Book Review: Sin City (Volume 7) – Hell and Back by Frank Miller

TL;DR – Wallace makes the most of a cool night by getting out of the city and heading for the hills. Driving along the empty roads, top down, wind in his hair, it’s as close to serenity as he has felt in a while. But it’s all cut short when he spies a woman atop a cliff looking very much like she’s going to jump without a parachute.

Summary (warning: spoilers)

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

Esther stands overlooking the ocean, beneath the moon and contemplates suicide. Her attempt at ending her life is foiled by a good Samaritan named Wallace after he dives into the waters to rescue her. Wallace takes her back to his apartment and there she recovers, the pair developing an instant connection through one saving the life of the other.

They head to a bar to bond over a drink. Esther learns that Wallace is an ex-Navy SEAL and was awarded a medal of honour. Esther no longer contemplates suicide, not when her knight in shining armour is right in front of her. And even though a part of Wallace wants to know why she tried to kill herself, she holds him back with her allure and her lips.

As they kiss, a shot rings through the night and hits Wallace square in the neck, not a bullet but a tranquiliser. Before he falls unconscious, he sees Esther taken away kicking and screaming by two men in an ambulance.

When Wallace wakes up, there’ll be hell to pay.

Review

Sin City (Volume 7) – Hell and Back is the final volume in Frank Miller’s epic Sin City collection. As a book end that completes the series, Frank Miller thanks his readers by creating a dense volume full of his signature black and white art and a story with enough mystery and tension to take you to the final page. A suitable end that testifies to Miller’s mastery of the crime noir genre.

His previous works, Sin City (Volume 6) – Booze, Broads & Bullets was a much slimmer volume, but if you paid attention to the short stories in volume 6 then they tie in brilliantly with volume 7.

Specifically, the hitwoman, Delia seen in several short stories in volume 6, plays a key role in this one as a femme fatale looking to seduce Wallace before slicing his throat. But I’m getting ahead of myself…

After Wallace wakes up from the tranquiliser, he spends a night in a jail cell when cops pick him up thinking he’s a drug addict. When Wallace gets out, he starts piecing together his memory and gathers clues to hunt down Esther.

The story flips between the two as we see Esther confronted by the Colonel, a captain within the Wallenquist organisation, and who trains women to become assassins including blue-eyed Delia.

The Colonel wants to transform Esther into one of his hitwomen as well. But the Colonel receives word that Wallace is on the hunt, so he sends Delia and his men to take him out.

Wallace discovers Delia in Esther’s apartment. Delia pretends to be a struggling actress who lives with Esther sharing the rent. When the hitmen come calling, they give the appearance that they’re after Delia (just as they kidnapped Esther) but Wallace makes short work of them, and thus finds himself now protecting Delia while trying to find Esther.

It creates wonderful tension as you, the reader, will be screaming at Wallace not to trust Delia. And for once, Delia’s succubus charms fail to work on a man, and Wallace sees through her façade.

As the body count racks up, Wallace is put through a number of ordeals including being injected with a cocktail of drugs. Only his Navy SEAL training allows him to work through the hallucinations. Miller breaks his modus operandi by illustrating the hallucinogenic events extensively in colour. Previously, he would use colour only sparingly to identify certain characters (e.g. yellow for Roark Junior’s skin in Sin City (Volume 4) – That Yellow Bastard and blue for Delia’s eyes).

In my opinion, the coloured pages do not work, and this is probably the biggest criticism I have for volume 7. It was a brave move by Miller, but it doesn’t come off and detracts from the artwork overall. When finally Wallace gets the drugs out of his system and the world is viewed again in black and white, it is far more effective.

The story, while containing enough momentum to see you through to the end, also flags a little in the final third. Wallace discovers that the Colonel is also operating an organ harvesting ring, and this is meant to add an additional layer of shock to the story.

Miller could have punched us in the gut by making Wallace discover true hell and have the Colonel end up killing Esther and harvesting her organs. But then Wallace would have been to hell and never come back, which would go against the volume’s title. Suffice to say, it is enough that Wallace uncovers this horrific operation and inflicts enough collateral damage that the Colonel agrees to handover Esther in exchange for Wallace’s silence.

Of course, Wallace knows it’s all a setup and the Colonel will betray him, so the necessary fail safes are put in place to ensure Wallace and Esther escape unharmed and the Colonel gets his final comeuppance.

Mind you the Colonel’s timely demise comes from an unexpected quarter. The man who ends up disposing of the Colonel is Commissioner Liebowitz, the head of the Basin City police department, who is introduced as the Colonel’s puppet and initially betrays Wallace who reports Esther’s kidnapping.

As Wallace and Esther drive off into the sunset, Esther finally reveals why she attempted suicide. The simple reason was that she felt alone. Wallace makes one final remark about Basin City (aka Sin City):

“That rotten town: those it can’t corrupt, it soils. Those it can’t soil, it kills. That rotten town. Miles behind us now. Fading into memory. A bright day dawns…”

Thus, closes the final chapter on Frank Miller’s Sin City.

The pick of the bunch for me is still Sin City (Volume 1) – The Hard Goodbye and Sin City (Volume 4) – That Yellow Bastard.

And while Sin City (Volume 7) Hell and Back doesn’t punch you in the gut, it is still good to know that even Frank Miller has a sense of hope.

3.5 out of 5.

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