SFF, fantasy literature, science fiction, horror, YA, and comic book and audiobook reviewsSin City (Volume One): The Hard Goodbye by Frank Miller

SIN CITY VOLUME ONEFrank Miller’s SIN CITY hit the comic scene back in the early 1990s like multiple shots to the head and body. Readers were blown away with this hard-boiled story and its stark, iconic black-and-white artwork. In fact, Miller does all the writing, artwork and lettering for SIN CITY, which is pretty damn impressive. The stories tapped into that rich vein of crime noir pioneered by writers like Dashiell Hamett, Raymond Chandler, James M. Cain, Cornell Woolrich, Jim Thompson, etc, filled with down-on-their luck gumshoes, seductive dames with dark secrets, vicious hoodlums, corrupt politicians and cops, and powerful criminal masterminds lurking in the shadows. The archetypes are so ingrained in our consciousness that we don’t even think about them when we watch a dark crime drama or detective procedural. The lone private eye sitting in his empty office, with street light shining through the blinds as he smokes a lazy cigarette, until a gorgeous femme fatale shows up, on the run from dangerous enemies and concealing secrets that will make our hero regret ever taking the case.

So what was so special about SIN CITY? Well, clearly the amazing artwork had something to do with it. And the unabashedly over-the-top characters. Not to mention the hard-boiled narration and dialogue – so many classic lines. And the brutal violence of the action sequences. Especially since the movie version came out in 2005, with three parts directed by Frank Miller, Robert Rodriguez, and Quentin Tarantino, there were many complaints that the story SinCity_HG_2-2glorifies violence and objectifies women. Well, it’s pretty hard to deny those accusations. So if you prefer a more nuanced, high-browed crime story, you’d best look elsewhere! But that’s not to say the story is not intelligently written – it just exults in its own excesses, so you either go along for the ride and enjoy it, or not. I can enjoy a wide range of genre fiction, from stories of alien contact to artificial intelligence, transformation, space opera, time travel, post-apocalyptic tales, or more intimate character studies. I don’t really care as long as the story, characters, and world-building grab me.

There are seven collected volumes of the SIN CITY comic, and the original 2005 film focuses on the first, third and fourth volumes, with the 2014 sequel A Dame to Kill For based on volume two. The first volume is called The Hard Goodbye, and it’s the story of a hulking lug named Marv, a likeable but down-and-out guy with massive muscles, a hideously deformed face, a penchant for violence, and his own code of justice. One night a beautiful woman named Goldie approaches him in a sleazy saloon. As Marv later narrates, “I’m staring at a goddess. She’s telling me she wants me. She sounds like she means it. I’m not going to waste one more second wondering how it is I’ve gotten so lucky. She smells like angels ought to smell.” The next morning, Marv wakes up with Goldie dead beside him, not a mark on her body. Before Marv has time to think, he hears the sirens of cop cars approaching, and realizes he’s been set up. He quickly decides on a course of action: “No SinCity_HG_3-2reason at all to play it quiet. No reason to play it any way but my way. Whoever killed you is going to pay, Goldie…” The rest of the story speaks for itself.

Marv is played extremely well by Mickey Rourke in the film. It’s a brilliant performance, with the help of some facial prosthetics. He IS Marv, and his gravelly voice, distorted face, and powerful frame are perfect. In many ways, the movie version is a perfect rendition of Frank Miller’s vision, which is hardly a surprise since he co-directed it. It must have been quite an experience to be actively involved in directing his own creation. The result is visually one of the most striking and original renditions of a comic ever to hit the big screen, and a hell of a lot of fun to watch. I’m planning to watch it again now that I’ve read the comic. I would recommend reading the comic first and then seeing the film, but you can enjoy both independently. What are you waiting for?