Sin City, vol. 1: The Hard Goodbye

sincity1It starts, as it usually does, with a gorgeous dame.

Marv’s not the sharpest knife in the back but even he’s smart enough to know there’s no way a woman like that would take a guy like him back to her room unless she wanted something. The smart bets are on “Protection” or “A Patsy”. But with those angelic looks Marv doesn’t much care as long as “Goldie” is willing to deliver the pleasures she promises.

A few hours later, Marv wakes up to the sound of sirens…next to the stone-cold body of his golden goddess. With the town’s corrupt cops on his heels, Marv goes on the run only to find that there are professional hit-men gunning for him too. And then there’s the matter of a woman who is the spitting image of Goldie trying to kill him. Driven by equal parts rage and a crude honor that demands Goldie’s death be avenged since he failed to keep her alive, Marv’s search for answers will take him all across the town they call Sin City – from the darkest alleyways to the private estate of one of the city’s most prominent families.

It would be easy to call Sin City Frank Miller’s tribute to the Film Noir genre. Certainly Miller’s art in this volume is heavily dependent on the same stylistic considerations as the old movies, where black contrasted heavily against pure white backgrounds. And as in those movies, the stark black-and-white visuals depict a world full of moral gray areas. It is a place where dark shadows conceal darker motivations and the only heroes are flawed men who cling to what slim scraps of their souls they can manage to grasp.

But this beast defies such easy classification and this series owes as much to the Exploitation genre as it does Film Noir. Sin City is packed full of beautiful babes, rough-featured men and more over-the-top cartoon violence than a Tom & Jerry marathon. It is not deep. It is not subtle. But, to those with the right mind set to enjoy this sort of thing, it is not without its’ charms.

A large part of this charm is due to Marv – a unique character who defies many of the conventions of the Film Noir hero. By way of a for instance, while Marv does possess the same rude charisma and rough ethics of Sam Spade, Marv is no detective. When he needs an answer, he’ll beat it out of whatever unfortunate soul gets in his way. Marv’s methods are crude but efficient and it’s hard not to laugh a little bit at his antics as he begins “questioning” suspects.

I think it would be fair to call Sin City a high-quality guilty-pleasure book. It’s not great art by most definitions but it is well-crafted for what it is – a kick-ass action movie on paper. Miller’s art and writing is an acquired taste, but he’s never been in better form.

On the off chance that there is someone reading this review that is unfamiliar with Frank Miller’s writing in general, the Sin City series in specific, or the 2005 Robert Rodriguez film which was based upon this series, let me say this clearly: This book is very much an adult graphic novel in every sense of the phrase. With numerous scenes of bloody violence, detailed nudity and multiple affronts to basic human decency, this book earns its 16+ rating.

Sin City, vol. 1: The Hard Goodbye
by Frank Miller
ISBN: 1593072937
Dark Horse Comics, 2005
Publisher Age Rating: 16+

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