC Comics’ The Human Target #4 is full of surprises. Writer Tom King, artist Greg Smallwood, and letterer Clayton Cowles bring their neo-noir sensibilities to the land of Silver Age shenanigans. WithThe Human Target #4, they celebrate the wildness of old comics, while pointing out their many absurdities.
King’s writing style for this issue feels split right down the middle. On one hand, we have the noir narrations of Christopher Chance’s inner monologue. He’s subtle and cynical. On the other hand, we have Blue Beetle and Ice, falling back into the dynamic of their glorious Justice League International days. As they fight off various threats to the mankind, Blue Beetle rambles on in the Silver Age “let’s explain everything as it happens” fashion. With this, King nails the character of Ted Kord. He’s intelligent yet simple. He may be incredibly educated and successful, but he’s still naïve. Chance, however, is too smart to let the flashy fights distract him. He sees through the theatrics, picking apart the intricacies of each encounter. King highlights the differences between Kord and Chance, making us love each one of them all the more.
King is also really funny in this issue, but not in an in-your-face way. As Kord changes into his Blue Beetle duds, he worries that he can’t prove to Chance that he’s innocent. Butt naked, he turns to Chance and says, “There’s just not really a way to show you I have nothing to hide.” The irony doesn’t even occur to Kord. This whole issue is full of clever jokes and double entendres. King perfectly executes the tone of a noir mystery.
Smallwood isn’t interested in the punchy action sequences of superhero comics. He’s more interested in honing in on the human elements. When Ice and Beetle go to stop a bank robbery, Smallwood doesn’t show us how the fight goes down. Instead, we see Chance looking on, sipping from a flask and waiting for the fight to be over. As the issue continues, Smallwood particularly focuses on the flirty banter between Ice and Chance. We see them slowly becoming comfortable with one another. It’s in Tora’s eyes, as she shyly looks over at Chance as he’s sleeping, that Smallwood says so much. She gets braver and more playful as the issue goes on. Once, Smallwood had his characters’ faces always obscured or only shown in part. Now, these pages are full of Ice and Chance’s various expressions. They’re the focal point of this series and their charged exchanges are what will have you on the edge of your seat.
Smallwood covers this issue in blue and yellow, the colors of Ted Kord. Right off the bat, Smallwood creates a Silver Age feeling. The fluorescent colors of Kord’s secret lab feel like something out of a Kirby-era Fantastic Four comic. And the color pallets help us to feel like we’re watching the characters throughout the whole day. Smallwood starts us off with a warm, morning glow that washes over the scene. Then we get the vibrant colors of midday. And as the color pallet settles, the blues are still there. The dark blue of the night sky streams in through the window, matching the color of Kord’s suit. Smallwood makes us feel the time pass. And not only from morning to night, but from 1960 to 2022.
The letters for this issue are incredibly fun. Even the title page, dramatic and colorful, is something right out of the 60s. When Ice and Beetle stop a bank robbery, and we’re focused on Chance’s reaction to the scene, the sound effects are the only things we get that hint at the wild action going on. So Cowles doesn’t hold back. The “KRRAK!” “POW!” “BLAM!” noises are shown in big, bright, bubble letters. Some have lightning bolt edges, others look like they’re cracking. It’s the perfect way to say “You really wish you could see what’s going on, don’t you?” Cowles whole approach to this issue feels joyfully theatrical.
DC Comics’ The Human Target #4 is a celebration of days gone by. It’s goofy, yet grounded. We might be dealing with characters that were punching baddies in the 80s, but there’s an unmistakable 60s flavor to this issue. This creative team uses the tropes and language of the Silver Age to unleash all kinds of chaos onto the page, all while Chance watches with a wry smile and a stiff drink. Pick up The Human Target #4, out from DC Comics January 25th, at a comic shop near you!