BookBin2012: Sin City Series

A wolf of my word am I. Although, actually, in my review of the final Sin City graphic novel, Hell and Back, I indicated that I wasn’t in that much of a hurry to experience Sin City in all its brutal black-and-white glory.

I guess that means that I’m capricious. I can live with that. It was just too much to resist when I reached the graphic novel section of the library and saw that all of Frank Miller’s Sin City novels were right there, lined up in order and ready for me to grab them from the shelf. For the record, this includes the following novels:

I’m not going to go into descriptions of each novel’s plot. I think that the Sin City Wikipedia page covers that more thoroughly that I could in this post. The gist is pretty much that each novel presents a vignette of vengeance and oftentimes jarringly unhinged brutality to be found within the confines of Basin City, known colloquially as “Sin City.” Many characters wind their way through several of the stories, sometimes trading up to primary characters and sometimes shifting down to secondary or tertiary ones.

I have to admit, Miller’s spin on neo-noir storytelling has moments of surprising brilliance and beauty. I was honestly expecting neither, considering how underwhelmed I was by Hell and Back. However, I now get the impression that the final two entries in this series might have been the point where Miller was winding down and running out of creative steam. I would definitely peg Booze, Broads, and Bullets and Hell and Back as the two weakest links in this chain of stories.

The rest of the novels, however, carry within their pages all the darkness and drama that one would pray for from a place called “Sin City.” Miller utilizes the strength of his monochromatic palette to stunning effect, the lines and angles fluctuating from fluid to fractured to intensely, inescapably haunting. Miller wields a controlled use of color to enhance even further the visual impact of his bleak world.

As for the stories themselves, I feel secure in saying that they are not for everyone. Miller’s city is inhabited by a level of depravity, violence, and horror that I know would turn away a majority of readers, right from the very first novel. There are assassins, cannibals, rapists, prostitutes, strippers, dirty cops, dirty politicians, dirty clergy, psychopaths of all varieties, mobsters…pick your poison and you’ll probably find its flavor somewhere in these pages.

Then again, anyone entering the city limits of Miller’s world must surely know that this is what they’ve signed up for, so I’m not telling you anything you don’t already know.

I will say this: I’m completely conflicted about my feelings toward the women of Miller’s world and how he depicts them, both visually and narratively. Right away, I think it’s safe to state that more often than not, whenever a woman is depicted in a comic book, it’s in a rather objectified way. Sadly, I’m resigned to the fact that this is the nature of the beast. Comics audiences are predominantly young heterosexual males who find scantily clad and impossibly endowed women (even of the cartoon variety) to be the type of titillation to bring them running.

Bottom line, ladies: We’re a minority if we’re into the comics scene. There are exceptions to the rule, but not often. And not in this case.

Miller’s pages are filled with innumerable images of naked women…naked women who are unrepentantly cruel or uncomfortably victimized, with the middle ground oftentimes inhabited by frustratingly clueless and/or naive “broads.”

That being said, one of the most powerful characters from the entire series is “Deadly Little Miho,” a mute assassin from “Old Town” (where the prostitutes rule by whatever means necessary) who appears in four of the Sin City stories. While one could argue that she is at times drawn in as equally objectified ways as most of the other women in Miller’s novels, she’s also powerful, frighteningly adept with her weaponry, and highly effective…all without ever uttering a word. She was undoubtedly one of my favorite parts of this series.

She was also one of my favorite parts of the movie. I decided, after reading the novels, that I should give Robert Rodriguez’s cinematic take on three of the novels another shot. I’m glad that I did. While definitely not a perfect film and still not one that I would list as a favorite, I must credit Rodriguez with giving Miller’s artwork a glorious visual send-up. Rodriguez claims that this isn’t an adaptation of Miller’s work but rather a “translation.”

Watching this movie with a better understanding of the world being depicted, I think that this is one of the better “translations” of comic-inspired storytelling to come from Hollywood. Rodriguez is honest to and respectful of his source material, using his filmmaking expertise to enhance rather than negate any of the elements he adapts for his story. One could argue that he’s a bit too true to some of the novels’ visual styles; however, I think that he does an impressive job of balancing his obvious reverence for the original novels with his own personal aesthetic.

For those who are interested, the movie adapts the stories from the Sin City novels The Hard Goodbye, That Yellow Bastard, and The Big Fat Kill. Also, apparently the sequel has finally been greenlit for arrival in theaters by October 2013. This one will be based on A Dame to Kill For (which I admittedly didn’t like as much as others). It will be interesting to see a return to this world, nearly a decade after the first movie.

Final Verdict: I’m actually glad that I gave the rest of these novels a chance. While I’m by no means enamored enough of these tales that I would want to own copies for myself, I do concede that they were an interesting journey, both in print form and in a return to the movie.