As someone who’s never read Sin City before – yes, yes, shame on me, repent, repent etc. – I have to say that I’m rather pleased that Dark Horse are releasing this absolutely monstrous trade, containing every single story to date, and just in time to catch up for A Dame to Kill For when it hits cinemas in August. If you’ve read and loved Sin City already, I’m not going to set about changing your mind – I’ve now read, and also really enjoyed it, and for existing fans who don’t already own hard-copies, this is a must-buy.
As for the newbies who, like me, maybe over-looked it until this point – I can’t recommend these highly enough, and this here is the whole kit-and-kaboodle. The beginning seems like the best place to start, don’t it?
So it turns out, Basin City isn’t exactly the smoothest of neighbourhoods – chock to bursting with corrupt cops, ladies of the oldest profession, and an apparent perpetual twilight, the place is the smoke-shrouded silhouette of a wet dream that Robert Mitchum probably once had; booze, bullets and broads everywhere. What sets it apart from those classic noir movies of the 40’s and 50’s, though, is the distinctly 90’s fashion sense, as well as the rather more blood-drenched nature of the proceedings, firmly entrenching it in neo-noir territory.
Part of what makes the stories as a whole so very special is the distinctive style of art that Miller chose to adopt for the stories – starkly black-and-white, with occasional splashes of colour, each panel looks like it’s been etched from a single sheet of ebony.
The other part is the gloriously pitch-black storytelling and humour that permeates throughout – Miller plucking metaphors seemingly out of thin air to achieve a gloriously noir-ish feel to the dialogue, and throwing in wonderfully silly characters who might otherwise seem out of place. My particular favourites were the recurring back-up villains of Klump and Shlubb – criminals with delusions of eloquence that are for Miller what Dogberry and Malaprop were for Shakespeare.
This is not to say that there isn’t problems. It’s very much a 90’s set of comics, and if hyper-violence, occasional off-handed misogyny and nihilistic stories aren’t really your bag, then you’re probably best remaining oblivious, given that Miller is – according to legend, at least – single-handedly responsible for this becoming the dominant tone of comics in that decade.
In terms of the argument regarding whether or not Miller is a true misogynist, I’m not really swerving either way. On the one hand, yes, nearly every female character in his stories is a prostitute or a stripper, there’s no real way around it. But on the other, they’re never stupid, are frequently at least mildly badass, and whilst they’re not going to pass the Bechdel test any time soon, I wouldn’t characterise it as a truly misogynist piece either. My interpretation would be that whilst Miller himself isn’t necessarily misogynistic – or at least, wasn’t at the time of writing it – in Sin City, he’s created a city that’s plagued with it (see it’s name!), but which sees its women making the best of the hand they’re dealt with. Quite how well they do this varies greatly from story to story – with The Big Fat Kill prominently featuring ladies who kick eighteen different shades of arse, more honourable and competent than any of their male counterparts, and in contrast, That Yellow Bastard pretty much exclusively having damsels in distress. Googling ‘Frank Miller misogyny’, however, it would seem some folk, including Alan Moore, would beg to differ!
But as far as impactful, gritty and gorgeously-drawn neo-noir goes, this is ground zero, the comics that started it all, and the stories are wonderfully told, if occasionally so gritty that they’ll give your brain a sore throat. If you’re a fan of the 2005 film, but haven’t read this, you’ll find a lot to like here – and hell, Marv’s voice’ll actually sound like Mickey Rourke in your head; dubious bonus! If you’re just looking for some timeless storytelling having no prior knowledge, again, loads to love. In fact, I can’t really come up with a decent reason why this shouldn’t be in every comic fans’ collection, given the stark beauty of the art. Get it, read it, stick it on your shelf with pride.
The writer of this piece was: Ross Sweeney
Ross tweets from @Rostopher24