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Picks of the week: There may be no better uncle than a "Bloodhound"

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Bloodhound: Crowbar Medicine #3

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It seems that in an attempt to make Christmas week an easy one, most publishers are releasing most of their December stock now. To this end, the massive list of the best comics for December 18th, 2013!

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Book of the week: Bloodhound: Crowbar Medicine #3

To be honest, picking a top comic for this week was a more difficult chore than usual not only due to the sheer volume of comics available this week, but the amount of genuinely good comics from not only Dark Horse Comics but also Image Comics and Marvel Comics. It came down to a choice between roughly three or four comics, and in the end "Bloodhound" won out due to personal fondness for this wonderfully revived franchise from roughly eight years back as well as a dash of luck in terms of the complicated statistical manner chosen as a tiebreaker ("Eenie meanie miney mo"). Frankly, this brilliant series by Dan Jolley, Leonard Kirk, Robin Riggs and Moose Baumann is always worthy of spotlight and attention.

Ex-cop, ex-con superhuman profiler Travis "Clev" Clevenger and his partner and "handler", FBI agent Saffron Bell may be involved in the most dangerous case of their career - which is a feat as their tenure together has hardly been a bed of roses. After yet another incident with someone with superhuman powers yielded a high body count (despite Bell and Clev's intervention), Dr. Bradly Morgenstern has developed a process to create more of them at will, and has gone on TV offering it only to those who prove themselves "worthy" by him. Thus has naturally sparked a massive investigation by the U.S. military as well as the FBI, putting the pair in with the overly hostile General Wayne. The investigation of Dr. Morgenstern has barely begun when a masked man named Terminus made his presence know, taking Clev down as well as a squad of soldiers. Yet as people begin to receive this new process and attempt to combat crime or other perceived social maladies, public opinion on the situation continues to split. All the while, Bell comes to terms with a long term romance while Clev continues to act as an adopted "uncle" with the family of his dirty ex-partner whose death sent Clev to prison - and getting closer to the man's widow. Unfortunately, an innocent trip to a mall to unwind with his new family turns tragic when one of Dr. Morgenstern's newest patients' attempt to stop a crime causes explosive results.

This is a quieter issue than the last, but that only serves to highlight the quality of Jolley's writing as well as Kirk's art. While Clev is built like a wrestler, and tends to irritate anyone who works alongside him (or bars his way), but he also has a sensitive side as well as a keen mind for examining details of a case that his bulky side betrays. As for Bell, it becomes obvious here that she is slowly but surely becoming more attached to Clev on a more than professional level, which will complicate his new adoptive family life quite a bit. The issue's pyromaniac, Perry Colvin, also gets embellished so one sees that he's hardly a monster, but a desperate, powerless man who gets in over his head trying to do a good deed after being whipped up in a climate of fear. Kirk's artwork is also terrific as always, as is evidenced right from the cover. He is adapt at drawing "comic book" style things such as burly men and people with super powers, but he also is hardly an artist who makes all his characters, especially female ones, look different. Clev has scars, none of his female characters are perfect models and in fact the lady on the cover is hardly the type as is typical of the average "X-Men" or "Justice League" cover.

The bottom line is that the past year and change have seen a resurgence of well crafted and well selling creator owned series from third party competitors, and Dark Horse is not one to rest on its laurels after being set to loose their hit "Star Wars" license next year. They're forging ahead with quality material from the past and present, and "Bloodhound" is no exception. A franchise left for dead by DC Comics now has a new home, and it's as if it never left the stands. One hopes we see more than five issues of this terrific and hard hitting series.

A darn lot of Honorable Mentions:

Batman Beyond Unlimited #5: DC Comics' reprint anthology of their great "Beyond" digital comics continues to offer great new stories based (loosely) on the continuity of the Bruce Timm produced cartoons from roughly 1992-2006. Kyle Higgins and artist Thony Silas continue with the main "Batman Beyond" strip and have set up a fascinating status quo now that Terry McGinnis is starting college. He's working alongside a middle aged Dick Grayson rather than the harshly paranoid Bruce Wayne, and on the outs with Dana Tan despite having shared his secret of being Batman with her. After foiling a scheme by the former mayor's insane son, Batman now has to deal with a threat from the previous Dark Knight's past - an older but still very dangerous Man-Bat. The secondary strip is "JLU" by writer Christos Gage and artist Iban Coello seems to continue to focus on the adventures of the Justice League of the year 2041, even though it does seem as if Gage has chosen Superman as a focal point. The previous arc centered around his enemies and heritage and this one once again chooses one of his rogues for the rest of the team to fight. They also have the son of Superman's nemesis Jox-Ur to raise, a young Kryptonian named Zod. There is tension as Warhawk doesn't trust the kid, but that has to wait as a crisis emerges. Both stories mix great artwork with skilled use of animated continuity that is more well known than anything the "New 52" produces and extends upon it for creative and entertaining ends. Few comics offer as much for four dollars as this always does.

Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles #29: IDW Comics' brilliant relaunch of the core TMNT comic universe which mingles the best of the past with modern innovation forges ahead with its great continuity, once again paying homage to its roots. In the original Mirage series, the Turtles as well as their human allies Casey and April fled a grueling ordeal from the Foot for life in the country for some time ("TMNT #11-18", circa 1987-1989). This arc is the spiritual ancestor of that as the Turtles, Splinter, Casey, and April drive up to Northampton, where her parents have an abandoned farm and house in the country. After last month's climatic war between the Turtles' forces and those masterminded by the Shredder, the city is no longer safe for them and they all need to recover physically, spiritually, and emotionally. Their unique family has been shattered by violence despite many of them being reincarnated ninja mutants, and this issue offers a lot of drama and conflict despite the change in setting and the softer tone. Longtime writers Tom Waltz and Kevin Eastman continue to be joined in plotting duties by Bobby Curnow, while regular colorist Ronda Pattison is paired with incoming artist Ross Campbell. Campbell had been primed to draw a "TMNT" series years back when Dark Horse was incredibly close to getting the license, and has since drawn for their "micro-series". His work on the main series is among his strongest yet as we get to meet April's parents as well as former enemy Alopex is added to their cast. Leonardo has perhaps some of the most to deal with, as he's spent weeks brainwashed by the Foot and is hardly the leader he used to be - a brilliant move to prevent him being "boring". In addition, the seemingly quiet O'Neils hint of their own secrets from the past. With beautiful artwork and some great characterization, this issue proves that one doesn't need ninjas and rooftops to make the series enjoyable as well as makes hay of the consequences of everyone's actions. Now is the time for "best of" lists and many will omit TMNT, much to their detriment.

Saga #17: Creators and collaborators Brian K. Vaughan and Fiona Staples finish this out 2013 with just about the best and most action packed climax they could produce. After several issues in flashback, the events circle back to the events of the thirteenth issue. Prince Robot IV has tracked the intergalactic fugitive couple Marko and Alana (and their half-breed daughter Hazel, ghostly babysitter Izabel and paternal grandmother) to the home of cyclops author Oswald Heist, whose romance novel inspired their marriage. The situation can't seem to get more tense, until the arrival of Marko's ex fiance Gwen causes everything to become violent chaos. Two major characters seem to bite it as a new "freelancer" bounty hunter, "The Brand", introduces himself with much flair. This series is bold, mature, and elegant as well as thought provoking at every turn without bogging itself down in the techno-babble that many space operas get mired in. Unlike "TMNT", "Saga" will make most critics' "best of" lists for the year, and it absolutely deserves to. The writer behind such gems as "Y: The Last Man" and "Ex Machina" may be crafting in this a "Saga" which surpasses both of them, alongside artwork so lovely that even violence looks more elegant than it should. Full of imagination and above all, humanity, "Saga" is sure to be among the best comics of this new decade.

Daredevil #34: After much panic online upon word that this series would "end" in February, it is a relief to know that writer Mark Waid's already legendary run on this series is not going to end; it will merely be relaunched with a fresh number one, a new setting, and a new artist. Javier Rodriguez both draws and colors the issue alongside him, with Alvaro Lopez on inks as Daredevil and ex- D.A. Kirsten McDuffie take on the insidious "sons of the serpent" cabal head on. Having traveled south to obtain the mystical roots of the racist super villain collective, the "man without fear" decides to let McDuffie in on his world to get her aid in forcing the snakes to reveal themselves. Once again, Waid seems to have his finger on the pulse of the times in a way people used to rave about Ed Brubaker's "Captain America" for in a tale which lays the evils of prejudice and corruption bare. The last half of the issue is literally preachy, but the weight of the story justifies it as well as many scenes of levity to split up the tension. Rodriguez has filled in on art before and as always he makes it hard to miss Chris Samnee, which is an incredible task. This remains one of Marvel Comics' best superhero comics available and while the inevitable hike in cove price will be a shame, it is wonderful that Waid will have more time with the world of the "man without fear".

