Book Review: Sin City (Volume 4) – That Yellow Bastard by Frank Miller

TL;DR – John Hartigan is a good cop. Nothing stops a good cop from doing his job. Not health problems. Not retirement. Not even Sin City.

Summary (warning: spoilers)

Go to my book reviews page to read reviews of previous volumes of this Eisner award winning series.

In Sin City, avarice and corruption work hand-in-hand with power. Finding a cop not beaten down by the system, or not on the take by some mob boss or corrupt official, is almost impossible.

John Hartigan is one of the rare ones. The needle in the haystack. He’s been on the force for decades and done his utmost to serve and protect, and he is one hour away from retiring. One hour away from heading home, hanging up his boots, enjoying a juicy steak and champagne with Eileen, his wife, and sleeping in until ten the next morning. The next chapter of his life is just around the corner.

Only one hour away.

And then a tip comes in regarding missing 11-year old, Nancy Callahan, who has been abducted by a murderer/rapist named Roark Junior (son of one of the most powerful and corrupt officials in Sin City). Junior has never been caught and hides behind the protective shield that his father provides. Hartigan knows Junior has got away with three murders of young girls.

No way in hell, he’s going to allow a fourth.


For John Hartigan, he has given his life to the force. Almost thirty years on the job, enough scars on the inside and out that most would have handed in their gun and badge ages ago. Hartigan is the type of guy to bleed for the streets of Sin City even though the city would flush his blood down the sewers. He’s the type of guy to work until his last breath but the doctors are forcing him into retirement.

Suffering from angina, the opening pages show Hartigan ruminating on the fact he only has one hour until he retires. He should be pushing papers and filing away files but receives word of little Nancy Callahan’s location and is spurred into action much to the dismay of his partner, Bob.

Hartigan has been on a mission to hunt down Roark Junior, and he finally gets his way down by the docks. Or so he thinks. Though he succeeds in rescuing Nancy and taking his gun to various parts of Junior’s body including his private parts, Hartigan is betrayed by his long-time partner Bob who, fearing the repercussions from Junior’s senator father, unloads a bucket-load of bullets into Hartigan leaving him for dead. But John is fine with that thinking, “An old man dies, a little girl lives. Fair trade.”

Except John doesn’t die. Senator Roark uses his considerable resources and power to keep Hartigan alive. In the Senator’s mind, Hartigan doesn’t deserve a quick death, and he wants to torture the cop responsible for maiming his son.

Hartigan is revived only to end up being framed for Nancy’s abduction and sent to prison where he is abused and tortured. For the next several years, the only thing that keeps him sane and alive is receiving letters from Nancy, who signs them as Cordelia in order to protect her identity.

When the letters suddenly stop, Hartigan is fearful that something bad has happened to her. He is paid a visit by a sickly, yellow skinned man who stinks of garbage and hands him the dismembered finger of a young woman. Hartigan believes his worst fears have become a reality.

Hartigan doesn’t realise until it is too late that the whole thing is a ruse. The yellow bastard is Junior. He managed to survive the maiming but has terrible health consequences as a result. Junior wants to twist his own knife into Hartigan and has the cop believe that he has Nancy.

John signs a false confession for a reduced sentence and when he gets out, goes in search of Nancy. Turns out she is alive and well and no longer “little”. She’s all grown up and working as the exotic dancer wearing the cowboy outfit we have seen in previous volumes of Sin City. The scene where Hartigan smells the rotting garbage of that yellow bastard, he realises to his horror that he has led Junior right to her.

Nancy gets abducted again by Junior, Hartigan almost gets hanged, another hunt happens leading to the Roark farms, and Hartigan deals out justice, this time in a permanent fashion ensuring the blight of Roark Junior will never terrorise the streets of Sin City ever again.

The job done, Hartigan lies to Nancy to go on ahead, indicating he’ll catch up but first needs to clean up the scene and remove all evidence. It’s a lie because he knows that Nancy will never be safe while he is alive.

The final pages along with the scenes in the bar where Hartigan sees a grown up Nancy for the first time out of jail are illustrations that showcases Frank Miller at his best. This also is the first volume where Miller uses colour (specifically yellow). In all previous volumes, they are always black and white. This was also the first volume where I felt Miller’s art had upped the ante. The drawings were sharper, the angles clearer, the physicality of the characters more pronounced. How Miller manages to make the farmhouse that Hartigan approaches look foreboding and ominous is a marvel.

When Hartigan commits the ultimate sacrifice to protect Nancy, the thought comes full circle once again.

“An old man dies, a little girl lives. Fair trade.”

Dang Frank, it’s bad enough you made us care about Marv in volume one, but now Hartigan as well?!?! You are a cruel man sir. Very cruel.

5 out of 5.

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