Bloodhound: Brass Knuckle Psychology (Dark Horse) Review

The DC Comics superhero-noir title gets a new home (and a new city) at Dark Horse.

Bloodhound was doing super-hero noir before it was cool. In 2004, Bloodhound was one of those books that was a solid read with intelligent and professional creators that just didn’t fit an accepted niche. It was a DC Universe book that didn’t read like a DC Universe book, the title would have probably been better served as a Vertigo title, and despite critical and peer love, it fizzled ten issues later. Writers like Kurt Busiek, Warren Ellis, and Gail Simone were trumpeting their love for Bloodhound, but in 2004, retailers and fans were deafened by the hype of the industry changing Identity Crisis and completely let Bloodhound, a book that was no frills at best, slip by unnoticed. Nine years later, Dan Jolley and Leonard Kirk have taken their bruised knuckled creation to Dark Horse. How does Bloodhound hold up under modern scrutiny?Bloodhound is the story of Travis Clevenger, an ex-cop imprisoned for killing his old partner. Clevenger is a throwback, a hulk of a man who lives by his wits, fists, and instincts in order to protect the innocent and punish the guilty. He has a brilliant analytical mind which makes him ever more dangerous than his incredible strength and his battering fists.  At the beginning of the collection, Bloodhound is recruited by the FBI to stop a killer of women, whose modus operandi is threatening and persistent phone calls until the eventual murder of his latest victim. Clevenger is uninterested in going back into the system, until he learns the killer’s latest target is the daughter of his ex-partner. Partnered with Clevenger is Saffron Bell, a tough and by-the-book agent who tries to keep things professional and keep Clevenger on his leash. Together the two face meta-human threats while confronting the truth about their own dark pasts.Does the book work today? The answer is, yes, though it does have some weaknesses that keeps it from living up to similar thematic titles like The Goon, The Boys, or Incognito. The strength of the title is the uniqueness of Clevenger’s character. He is a throwback, a man that would be more at home in some Babylonian fighting pit than in modern times. He relies on instinct, wits, and his fists to help him survive. He has a simple sense of morality and justice but he is not a stupid man. Many times during the course of the book, Clevenger defeats an adversary through sheer observational dexterity. If everything were punch/kick things  would get boring rather quick, but Clevenger’s intelligence combined with his propensity for explosive violence makes Bloodhound an enjoyable reading experience. It’s clear that Jolley gets his character; he knows every nuance of Clevenger and deftly presents them through well timed story beats and dialogue.Bloodhound brings a visceral sort of violence that makes the book oddly refreshing. Too many times in comics the violence is watered down or is shown as almost a ballet-like art. In Bloodhound, the violence has consequences. Knuckles bruise, cartilage crunches, skin peels, and eyes fill with blood. When Clevenger hits someone they stay hit. Clevenger faces down some pretty tough customers over the course of the book, and his ability to get up after even the most horrific beating makes him a character readers will root for. The same kind of careful character work that went Clevenger is also used for Saffron Bell. Bell has the careful analytical mind the complements Clevenger perfectly, but she is almost too analytical, and sometimes unwilling to act until all the facts present themselves. Her careful approach to detective work makes her the perfect woman to hold Clevenger’s leash. Both characters have terrible secrets that get revealed over the course of the series, Bell’s in particular made for some great character moments that made it a shame that she disappeared from the DC Universe when Bloodhound faded after just ten issues.Bloodhound takes readers through three separate storylines. The stories are expertly paced, and as mentioned before, Jolley’s portrayal of Clevenger and Bell can serve as a how-to guide on how to present new characters, but the book’s weakness lie in the threats the book must face. Clevenger must battle the electric guy, the psychic guy, and the fire guy, and while some of them are well thought out motivation-wise, the villains are a little too generic. Even ten parts in, the series felt too formulaic. Strange crime is happening, Clevenger and Bell use their detective skills to find a baddie, then Clevenger overcomes villain with strange power and beats him to a pulp.When Bloodhound was originally published, it took place firmly in the DC Universe where strange powers and amazing abilities are the order of the day. Now that the book is away from the DCU, fans will find it jarring that super-powered beings exist without question or explanation. Clevenger’s tragic story of lust, murder, and betrayal is extremely grounded, feeling more like Sin City than Superman. So when the first super powered adversary shows up, it is dizzying. Away from DC, the super humans seem shoehorned in. Towards the end of the book, Jolley makes it clear that Bloodhound now takes place in Arcadia, the home of Dark Horse heroes X and Ghost, thus justifying the preconceived idea of meta-humans, but this is mentioned too late to prevent the use of super-heroes from being a complete tonal distraction.What is certainly not a distraction is the note-perfect artwork of Leonard Kirk. Kirk establishes his ability to draw action with violence so brutal it almost becomes beautiful in execution. His Clevenger looks like a cross between WWE’s Triple H and Sin City’s Marv, and every panel serves a s a reminder of just how immense Clevenger is through contrast and forced perspectives. His renderings of Clevenger show a man of coiled power, his body exudes strength and a potential for pain and his face exudes cunning and a world weary veneer that just wants a moment’s rest. Kirk’s masterful pacing allows for scenes of thoughtful investigation and explosive violence.It was fascinating revisiting Bloodhound, and it was interesting to see a title that died before its time to examine some of the elements of the project that led to its demise and others that should have been strong enough to allow the book to continue in a healthier market. Here’s hoping that Dark horse will allow Jolley and Kirk the creative freedom to continue the story, because if nothing else, Bloodhound exudes potential.Story: 6/10Art: 8/10Overall: 7/10

Bloodhound: Brass Knuckle PsychologyWriter: Dan JolleyArtist: Leonard KirkInker: Robin Riggs

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