Tuesday, August 2, 2011

Sin City

Cover by Frank Miller
and Steve Miller
Sin City (1993)
Writer: Frank Miller
Penciller: Frank Miller
Letterer: Frank Miller

As evidenced by the above heading, this was super Frank Millery. As I was reading Sin City, I almost felt like I was being smacked upside the head by Frank Miller. I get it, dude, you’ve got a really distinct art style and you love neo-noir. There’s no mistaking you.

And look, I really don’t mind the guy. He’s one of the most important comic book figures out there and, according to most people, he’s written masterpieces and also major embarrassments. He’s done a lot for the medium and after writing a graduate paper on Batman: The Dark Knight Returns (one of his apparent masterpieces though I definitely have problems with it), I have a sort of begrudging respect for the guy. Nonetheless, I often find myself side-eyeing him whenever I read something else by Miller. Yet, I have to say, I did not mind Sin City.

I’m going to be honest and admit that all I knew about Sin City was leached from commercials for the 2005 film, which I didn’t even see. I remember Elijah Wood was in it and was apparently creepy but that’s all. So I’m happy to say that I read this comic with no concrete knowledge of the plot or even the characters. I have to say that this was one of the simplest Frank Miller plots I’ve encountered: Marv wakes up with a dead prostitute, is framed for her murder, vows to avenge her death and spends the rest of the comic digging up dirt and killing anyone who gets in his way. Easy enough.

Marv was an interesting main character, especially with Miller’s use of a first person narration. His narrative voice was surprisingly calming for such a brutal and ambiguous character: he wasn’t necessarily a bad or a good guy, just sort of neutral. Furthermore, his own personal code and ideals were never heavy-handed or given with a great deal of exposition. He just sort of existed. I liked that. I liked that Miller really emphasized that Marv was simply one product of Sin City with one story. Marv was also a reliable narrator, which does not always happen in comic books, and I believed everything he said and witnessed. There wasn’t anything false with him.

While I found the plot wafer-thin, I did find all the characterization really strong, besides just with Marv. I didn’t find Wendy, the dead prostitute’s vengeful twin sister, gimmicky or unbelievable. Had Miller’s writing been weaker, I would have found the plot point of a twin sister ridiculous but I totally accepted it here. The only aspect that really bothered me was Miller’s explanation of the villains’ reasoning. The main villain, Roark, was barely in the comic and I didn’t think that Miller expertly made his presence felt in the rest of the comic. Also, Roark’s explanation to Marv about all the evil things he’s done were disappointing. They were very mystical in nature and I didn’t think they fit with the gritty realism of the rest of the comic.

Then there’s Kevin, the silent, creepy, cannibalistic farm boy, played by Elijah Wood in the movie (he looks like Harry Potter’s insane, evil twin actually). Anytime he was present was my favorite part of the comic because he was just so weird. I loved the idea of this slight, nerdy serial killer with glasses who just blankly smiles and eats people and then displays his victims’ heads as trophies. While there were aspects of Kevin that were decidedly unbelievable (like not making a sound when he was being eaten alive by a dog… seriously, even a sociopathic serial killer would at least cough or something), I did enjoy the guy.

The art, like the rest of the comic, was decidedly Frank Miller. I was never a big fan of his work, mostly because of the geometric anatomy, lumpy faces and huge, hulking figures. Along with The Dark Knight Returns, Sin City looked very much like something out of the 1980s. It felt very pop, in a way. I didn’t mind the lack of color and found the black-and-white illustrations really emphasized the noir feeling of the storyline. Of course, there was a lot more black then white, so I often had trouble just figuring out what the hell I was looking at before I could move on. While I did not love this comic, I certainly did not dislike it in any way. Nonetheless, I simply accepted the art and the plot as what it was: Frank Miller doing his thing.

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