INTERVIEW: "Batgirl and the Birds of Prey" Hunt Rebirth's Oracle
Travis Clevinger, the lead character in Dan Jolley’s Bloodhound, is a convicted murderer with no superpowers who is released from prison at the request of the FBI so he can track down a serial killer. First published in 2004 by DC Comics, the DC Universe series, which featured art by Leonard Kirk and Robin Riggs, received good reviews but never quite found its audience and was never collected. That is, until now.
Bloodhound has found a new home at Dark Horse, which in June will publish issues 1-4 and 6-10 as a collected edition, titled Bloodhound, Vol. 1: Brass Knuckle Psychology, with 198 pages of comics plus an introduction by Kurt Busiek, an afterword by Ivan Cohen, and standalone art by Jamal Igle, Mike Norton, Tim Seeley and others. Where is Issue 5? Read our exclusive interview with Jolley to find out, and to get the backstory on Bloodhound.
Robot 6: Since it’s been a while, can you refresh us about what Bloodhound is about?
Dan Jolley: Bloodhound is about Travis “Clev” Clevenger, a huge, brutal, ex-Atlanta police detective who specializes in tracking down superhuman criminals. Clev had the city’s best record for finding and dealing with superhumans, thanks to a knack for understanding their thought processes. Unfortunately, he had also been having an on-again-off-again affair with his partner Vince’s wife, Trish, for a number of years, and when Vince found out, he attacked Clev with a crowbar. Clev killed Vince and got sentenced to prison.
Fast forward a couple of years: The FBI approaches Clev about a sort of “work release,” because there’s a superhuman serial killer on the loose, and they need Clev’s talent. At first Clev tells them to shove it; he’s come to see himself as, at best, the lesser of two evils, and is convinced that the world is better off without him in it. But the FBI lets him know that the killer’s latest target is Trish and Vince’s teenage daughter, Rachel, and he reluctantly agrees to help.
Clev’s “working relationship” with the Bureau leads to him staying out of prison and helping them run down other superhuman killers, but only on a strictly limited basis; among many other harsh conditions, he’s required to wear a large, obvious tracking collar around his neck at all times. Clev doesn’t have much hope of ever leading a normal life.
Basically, Bloodhound takes a look at what would happen if not every supervillain felt the need to put on a flashy costume or adopt a catchy code-name. What if they looked and acted a lot like ordinary people? What if Jeffrey Dahmer had been able to walk through walls? What if a terrorist could cause explosions purely with his mind? How much more catastrophic would the damage and tragedy be that people like that could inflict? Regular humans would be in deep trouble. And Clev, as deeply flawed as he is, as reluctant to re-enter society as he might be, is one of the best answers to the problem.
What interested you about the character of Travis Clevenger, and what challenges did you face in making him interesting to the reader?
Clev came to me after Ivan Cohen, at DC, told me he’d look at a pitch for a new book as long as the main character was not a martial artist, an expert marksman or a computer hacker. I already knew that I wanted the protagonist to be non-powered, so using Ivan’s parameters, I put together someone who I felt could survive in the DC Universe. He’s not a martial artist or a marksman, so I made him a brawler, and he’d better be pretty big and intimidating to pull that off. He’s not a computer hacker, but I wanted him to be a detective, so I went the opposite direction for gathering information and gave him keen “cop instincts”—intuitive, largely unconscious ways of reading people’s speech and body language and facial expressions, built up over years of experience. I also knew I wanted him to start the story in prison, so it became a question of what put him there. Maybe he got wrapped up in some shady business with his partner… maybe he even started sleeping with his partner’s wife. Add to that a setting in Georgia, where I grew up and currently live, and Travis F. Clevenger was born. People asked me back then if Clev had some sort of secret super-power that would be revealed down the road, and I always assured them, Clev’s only “powers” are that he’s smart and he fights dirty.
As far as challenges, well, DC’s upper brass provided plenty of those themselves. There were quite a few baffling decisions made during the book’s development, and some truly profound lapses in communication, but probably the biggest hurdle was the timing. Bloodhound was approved, straight to series, at the last pitch meeting of 2002, but for some reason I never learned, DC chose not to let it hit shelves until the middle of 2004. In the intervening 18 months, the company engaged in a little event called Identity Crisis. You may remember that. Identity Crisis put every single bit of DC’s focus on the capes-and-tights crowd, and if a book didn’t involve a lot of people with names that ended in “-man,” it got left out in the proverbial cold. And that was the whole point of Bloodhound, clearly stated, from the very beginning: to explore some of the parts of the DC Universe that the capes-and-tights crowd never got to. So not only was there no marketing behind the book, it got hidden so well that even a lot of comic shop owners weren’t aware of it. It was frustrating to be at a con, with Bloodhound issues displayed on my table, and have a retailer walk up and say, “Bloodhound? What’s that?”
Aside from Clevenger, who is your favorite character? Or, if you prefer to answer it this way, what was the most interesting relationship in the comic?
The most enjoyable part of the whole project for me is the character interactions. Clev would honestly prefer being back in prison, and he’s not afraid of anyone, so he usually gets to be as blunt, or as pointed, as he feels like, with no repercussions that he cares about. That being said, one of the few people he actually respects, and will treat politely, is Special Agent Saffron Bell, the young FBI handler assigned to manage him when he’s released from prison. They’re not partners, exactly, because she holds a lot of power over him and could send him back behind bars at any time. But they do develop a close bond. It’s not just superhumans that Clev can get a good read on, either, and it doesn’t take him long to realize that Saffron has a pretty dark past herself; she was the victim of a heinous and traumatic crime as a child, and that experience has been a major formative force on her personality. They may not be partners, but Clev feels a certain kinship with Saffron, and they make a good team.
