Insert The Standard Words Of Warning. This volume is all full of gratuitous nudity, gratuitous sensuality, gratuitous violence, and gratuitous references to other works by the same author. It is not intended for anyone under the age of 16 or people of a sensitive disposition.
A former soldier turned artist, Wallace is that rarest of all creatures in Sin City – an honest, virtuous man. Small wonder then that he stops everything he’s doing to play hero when he sees a woman about to jump off a cliff as he’s driving home one night. Her name is Esther. She’s gorgeous. She’s nice. She’s everything Wallace ever hoped for in a woman. She even likes his paintings.
But as Shakespeare said, “The course of true love never did run smooth” and nowhere is that truer than in a Sin City love story. For Esther was on the run from some very bad people – bad people who run a criminal syndicate that kidnaps beautiful women and reshapes them into the perfect playmates for the rich and powerful. And with the police unwilling to help him, Wallace will be forced to call in every favor he can and descend like Orpheus into the underworld of Sin City in order to save the woman who may be his one shot at true love.
Hell and Back is the longest of the Sin City graphic novels. It is also, in many ways, the weakest of the series but I cannot say precisely why. Perhaps it is because – apart from reusing a few of the villainous characters from the short-stories collected in Booze, Broads, and Bullets – this particular story stands apart from the regular Sin City canon? Unlike the previous yarns, which were full of references to one another, Hell and Back doesn’t feature any of the various characters we’ve come to know as the series progressed.
Another issue may lay with our hero himself. Wallace lacks the uniqueness of the other Sin City protagonists, coming off as a generic invincible action hero. Despite the paradox inherent to the idea of a long-haired artist who was once a Navy Seal, Wallace fails to be as interesting or as well-developed as the sociopathic Marv or the conflicted Dwight McCarthy.
Esther too, fails to be developed as anything more than a prize to be won. While many of the Sin City stories have featured the female characters being taken captive by the villains, those stories gave us scenes that showed them to be anything but helpless victims. Gail fought back against her assailants. Nancy refused to be scared of The Yellow Bastard. But Esther gets no such scenes to show the steel under her silken skin. All she gets is a few scenes to show her – naked and terrified – in a dark cell where she is told there is no hope of escape or rescue. She is then forgotten for most of the story and isn’t seen again until near the end.
Even Miller’s artwork seems sloppy and rushed in this outing, with the visual centerpiece of the book being a full-color sequence in which Wallace – freshly injected with some kind of hallucinogen – starts to trip out in the middle of a battle. In this sequence, Miller throws out references to virtually every other comic book character or film project he’s ever worked on, with shout-outs to Dr. Seuss and Hellboy tossed in along with the kitchen sink for good measure. What could have been an interesting contrast – the unique style Miller used to create Sin City paired off against the gritty, detailed characters he draws in his more traditional work – comes off as a self-indulgent, dirty mish-mash. Amusing as it is to see Wallace momentarily fighting alongside Hagar The Horrible for one panel, it is not enough to save what is easily the weakest entry in the Sin City Saga.