Friday, December 16, 2011

Talking Trades: Sin City

talking trades
Sin City is not intelligent. It’s not a deep, allegorical story. It’s not one of those books that keeps you guessing the whole way through. What it is, is a high-octane noir full of guns, girls, car chases, violence and bad-ass characters. Sin City consists of 7 separate but interconnected volumes, each standing alone, but all part of the wider story of Basin City.

Volume 1, A Hard Goodbye, will be familiar to those who have seen Robert Rodriguez’s film adaptation, which follows the story of Volumes 1, 3 and 4 quite closely. A Hard Goodbye follows Marv, a violent and fiercely loyal man investigating the murder of a prostitute named Goldie. Volume 2, A Dame to Kill For, follows Dwight McCarthy, a man whose one weakness is a particularly manipulative woman. Volume 3, The Big Fat Kill once again stars Dwight, albeit with a new face, and a ridiculous amount of scantily clad women. Miller is more one dimensional and misogynistic here than in the previous two volumes. 

That Yellow Bastard, the fourth volume, is about a cop who gets falsely accused of child rape and murder after saving a little girl from the real culprit, who just happens to be the son of an immensely powerful man. While Marv makes the first volume great, this book is carried not only by the equally bad-ass main character, Hartigan, but by the compelling, pulp-noir story. Dwight once again pops up in volume 5, Family Values, which is the weakest in the series. Volume 6 is a collection of Sin City shorts, with some amazing little tales, including The Babe Wore Red, Lost, Lonely & Lethal, and the mostly wordless Silent Night. The final volume, Hell and Back, is kind of weird, and feels both a little rushed and at the same time overly long. It follows an ex Navy seal named Wallace, who garners little sympathy from the reader.

Sin City follows traditional ‘40s pulp formulas, particularly with its characters. The male characters are strong and mostly one dimensional – either i
nsane and bad-ass like Marv, noble and bad-ass like Dwight or heroic and bad-ass like Hartigan. The bad guys are ruthless and without depth – they’re sole purpose in the story is to antagonize the good guys and then get beat up at the end. The women are Miller’s definition of ‘strong’ – they’re prostitutes who wear leather because they choose to, and they can kick your ass. Not exactly a step forward in women’s rights. I can imagine Germaine Greer having an absolute field day. 

The stories are also formulaic – vehicles for the predictable characters. Bad guy wrongs good guy, good guy goes on a mission to beat up bad guy, bad guy tries to stop good guy, good guy beats up bad guy. It’s not rocket science, but it’s not meant to be. The reason it works is because it is formulaic. We are familiar with the story and the characters right from the beginning, which is comforting.

Frank Miller’s art can be lazy and rushed every now and then, but on the whole, his high contrast art is beautiful. The heavy inks, stylized anatomy and splashes of color make the visuals a perfect fit for the pulpy noir stories. You either love it or you hate it. I love it – it’s fresh, powerful and matches the dark and seedy world of Basin city. The art is not the only contrasting thing in Sin city, either. It’s formulaic, but compelling. The characters are one dimensional, but engaging. Frank Miller is not known for deep, complex stories full of metaphysical messages, so don’t expect it. There are strong points and weak points, but on the whole Sin City is Pulp noir comics at its best. 4 stars.

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