Celebrating the Unpopular Arts

Review time! with ‘John Tiffany’

“I was a real man stealing all the trade; I was strong and self-made, well-paid, so groomed, persuasive”

Mad Cave publishes some interesting comics, and I saw that Dan Panosian, who has become a much better artist since his 1990s heyday, drew this, so I figured I’d check it out. It’s written by Stephen Desberg, lettered by Lucas Gattoni, and edited by James B. Emmett.

Desberg is Belgian, so I assume this was originally published in Europe, because it’s formatted like a lot of European books that transition to the American market – lots of white space on each page above and below the text, because FSM forbid an American company publish this the way it was originally presented. It’s not the worst thing in the world, just a bit distracting. I also know that this was not originally written in English, so any problems I have with it (and I have a few) might be due to the translation. I get that, but I can’t read French, so English is all I have!

This is an entertaining comic, although it’s not great. It has a decent hook – the title character is a high-end bounty hunter, so this can be like James Bond without that series’ strong moral code, as John takes cases based on how lucrative they are. Early on in the book, he learns that someone’s taken a bounty out on him, so part of the plot is John trying to figure out who betrayed him. There are only four people in his life who could have done it – his tech guy, his right-hand woman, his spiritual guru (an extremely misguided pastor), and his lover, who is, naturally, a prostitute that he falls in love with. Meanwhile, an earlier bounty – one he got in Pakistan, drawing the ire of a lot of unpleasant people – keeps coming back to haunt him. All of this is a fairly standard plot, true, but a good writer can make it sing.

Desberg doesn’t do that, unfortunately. It’s not that this is bad, it’s just fairly generic. The characters have their quirks, but they’re never really developed all that much beyond the surface. John’s pastor friend has some weird ideas about what Jesus was talking about (basically, do whatever you want as long as you’re trying to be a good dude), but that never really goes anywhere. His assistant is an extreme right-winger who participated in torture during the Iraq war and doesn’t feel any remorse, but again, that’s just a character quirk and not something to be explored. The prostitute is, of course, far smarter than anyone gives her credit for, and she’s a prostitute for some shady reasons, but by the end of the book, we don’t know any more than we did at the beginning (it’s possible – maybe even probable – that Desberg was/is saving that for a sequel). John seems like a decent enough dude, but despite his claims that he loves the prostitute, he bangs almost every woman he comes in contact with, including his son’s babysitter, which is a bit creepy (I’m sure Desberg will say that she’s old enough, but she works at a fast-food restaurant, so she can’t be that old, and she’s clearly too young for him). Even the main plot doesn’t track as well as it could – he suspects his team but accepts their explanations really, really easily, and once he does, the betrayal arc seems to go out the window (it’s resolved, but John doesn’t seem to care about it after a while). The Pakistani plot is the main one, but it’s all over the place, too, as more players come into the scene, John gets targeted more even though the bounty on him is randomly dropped, and the bad guy’s big idea is not fleshed out at all. It’s frustrating, because there are good bones here, but the flesh is weak.

Panosian, as I noted above, has become much better since the early 1990s, and he does fine work here. He has a rough, nicely-hatched style, with judicious use of Zip-A-Tone effects, and he uses photo reference to good effect to make all the locations feel real and lived-in. His women, naturally, are all drop-dead gorgeous, and many of them are nekkid in this book, so be warned! Some of his storytelling is the tiniest bit confusing, but it feels more like problems in the script than with the art, although I could be wrong. Despite his thicker, rougher lines, he’s always been good at fluidity, and his action scenes have a good flow to them. Any issues I have with the comic don’t come from the art (well, it’s a bit ridiculous that every woman has the face and body of a pin-up model, but what ya gonna do?). It’s a nice-looking book.

This is a standard action comic, which means it’s fine to read but won’t have much of an impact on you. Or maybe it will! It didn’t with me, but I’m not you! I always get frustrated with stuff like this, because it seems like the part that Desberg did is easy, and who wants to read easy stuff? It’s not a bad thing to be a bit challenging!

Rating: ★ ★ ★ ★ ★ ★ ☆ ☆ ☆ ☆


  1. I only know Panosian from those 90s proto Image days when he and nearly everyone else had to draw the trendy cross hatching, teeth grimaces, etc in order to get work, so this art is a revelation. I especially like the cover.
    Panosian’s evolved style on first impression is nice in that it doesn’t evoke any one influence or artist in particular, just a good mix. It’s got a vague European look (vibes of 2000ADers like Ezquerra, Gibson & Cam Kennedy to me), crossed with gritty noir, Criminal or Sleeper style. Anyone working in this genre will have Steranko or ‘Brubillips’ rubbing off on them.

    1. Greg Burgas

      A lot of those early Image guys – Panosian, Tony Daniel, Greg Capullo, Roger Cruz – have gotten a lot better once they stopped trying so hard to conform to the “Image style.” It’s an interesting commentary on popular influence on art. Panosian has really evolved nicely.

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