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At the start of That Yellow Bastard, Hartigan is "pushing 60." He has a distinguishing cross-shaped scar on his forehead, the cause of which is undisclosed. He is presented as a muscular and imposing man, capable of holding his own in a fight. He also suffers from angina, which consistently affects his work, despite his attempts to ignore and/or fight through it. He is almost always dressed professionally, most commonly wearing an oxford shirt, tie, and dress slacks, along with his signature trenchcoat.


A veteran police detective of Basin City, Hartigan is gruff, stoic, and cynical. He is also completely selfless; he cares little about his own well-being as long as he can protect his fellow citizens. He risks his own safety and reputation to achieve that end throughout the graphic novel; this process eventually destroys his life. Hartigan possesses a seemingly indomitable will, able to withstand multiple bullet wounds without collapsing, and most notably being capable of willing himself back to life after being hanged to death. Much like the older Batman in Miller's other series, Batman: The Dark Knight Returns, Hartigan often refers to himself as a "lucky old man" after a close encounter.

In That Yellow Bastard

Hartigan's last case prior to his retirement is the investigation of a serial killer and rapist who preys on prepubescent girls. He eventually discovers that the killer is Roark Junior, the son of Basin City's most powerful family. Despite rampant corruption in the legal system and numerous attempts on his life by Senator Roark (the killer's father), he pursues the case.

On his last night on the job, Hartigan is called to rescue Junior's newest intended victim, 11-year-old Nancy Callahan. His partner Bob (who is secretly accepting bribes from the Roark family) petitions him to let the case go, but Hartigan refuses, punching Bob out and proceeding to the crime scene alone. Once there, he dispatches Roark Junior's henchmen and brutally punishes Roark Junior, shooting off the rapists's left ear, right hand, and genitals. Before Hartigan can kill Junior, Bob arrives on the scene and shoots Hartigan in the back several times, and in the chest shortly thereafter.

That night, Senator Roark visits Hartigan in the hospital, telling John that he will be framed for raping Nancy, and threatens to kill anyone who knows the truth. He pays to cure Hartigan's angina to ensure the detective will not be spared any misery. Hartigan never confesses to the crime during the trial, but he doesn't say a word concerning Junior's guilt and allows himself to be convicted as a child rapist. Over the next eight years, everyone he loves abandons him — except for Nancy, who writes him a letter every week and thinks of him as her hero. Nancy becomes his only reason to live; he accepts his fate so long as he believes Nancy is safe.

In a ploy to trick Hartigan into revealing Nancy's whereabouts (as she is the lone witness to John's innocence), Junior arranges to have the letters held from Hartigan. At first, Hartigan suspects she's simply forgotten about him. However, Junior then sends him a letter containing a human finger, and then visits Hartigan in person. Because of Junior's vastly altered appearance (due to the extensive treatment in an attempt to repair the damage Hartigan originally caused), Hartigan does not recognize the rapist during their meeting. Disturbed by their meeting and by the mysterious letter, Hartigan confesses to raping Nancy at his next parole hearing, in an effort to gain freedom and seek out Nancy. With Senator Roark's approval, Hartigan is granted parole. Hartigan then seeks out Nancy at her last known address, a strip club known as Kadie's Saloon. Nancy rushes into his arms and kisses him upon his arrival, and after their brief reunion, Hartigan realizes that he has been tricked into revealing Nancy's location. He flees the Saloon with Nancy, hiding in a cheap motel to try to evade Junior. During their stay at the motel, Hartigan resists Nancy's advances, albeit half-heartedly. Junior then finds and kidnaps both of them, revealing himself to be the stranger from earlier and explaining his changed appearance. He leaves Hartigan at the end of a noose to die.

It is here that we are shown another example of Hartigan's superhuman strength, as he wills himself from death and departs after Junior and Nancy. He pursues them back to the Roark family farm, where he rescues Nancy and then re-castrates Junior before beating him to death. After sharing a kiss with Nancy, he instructs her to leave the farm, telling her he will expose the Roarks and clear his name. However, upon her departure, he commits suicide, narrating that this is the only way to protect Nancy from the Roark family.

Powers and AbilitiesEdit


He has unusualy high strength for a man of his age and health.


His aim with his magnum is near perfect.

Strength level

Nigh-Superhuman/Peak human.


Hartigan suffers from angina.





Magnum revolver.


  • Appearances of John Hartigan
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  • Character Gallery: John Hartigan