Why did you turn to Dark Horse rather than DC for the collected edition, and what took you so long?
Well, for one thing, I pursued and received a full rights reversion from DC, so the parts of the property they once owned are now mine again. And for another, after they put zero effort into promoting the book the first time, I saw no reason to believe anything would change if I went back to them. And that’s the thing about promotion at DC, or at least it was in 2004: They have a marketing department that decides exactly what bits of information can go out to whom and when, and if you do anything to upset that plan, the wrath descends upon you. When I had just begun writing Firestorm, before the first issue came out, I confirmed in an interview that the new kid in the Firestorm role, Jason Rusch, was African-American (something that Wizard magazine had already printed). Well, that didn’t go along with DC’s plan — they apparently hadn’t read that issue of Wizard — and I got a call from the DC brass that left my ears smoking.
But the reason for the delay was that I simply felt no great rush to do something else with the property immediately. Most of the assignments you get as a freelance writer are things that you didn’t create, and as such, you can only have a limited emotional connection to. But I built Bloodhound brick by brick myself (with invaluable help from Ivan Cohen, Drew Johnson, Leonard Kirk, Robin Riggs and Moose Baumann), and if I were going to re-enter the comics market with it, I wanted it to feel right. Most of a year ago I began working with Dark Horse again, for the first time in about 15 years, on some promotional comics to do with the video game Prototype 2, on which I was one of the lead writers. I started talking with the editorial guys about other projects and ended up sending them a few examples of other things I’d done. On a whim I included Bloodhound, and a few months later I got an e-mail from Brendan Wright that said, and I’m paraphrasing, “This is great stuff! It came out from DC? Why did I not see this at the time? … Do you own the rights?” Cut to the present, and Bloodhound lives again at Dark Horse Comics. Already it’s a much better fit there than it ever was at DC.
The collected edition omits Issue 5. Can you explain that?
Yup. After I had already written the first five scripts for Bloodhound, I got a call from DC brass, letting me know that they wanted me to do a crossover with my other series, Firestorm.
On one side, I didn’t really want to do it, because I didn’t want it to seem forced, and I’d have to re-work a story that I was already pleased with. On the other, I didn’t want to bite the hand that was feeding me, and who was I to turn down paying work, anyway? In any case, I re-fitted the scripts and turned in the crossover; it started in an issue of Firestorm, finished up in Bloodhound #5, and ultimately I made sure it didn’t alter the continuity of either series. You could just skip the whole thing in both Firestorm and Bloodhound, and the stories didn’t miss a beat.
So, when I was dealing with the whole rights-reversion thing from DC, one of the terms they stipulated was that, if I ever re-printed any of these issues, all “DC elements” would have to be removed. For the majority of the issues that was no problem since, as I’ve mentioned, it wasn’t supposed to have much to do with the DCU anyway. But for Issue 5, there was really no way to “omit” Firestorm, when Jason Rusch and the Firestorm character were pivotal to the whole thing. Since that crossover could just be skipped, though, Dark Horse and I decided to do just that. When you read the collection you’ll never even know it was there. The title of the collection is “Brass Knuckle Psychology,” by the way.
Why did you and the editors choose to set it as part of the DCU rather than publish it under Vertigo? Do any DCU characters appear in it, other than the Firestorm crossover?
Earlier I mentioned some baffling decisions on the part of the DC brass; this was one of them. Originally I pitched the story as inhabiting a dark little corner of the regular DCU. The brass came back and said, Y’know what, let’s make this book compete with Marvel’s MAX line. Make it R-rated. Don’t hold anything back, make it as hard as you can. Oh, but keep it in the DCU. Well, at that point I was thrilled that DC Comics was even talking about publishing a series I’d created, so I readily obliged, and turned in a truly R-rated script for the first issue. But then the brass came back again and said, Oh, hey, never mind about about that competing-with-MAX stuff, just make it a regular DCU book. Now, I really liked the R-rated script, so I asked if we could just make this a Vertigo book and keep it all hard-edged. No, no, no, they said, put it in the regular DCU. So I removed (a lot of) the R-rated parts, and Bloodhound came out under the plain DC banner. But while it was a critical success (and got praise from people such as Warren Ellis, Kurt Busiek, Tony Isabella and Gail Simone), the bulk of DC’s readers were so swept up in Identity Crisis that they never even noticed it.
And no, no other DC characters appear in it. The last three issues did have a DC supervillain show up, but we took care of that. Now the series truly lives up to its credo: no costumes, no code names.
Is the story complete, or do you plan more single issues?
Whether or not more Bloodhound stuff comes out depends on a number of different factors, and the public’s reaction to this collection is certainly one of them. But no, the story is far from complete. I’ve got at least several more years’ worth of material ready to go.
Will you be making any changes, or will the comics be reprinted just as they were?
The DC elements that I mentioned before are all gone, and there was part of one issue where I fixed a minor plot concern. But 99 percent of the original is exactly the way it was. I was pleased with and proud of this story in 2004, and today I still consider it the best work I’ve ever done in comics.
Of course, now it also features an introduction by Kurt Busiek and an afterword by Ivan Cohen, as well as a pinup gallery from guys like Jamal Igle and Mike Norton and Tim Seeley. I’m thrilled to have those!
If you were starting the series fresh today, would you change anything, or take a different approach?
Some of the technology would be a little different; there were no smart phones in 2004, Twitter didn’t exist, and Facebook had only been up and running for a few months. But as far as the characters and what they’re struggling with, no, I wouldn’t change a single thing. Bloodhound is every bit as relevant today as it was then. Maybe even more so.