John Hartigan is a good cop with a bad heart, just days away from retirement. Hot on the trail of a murderous pedophile, Hartigan arrives just in time to stop 11-year old Nancy Callahan from becoming a statistic. In a better world the story would end there – a hero cop saves a little girl and the bad guy is crippled for life and brought to justice.
But this isn’t a better world – it’s Sin City. Where there is no room for hero cops and the bad guy in question is part of the powerful Roark family. Framed for Roark Junior’s crimes, Hartigan is quickly convicted, sentenced to life in prison and abandoned by everyone who ever cared about him… except for little Nancy Callahan. Nancy’s weekly letters (sent under a false name) and the knowledge that Nancy is safe are the only things that keep Hartigan going.
So it goes until one day eight years later when the letters stop and a foul-smelling, yellow-skinned man delivers Hartigan a young woman’s finger in an envelope. Fearing that Nancy is in danger, assuming The Roarks haven’t tracked her down already and that really is her finger, Hartigan makes a confession and is granted parole. Little does he know that this is all part of a grander plan – one that will allow Roark Junior to finally finish what he started eight years earlier…
That Yellow Bastard is perhaps the most melodramatic of Frank Miller’s Sin City stories. It is also, in many ways, his best. In this outing, Miller abandons the ambiguity of Film Noir to give us his take on the simplest tale there is – the brave knight ridding to save the fair maiden from the wicked villain. Okay, the fair maiden may be stripping to put herself through college, but the principle is the same!
Despite being famous for his bombastic art-style and his high-action stories, Frank Miller can be a subtle storyteller. Until this volume, all of the Sin City stories centered upon flawed heroes with serious personal issues and deep internal conflicts. We may have laughed at Marv’s antics or sympathized with Dwight’s romantic issues but neither of them would be considered heroic in the classical sense. John Hartigan, by contrast, is as pure and noble hero as you could hope for.
As John Hartigan is the most heroic figure in the Sin City chronicles, Roark Junior is by far the most villainous villain – no small feat given the competition! A monster at heart, his first clash with Hartigan leaves him crippled and the efforts to heal him give him a hideous visage to match his dark soul. Roark Junior’s jaundiced form is easily one of the most terrifying creations to spring from Miller’s pens. His appearance is all the more horrifying for its’ coloration – the only color in the stark black and white artwork. And here is where we see how subtle Frank Miller can be, emphasizing how Roark has been set apart from society with one simple choice of coloration.
Attention must also be paid to Nancy Callahan, who is one of Miller’s better female protagonists. While Miller has taken some well-deserved heat for how he portrays women in his stories, Nancy breaks the standard damsel-in-distress mold. She is shown to be smart and willful even as a young girl and she is strong enough to bear up under torture. The fact that she works as a stripper is completely incidentally to her role in the story and her personality.
It should, perhaps, go without saying at this point that the Sin City series is full of violence, sex, nudity and near countless examples of man’s inhumanity to man. It is not fit for children. Doubtlessly there are many who would argue it is not fit for adults. This author is unwilling to make such judgments but will advise you that this book was rated 16 by the publisher and inspired an R-rated film. Make of that what you will.
Sin City, vol. 4: That Yellow Bastard
by Frank Miller
Dark Horse, 2005
Publisher Age Rating: 16