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Worlds Of Wonder

Published: Tuesday September 23, 2014 MYT 12:00:00 AM
Updated: Tuesday September 23, 2014 MYT 11:48:49 AM

Sinfully yours - Rediscovering Frank Miller's classic

We revisit Frank Miller’s Sin City, one of the maestro’s most enduring creations.

BACK in the 1980s, I once proclaimed myself to be the biggest Frank Miller fan in Malaysia (and some say in Singapore, too). I used to buy ALL his works (sometimes even two or three copies), books with his cover art, and even magazines featuring interviews of him. In short, he was my número uno favourite comic talent.

Why the obsession with Miller? Well, at the time, Miller was in a class of his own, as evident from masterpieces such as The Dark Knight Returns, Batman: Year One, Daredevil: Born Again, and his entire Daredevil (#158-#191) stint, which also featured the creation of Elektra in Daredevil #168.

In between these classics, there are also a few notable Spidey tales (Amazing Spider-Man Annual #14 and #15), the first Wolverine limited series, and over-the-top works like Ronin, Hard Boiled and The Big Guy And Rusty The Boy Robot. Thanks to these works, his rise to fame was meteoric; but the volatility of his output was equally astounding as he could churn out a classic masterpiece and then follow it up with a piece that was beyond garbage. Case in point, The Dark Knight Strikes Again, which was the complete opposite of The Dark Knight Returns; and his disastrous directorial debut, The Spirit.

Dwight McCarthy teaches some thugs the meaning of family values.
Dwight McCarthy teaches some thugs the meaning of family values.

Today, the Frank Miller who once mesmerised comic fans with his creativity is no longer in a class of his own, but rather in a world of his own. Recent setbacks like All Star Batman have cast doubts on the man’s ability to ever return to the brilliance of his heyday. Compounding matters further are his on-off meltdowns in the public domain, which have raised doubts about his ability to manage a large-scale project.

Amidst the turbulence in Miller’s life, arguably the only stable constant is his creator-owned Sin City, a series that personifies the man’s twisted imagination and taps into his preference for the crime genre and film noir. Founded during the California Gold Rush, Basin City – more commonly known as Sin City – is no longer the glittering jewel of its glory days. The lustre has been replaced by a shroud of crime and violence, the city’s streets and alleys populated by corrupt law enforcers, femme fatale-type prostitutes, a variety of crime syndicates and the ruling Roark family.

With the recent release of the second Sin City movie, based on the series Sin City: A Dame To Kill For (which unfortunately will not be screening in Malaysia), I decided to make a trip back to Basin City and list my five favourite stories.

Only Frank Miller could make a prison and an ugly yellow b*stard look so stylish.
Only Frank Miller could make a prison and an ugly yellow b*stard look so stylish.

1 The Hard Goodbye (1991)

This is where it all started – the first-ever Sin City story, first published in the pages of Dark Horse Presents: 5th Anniversary Special, and continued in Dark Horse Presents #51-#62. This 13-part story helped lay the foundation that subsequently led to two glorious decades of escapades in Sin City.

Obviously, you need to start somewhere when building a new universe, and Miller’s creation of Kadie’s Bar was the perfect starting point for the series. It also serves as this tale’s Ground Zero.

It was here that we were introduced to many of the characters who would become staples of the stories to come, including the hard-hitting, almost invincible giant with a heart, Marv; Nancy the pole dancer (portrayed by Jessica Alba in the movie); the Roark family; and Kevin, the cannibalistic serial killer.

The tale starts with Marv being framed for murdering Goldie, a hooker he met at Kadie’s, and his quest to prove his innocence by basically punching and shooting his way through Sin City to find the perpetrators.

Take a powder: Do you wanna build a snowman, Marv? Frank Miller's art was a highlight of the one-shot Silent Night.
Take a powder: Do you wanna build a snowman, Marv? Frank Miller’s art was a highlight of the one-shot Silent Night.

2 Silent Night (1995)

The coolest part of this issue is the way it addresses the issue of child prostitution in the strongest manner by giving it the Marv treatment, with the stony enforcer blasting his way through the perverts and bouncers. The plot may be predictable, but Miller’s art – and our own desire to see justice served – keeps our attention glued until the final panel. Heck, even Frank Castle would have given this two thumbs up!

3 That Yellow B*stard (1996)

My first foray into Sin City was with this six-parter, which was also featured in the movie (remember Bruce Willis’ portrayal of John Hartigan or Jessica Alba as Nancy?). It’s a tale that mixes vendetta, paternalistic love and sacrifice, as the ageing model cop Hartigan is given the chance for a last hurrah ahead of his retirement.

“That Yellow B*stard” refers to Ethan Roark, or Roark Junior, the son of a corrupt official with a fetish for raping and murdering prepubescent girls.

When Roark Junior commits another crime involving a minor, Hartigan has to decide to either get involved or look the other way and retire peacefully. Since it would have been a really short story if he had taken the latter option, Hartigan naturally chooses to take on Roark Junior and his goons, despite carrying a serious heart condition.

Against all odds (including getting shot a few times by his crooked partner), Hartigan manages to rescue an 11-year-old girl named Nancy Callahan from Roark Junior and cripple the scumbag. Unfortunately, his heroic act gets repaid in the worst possible way, as Roark Senior uses his power to throw Hartigan into the slammer and frame him as the actual offender!

Fast-forward eight years, and the game changes once again when Hartigan receives a bloody finger (presumably Nancy’s), prompting him to appeal for early release to seek out Nancy and head for a final showdown with that yellow fellow.

Marv busting out of a tight spot after being framed for the murder of a hooker named Goldie.
Marv busting out of a tight spot after being framed for the murder of a hooker named Goldie.

4 The Big Fat Kill (1995)

It wouldn’t be a Miller product if there were no femme fatales, and this five-part story delivers in spades. It explains the mechanics behind the coexistence of the cops, the mob and the prostitutes of Old Town – an unwritten mutual agreement between them that each faction guards and polices their own turf, while making sure that no one from any of the other groups gets killed on their territory.

That uneasy truce is severely tested one night, when an off-duty working girl turns down a request from hero cop Jack Rafferty, and the situation turns violent when Jack and his partners forcefully drag her into their car.

Cue the entrance of Sin City’s most lethal lady – the deadly, silent katana-wielding Miho (probably the closest we’ll ever see to Miller returning to his Elektra days), who makes quick work of the cops with the help of private investigator Dwight McCarthy.

With the death of a cop on Old Town territory, the truce between the cops and Old Town now hangs in the balance, and the focus of the tale turns to Dwight’s efforts to rescue the situation.

5 Family Values (1997)

There may be no honour among thieves, but there can still be family values. This one-shot graphic novel details the bond between Dwight and the girls of Old Town – particularly Miho.

When a mob hit accidentally claims the life of Old Town girl Carmen, it triggers a straightforward and predictable story that pretty much just involves Dwight and Miho killing a lot of people while finding out who ordered the hit.

While it’s great fun to watch the many ways in which Miho slices and dices her victims, the main attraction of this story is the chemistry between the key characters, and the sense of family among the Old Town girls (and Dwight).

Tags / Keywords: Worlds of Wonder, comics, Sin City, Frank Miller, graphic novels

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