By Ben Hoffman
The late ’80s marked the maturation of comic books, an age of dark brilliance led by writers like Alan Moore (Watchmen) and Frank Miller (Batman: Dark Knight Returns). It was also the time Miller unveiled his most promising project yet: Sin City. Sin City’s release offered readers a look into a caliginous parallel universe where prostitutes doubled as assassins and protagonists tended to get shot. A lot.
The Hard Goodbye
The dropping of the industry’s metaphorical testicles is nowhere more evident than in the later works of Frank Miller, particularly his gritty masterpiece series, Sin City. The suitably headlining story of Sin City is a tale of a scatterbrained parolee named, even more suitably, Violent Marv–an antihero for the ages.
The Hard Goodbye follows Marv, slighted by the powers that be in the city, as he kills and tortures his way to the heart of Sin City’s dark secrets, weaving a delusional tale in the gritty trademark style that got the series Hollywood fame. “Walk down the right back alley in Sin City and you can find anything,” the tagline of the upcoming movie based on the series says and Goodbye illustrates this wonderfully.
Miller’s distinctive negative space/high contrast art and sensational characters bring the grime of film noir, the grandiosity of comic books, and the maturity of pulp together for its readers’ pleasure. The direction of the books is nothing less than strikingly bold.
Mostly, however, the series–The Hard Goodbye especially–is a career high point of a unique artist in a genre often left unappreciated. Now with a movie and the Sin City books release, Miller can expect the respect he deserves and all without having to kill a hooker.
A Dame to Kill For
A Dame to Kill For, one of the earliest story arcs in the Sin City canon, follows the exploits of Dwight, a likable photojournalist with a soft spot for women in danger. Dwight’s adventure starts when an old fling tracks him down and begs him to take her back. He accepts. After the perquisite noir sex scene Miller loves, she confesses to him her new husband is a sadist and asks for Dwight’s help. Apparently this touches a nerve with Dwight, as he quickly employs the help of his friend Marv, the protagonist from the first book in the series, and they go on a murderous rampage typical of the series.
The story doesn’t end there. It continues with plenty of twists and turns, with Dwight getting filled with bullets at every conceivable juncture. From start to finish, A Dame to Kill For keeps the tension high and readers are brought deep into Miller’s mythos by powerful writing and evocative art playing with negative space chiaroscuro. When reading any Sin City comic, but this arc especially, it’s easy to fall in love with these sick characters–when Dwight is lied to, when he’s betrayed, readers often find themselves feeling hurt and angry.
Violent and gritty though it is, Miller weaves the tale of heartbreak and murder with a sensitivity making even the manliest of readers choke up. The newly re-released paperback trade of A Dame to Kill For is a must-have for not just any fan of the series, but for anybody wanting to safely walk the alleys of the darkest city in fiction.