Sin City #1: The Hard Goodbye (Review)



The comic book field is full of household names - Stan Lee, Bob Kane, Steve Ditko, Alan Moore - auteurs that have redefined not only the artform, but pulp literature in general. Their fantastical stories have transported us to worlds where anything is possible. Yet they were also fleetingly patriotic - especially Captain America and Superman, which continue to flaunt their flag-waving status. For the last two decades, geek god Frank Miller has treated readers to the polar-opposite - dark, decaying cityscapes, shady hoodlums, and shifty anti-heroes; elements that might seem a little old hat today. With Sin City, his most famous contribution to graphic novels, Miller has brought the gloomy excess of Hollywood film noir to the page. It’s like the work of Raymond Chandler or Mickey Spillane, with an added dose of cynicism. In most respects, The Hard Goodbye is not for those looking for cartoonish violence, or happy endings...

“Sin” City isn’t a place you’ll want to visit for a romantic get-away. It’s bleak, decrepit, corrupt, and filled to the brim with low-lives, murderers and rapists. There’s even a cannibal, or two. So despicable is this hive of scum and villainy, that you wouldn’t wish it upon your worst enemy - it’s that awful. It makes the New York of Taxi Driver seem pleasant; the kind of atmosphere Travis Bickle would have loathed. Thankfully, it exists only in the minds of graphic novel readers, who have trekked through the pages of Sin City for well over a decade. To retain that film noir aesthetic, the talented Miller draws his tales in pure black and white, with little to no shading, and only the odd splash of colour. He tells stories about criminals and prostitutes with hearts of gold; who eke out their short-lives in Basin City - where there’s a strip bar on every corner, and the police force couldn’t care less.

The Hard Goodbye was originally published in 1991, under the Dark Horse banner; quickly gaining praise from the comic community. It’s a rich introduction to Miller’s universe - creating memorable and iconic characters, and forming a vivid picture of the city itself. With only a clutch of images, Miller tells us everything we need to know. This is a place without remorse; a world removed from the one we know, but close enough to spark worrying comparisons. There’s none of the good-natured, colourful vistas found all too frequently in Marvel’s output. Sin City tries its hardest to be as grim as possible. No wonder maverick filmmaker Robert Rodriguez saw some worth in the material, tapping into its potential for the forthcoming motion picture. The Hard Goodbye is just one of three tales adapted for the big screen. It’s also, in my opinion, one of the best in Miller’s oeuvre.



The story is sparse, but brilliant. Gargantuan thug Marv wakes up to discover Goldie - a prostitute - lying dead next to him. An ugly behemoth, Marv is hardly the type that gets close to female flesh very often. Therefore, he’s more than a little annoyed. The murderer killed her while they slept, without breaking a sweat, leaving Marv to face the music. Clearly, someone wanted the hooker out of the picture, and Marv is determined to find out who. Why? Because Goldie was the only woman in his entire life that treated him to a night of passion. Evading the police (who show up on his doorstep), Marv hits the back alleys of Basin City with revenge in mind. There goes the neighbourhood...

The Hard Goodbye begins without build-up. From the opening panels, we know exactly who Marv is, and what the focus of the entire story will be. Miller has a knack for building suspense, and with the police on their way, we know Marv’s in for one heck of a night. His escape from the apartment is brilliant - bursting through the door, he takes a leap down the staircase, before diving head-first through a window; landing with a bump in the trash. Clearly, Miller isn’t attempting to tell a realistic tale, and Marv seems to possess superhuman strength. Thankfully, this helps to up-the-ante. The frenetic pace is maintained, with the stakes rising wonderfully.

With Miller’s sharp writing style (typically hard-boiled, and macho), the reader is hooked. It also helps that Marv is such an intriguing protagonist. He's violent, merciless, and utterly insane. Throughout, we’re never sure if the events being presented are really happening - the character has forgotten to take his medicine, giving the narrative a skewed tone. Marv is unpredictable, and more than a little volatile, but under his brutish physique, there’s a sense of loyalty, passion, and devotion to giving wrong-doers a taste of their own medicine. His strong moral backbone redeems him somewhat, even though he creeps us out on a regular basis (he names his gun “Gladys”, and enjoys torturing his enemies). He’s a roaring rampage of revenge. No wonder Mickey Rourke jumped at the chance of playing him on film - Marv leaves quite the impression...



While the tale is told from his perspective, there’s a cornucopia of peripheral characters in The Hard Goodbye, that have a major role to play, or take on greater significance in later instalments (including stripper Nancy; made infamous by Jessica Alba’s enthusiastic portrayal). The sub-plots also give Miller an opportunity to introduce Basin City’s key locations - the most notable of which, is Club Pecos, located in Old Town (the home away from home, for the city’s many hookers). Throughout, the endemic corruption in the city is clear. No one is happy, hoodlums stroll the streets, and there’s a perpetual darkness; you wouldn’t come here looking for a tan! The prostitutes are also a dangerous bunch, governing their turf with brute force. It’s Hell on earth.

As you’d expect, Sin City is hypnotically violent. As Marv hunts down his prey, the blood really does flow like wine. A good example would be the segment in which he dispatches a pair of hapless hit-men; gunning them down with zero remorse. Yet, the real grue is left for Marv’s first confrontation with villain Kevin - in which our “hero” is cut to shreds. Kevin is a sinister creation; a silent cannibal, who lives in the countryside, and sharpens his nails to cut through flesh. He even collects the heads of his victims, placing them on the wall for all to see. Naturally, he gets exactly what he deserves...

Despite the thrilling narrative, it’s Miller’s artwork that really makes The Hard Goodbye a classic graphic novel. He gives each scene a stark, moody finish, with the black and white appearance working to full effect. In fact, it’s hard to imagine the story in colour - not only does it further the film noir influence, but it fits the tone of Miller’s world like a glove. His use of shadows and negative space is superb. There’s a sense of depth here, and the detail is pretty astonishing (from the expressions on Marv’s twisted face, to the clothing each citizen wears). Miller also conveys a large amount of information with few panels, giving each image equal importance. The story flows smoothly, building to a grim, but satisfying conclusion. It’s intricacy also makes those repeat readings a pleasure. Flicking through the book, one could easily take a page and frame it. The artwork is that good, and there’s plenty of memorable panels here. The best, is probably the segment in which Marv stands in the rain. “Rain doesn’t come to Sin City real often”, says Marv; largely due to the effort it takes to draw such elements. The result is a world that seems alive - it pulsates with a life of its own.

The Hard Goodbye is riveting stuff; a slice of brutal Americana. Fans of hard-boiled fiction will love Miller’s first trip to Basin City - almost as much as his legendary contributions to Batman and Daredevil. It’s a graphic novel that works perfectly on its own, but becomes more satisfying when tied to the series as a whole. If you’re like me, and can’t wait for Rodriguez and Miller’s film adaptation, then The Hard Goodbye is a perfect way to pass the time...

“Sin City: The Hard Goodbye” is available now from Dark Horse Books, priced £12.99


Sin City is released in U.K. cinemas on June 3rd 2005

Last updated: 19/04/2018 09:13:58

Did you enjoy the article above? If so please help us by sharing it to your social networks with the buttons below...

Tags
Category Feature

Latest Articles