Call it "noir meets Kill Bill." Frank Miller stripped comic art to the bone in his "Sin City" series, which takes place in the fictional "Basin City," where corruption is the rule and life is cheap. It's a gritty, dark, edgy series with several interwoven stories, and artwork that give no distraction from the rocky stories.
It opens with "The Hard Goodbye," a bloody revenge tale about a scarred hulk named Marv. He meets a beautiful young blonde who sleeps with him, but she is dead the next morning. Revenge spurs Marv to hunt down and destroy the people who killed Goldie, including a silent cannibal and a corrupt cardinal, no matter what the price.
"A Dame To Kill For" is pure noir, set before the first book of the series. Dwight is a photographer with a shady past; his ex-girlfriend Ava reenters his life, announcing that she's scared of her ultrawealthy husband, Damien Lord, and seeking Dwight as a knight in tarnished armor. But Dwight doesn't know if he can trust her -- is Ava really in danger, or is she manipulating him as a pawn to get back at her husband? The truth just might destroy him...
Elsewhere in Sin City, the streets of Old Town are ruled by the ladies who walk them. And in "The Big Fat Kill," Dwight comes to their aid. A bunch of drunks invaded Old Town and get killed by the prostites... but then they find that one has a badge. Now Dwight must help the prostitutes -- to whom he owes a debt -- defend themselves against the rest of Sin City.
"That Yellow Bastard" introduces us to Hartigan, an ailing cop who receives a distress call from an 11-year-old, Nancy Callahan. He does rescue her, but at a price -- the rapist-murderer who attacked her is the son of a senator. Hartigan ends up in jail. And after eight years, he finds that teen stripper Nancy is now being stalked by the senator's son again...
Dwight returns in "Family Values," arriving at an old diner and finding that someone shot up the place. Turns out an Old Town prostitute was murdered by a Mafia shooter, and now Dwight is on the warpath. Accompanying him is rollerblading ninja/assassin/prostitute Miho, as he works his way to the top of the powerful Mob...
"Booze, Broads and Bullets" is a short story collection, full of little gritty vignettes. It provides little insights into the characters -- among other stories: Dwight rescues a beautiful mystery woman, Marv rescues a little girl from sex slavery, the lethal Delia lures in men for sinister purposes, and a pair of dumb crooks debate whether to steal a corpse's boots.
"Hell and Back" is the end of the "Sin City" series... so far. It introduces us to Wallace, a shaggy artist who also happens to be a Vietnam veteran. He saves a stunning starlet named Esther, and goes out for a drink with her... only to be drugged and tricked by a mystery woman when he awakes. As he struggles to rescue Esther from her kidnappers, he discovers the gruesome reason they want her.
Anyone who has seen the excellent "Sin City" movie will know what to expect -- a bloody, stark, lawless retro-noir story, with a lot of killing, sex and revenge. Wallace puts it well at the end of "Hell and Back": "That rotten town. Those it can't corrupt, it soils. Those it can't soil, it kills."
The artwork is usually stark black and white, with a few splashes of colour (lipstick, for example). It's stripped to the basics, with lots of nudity and blood. But the protagonists aren't black-and-white. Except for the rough but kindly Hartigan, they aren't really heroes, but a part of Sin City.
Some of the stories are stronger than others -- "Family Values," for example, is the weakest of these stories, just because it feels like it's been done before. And a few of the short stories fall flat. But the overall effect is a shocking, lingering one, and it's a credit that Miller can create such a complete mini-world in only seven volumes.
The "Sin City" series is Frank Miller's opus, a horrifyingly realistic look at a metropolis that is all dark side. Rough, stark and exceedingly well-written.