Every time I see a square-jawed black-haired white dude with a five o’clock shadow in comics, I immediately think Jon Hamm. Is that weird?
Our book’s namesake hero is another Jo(h)n. John Tiffany is a very successful bounty hunter whose inner circle consists of only four people. First there’s Dorothy, his right hand woman, whose politics are decidedly right wing. Then there’s Wan Chao, who worked computers for the Shanghai Triads before joining John’s operation. His main focus nowadays is studying Judaism so he can convert and marry his lady love. Pastor Lovejoy isn’t exactly a proponent of the prosperity gospel, but definitely encourages John to do whatever it takes to get the job done so long as his intentions are good. Finally, Magdalena Profokiev is the love of John’s life, an elusive sex worker drifting right out of his reach.
It’s while John is in Mexico chasing down a lead that he realizes that one of these four people must have betrayed him. An $800,000 bounty has been placed on his head, probably by the brother of a terrorist he’d recently handed over to the Americans. In order to get the bounty lifted, and to figure out which of the only four adults in his life that he trusts has turned on him, he’ll have to travel to Karachi and have a… discussion with the man out for his blood.
This fast-paced thriller boasts some spectacular art, that clearly telegraphs even to art-skimmers like myself what exactly is going on in any given panel. The action scenes are delightfully cinematic. The illustrations themselves are chock full of homages to different art movements and styles of the 20th century, from vintage book covers and movie posters all the way around — in a fun, self-referential loop — to pop art. Like Magdalena, their gorgeousness goes hand-in-hand with their intelligence.
Alas that that last quality does not apply to the text of this graphic novel. John’s investigative work is shockingly poor. While the revelation of who betrayed him was satisfying, its resolution had essentially nothing to do with him at all. The trope of sex worker as idealized love object was also a bit much, tho it does open up interesting avenues plot-wise for future installments of the series. I think I would have been more comfortable with all the naked ladies throwing themselves at John if he’d had more than three, maybe five, brain cells to rub together. Or at least had a personality to explain why everyone wanted to get in his pants.
There were also some mindsets in this book that made me less than comfortable. I’m used to that from bad guys, but it’s weird being expected to be sympathetic when the “good” guys spout nonsense. The author is European, so perhaps these are merely his outsized projections of American stereotypes? I’d probably read the next book in the series, but wouldn’t have too high hopes for it beyond good-looking action entertainment.
John Tiffany Vol. 1 by Stephen Desberg & Dan Panosian was published today July 18 2023 by Mad Cave Studios and is available from all good booksellers, including