Indestructible Hulk #17: Mark Waid's other major Marvel Comic lately, this new "Hulk" comic now offers yet another issue which takes part in a crossover. The events of "Infinity" have spread mutating mists across the globe, and mutations from explosions should be Bruce Banner's forte - only the rest of Marvel's resident geniuses (Iron Man, Beast, and Hank Pym) think he's too crazy to be trusted and butt in. This devolves into a chase between the heroes and the Hulk for Banner's device, which is shaped like a bomb and thus hasn't won over the heroes' concerns. Val Staples has the task of coloring the work of at least three artists for this production (Miguel Sepulveda and Clay & Seth Mann) while Waid continues on his plan to rehabilitate Banner's reputation as a genius in the Marvel Universe despite his reputation as the vessel for the Hulk, despite the fact that his peers usually distrust him. Waid is wise to play with some of the long lingering tensions from the "Planet Hulk" era, even if this series doesn't quite replicate the magic of his "Daredevil" run.

Scarlet Spider #25: Stick a fork in this series, it's done. Chris Yost shakes off needing a co-writer for this final issue of the second longest running "Amazing Spider-Man" spin off in recent years, starring the unlikely reformed clone Kaine as a reluctant hero of Texas. Dismissed when announced back in 2010, the fact that it has lasted over two years is a testament to the heart, imagination and energy Yost poured into the character and the cast he created around him. The rush to the finish line does show a bit of hurry, but the climax is ultimately satisfying and tragic in a way, as Kaine wins yet another battle, but loses the war as he repels virtually everyone around him with his monstrous true self. This causes the only Texan Marvel hero who is not dressed as a cowboy, Indian, or desert animal to flee the area in disgrace with the optimistic psychic Aracely tagging along to his annoyance. David Baldeon and Chris Sotomayor handle the artwork well, and beyond one regrettable typo it is as exciting and fitting a finale as one could expect, considering its star is set to reappear in "New Warriors" next year.

Superior Spider-Man #24: Writers Dan Slott and Christos Gage continue the adventures of Dr. Octopus acting like a maniac in Spider-Man's body as the rest of his supporting cast slowly start to suspect that something is amiss only when the plot demands. This become far more blunt as Ock has decided against simply killing the Venom symbiote, but to don it himself after stripping it from ex-soldier Flash Thompson who'd been using it as a hero for some time. Despite the fact that in the previous issues the "superior" Spider-Man has executed someone on live TV and then led an army of minions and giant robots into Hell's Kitchen to a neighborhood shattering assassination attempt of someone else, it is only when he's wearing a black slime costume with nasty teeth that Spidey's ex wife, er, fiance Mary Jane seems to catch on that something is drastically wrong with the web-head. It is hard to raise the bar of extreme behavior for Spidey-Ock, but the fact that he's close to physically assaulting Aunt May is proof that the symbiote is pushing even Ock over the edge. Tension is high and artist Humberto Ramos has a lot of monsters and goblins to play with. This is a very suspenseful issue which promises a full on fight against the Avengers, even if Black Widow gets a dreadfully cliched line and one fears that the symbiote will be used as an excuse to stifle reasonable suspicion from the cast for another half year. Concerns for the future, however, don't negate from the fact that this issue has a lot going on, and all of it is nail biting.

Obligatory review - Uncanny Avengers #15: Steve McNiven becomes the latest regular artist for this title, flanked by three inkers and Laura Martin's colors as he does his best to illustrate a never ending "rapture" by Rick Remender which is so far off the rails it can barely see them. As always, there are many great moments; Wasp and Thor's battle against Sentry is a pleasure, while the Apocalypse Twins have some pointed words in a fight against Capt. America. But beyond it we have useless deaths of major characters which will no doubt be reversed as over the top events occur which other titles tend to ignore. The far spanning plot involving time travel and cosmic techno-babble is so complicated that not even Jonathan Hickman could keep track of it. One can feel Remender's zeal for the epic in this series and his unwillingness to play things safe, but lost in this shuffle is any heart, soul, or levity in a book which would feel right at home at DC Comics lately. At first envisioned as the flagship of the "Marvel NOW" line, it now is alone in its own sandbox and is often left behind by better fare.

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