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.


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.

Book Review: Sin City (Volume 6) – Booze, Broads & Bullets by Frank Miller

TL;DR – Ever wondered what the characters of Sin City do in their spare time? This volume will present a smorgasbord of Sin City’s finest.

Summary (warning: spoilers)

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

A collection of short stories that cover the many characters explored in previous volumes of Sin City.


Sin City (Volume 6) – Booze, Broads & Bullets is an eclectic collection of yarns that taps into the crime noir with varying emotion and dark humour. If you have read the previous volumes, then you’ll obtain a greater sense of satisfaction as characters featured previously are each given the limelight for a brief number of pages in this volume.

As with any short story collection, some pack a punch while others only tickle, and like any creative work, readers will enjoy some more than others.

For example, “Just Another Saturday Night” and “Silent Night” both star Marv (probably my favourite character in the entire Sin City series).

“Just Another Saturday Night” tells the story of Marv on the night John Hartigan comes into the bar to reunite with Nancy from Sin City (Volume 4) – That Yellow Bastard. It’s a straightforward telling that doesn’t do much to expand on Marv’s character. His desire to hunt down a bunch of teenagers dousing drunks in petrol and setting them alight is in line with Marv’s sense of duty to defend the weak. The extreme punishment dished out to the teenagers by Marv is nothing shocking if you have read Sin City (Volume 1) – The Hard Goodbye.

Likewise, “Silent Night” sees Marv hunting down a bunch of bad people involved in child prostitution and in the process saving a young girl named Kimberley. Marv dishes out his punishment with extreme prejudice as you would expect.

However, “Silent Night” is a far greater piece of work in my eyes than “Just Another Saturday Night”. The first thing that stands out is that “Silent Night” has almost no dialogue. Miller’s brilliant black and white illustrations tell the tale, and the panels showing Marv walking with his trench coat, hunched over, through a blizzard is truly breathtaking. “Silent Night” packs a punch to the gut that you will feel at night before you go to sleep, while “Just Another Saturday Night” is more like a slap to the shoulder that is easily forgotten.

Other colourful characters that make an appearance in their own telling include:

  • Fat Man and Little Boy in an explosive affair that imitates something you’d see out of a Looney Tunes cartoon.
  • Dwight McCarthy who investigates the death of his friend, Fargo, who was working with a private eye on a drug trafficking exposé.
  • The Colonel who takes on a hitwoman named Delia. Several short stories within this volume follow Delia.

Overall, Sin City (Volume 6) – Booze, Broads & Bullets is a satisfactory dive in getting a glimpse into the denizens of Sin City, but if you want to experience a greater roller coaster, Frank Miller’s previous volumes are the ones you should pick up first.

3 out of 5.

Book Review: Sin City (Volume 5) – Family Values by Frank Miller

TL;DR – Dwight and deadly Miho are on a mission. A mission that revolves around the powder keg tensions between Sin City’s mob (led by Wallenquist) and mafia (led by Magliozzi). You will want to read this just to see Miho in action. Who knew roller skates could be so deadly?

Summary (warning: spoilers)

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

Herr Wallenquist (aka The Kraut) is the mobster leader of a powerful criminal organisation in Sin City. Through his manipulations, he gets one of his main men, Bruno into politics. Prior to this political elevation, Bruno was one of Wallenquist’s hitmen and did a job in killing a snitch, who happened to be in bed with a beautiful woman at the time by the name of Andrea. Bruno, ever the professional and enjoying his work a little too much, ensured there were no witnesses resulting in Andrea being collateral damage.

Turns out Andrea is the beloved niece of Giacco Magliozzi, the Don of the local mafia. Magliozzi becomes consumed with the desire for revenge, and after several fruitful years, eventually obtains proof that Bruno (now in politics and espousing ‘family values’) was the man who murdered his niece. Magliozzi orders the hit on Bruno, knowing this will break the truce between him and the Kraut, and the hitman-cum-politician gets gunned down at a diner by Vito, one of Magliozzi’s nephews.

Dwight McCarthy is sent in by Gail (leader of the prostitutes in Old Town) to investigate Bruno’s death. With the help of deadly assassin, Miho, he discovers the circumstances and the individuals involved.

And it all leads to Magliozzi. So, when Dwight and Miho pay him a visit, he’s confused as to why the women of Old Town have gotten involved. Initially, he thinks that the Kraut has sent Dwight and Miho to kill him. But Dwight tells Magliozzi that that’s what they want everyone on the outside to think.

While Miho wanders around (on her roller skates) finishing off the Don’s associates, Dwight then sits down with Magliozzi at gun point to tell him a story

It’s a story that Magliozzi should understand. After all it’s all about family. And there is nothing more valuable than family.


Frank Miller’s fifth instalment in the Sin City graphic novel series is, by far, the slimmest compared to previous volumes. In terms of artwork, the ‘less is more’ approach is in full effect. Miller’s panels are all crammed with the glorious black and white art of its predecessors that any astute reader will pore over, but Miller ensures he doesn’t indulge too much in the art at the expense of moving the story along.

And don’t be deceived. While the pages are less, the story written in it is no less compelling. The story of two criminal organisations banging heads is made intriguing by the fact that Dwight, Miho and the working women of Old Town enter the scene for reasons hidden to us.

If you’ve read Sin City (Volume 3) – The Big Fat Kill, then you will know that Old Town is a law onto themselves. The women there have no interest in the mob or the mafia, and so long as you respect their rules, you can explore Old Town for as much fun as you want (assuming you have the cash to pay for it).

Why they have got themselves in-between Magliozzi and Wallenquist is a mystery, and it is this unknown that will compel you to read to the final pages of Sin City (Volume 5) – Family Values.

And while the reveal is not anything earth-shattering, it does fit perfectly in its central theme of ‘family values’. Miller doesn’t attempt to be too clever. He stays true to the crime noir genre and delivers an enjoyable yarn.

Though I will sound like a broken record, the character Dwight McCarthy is one that Miller returns to and continues to tell stories about even though I do not find Dwight that interesting.

The character Marv in Sin City (Volume 1) – The Hard Goodbye and John Hartigan in Sin City (Volume 4) – That Yellow Bastard are far more engrossing, and the stories in those volumes are more intricate and pack more emotional punch.

However, this is small quip, when considered against the overall body of work Miller has generated. He has justified himself as a master storyteller and artist.

So, grab a coffee, hunker down with these graphic novels and enjoy the ride.

4 out of 5.

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.

Book Review: Sin City (Volume 3) – The Big Fat Kill by Frank Miller

TL;DR – Dwight McCarthy is back and this time he’s helping the women of Old Town retain control of their little patch of Sin City. Everything seems to be going to plan until the mob shows up.

Summary (warning: spoilers)

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

When Jackie-boy and his goons appear on Shellie’s doorstep drunk and looking for a fun time, Shellie tells them to get lost. Jackie gets rough and nasty when he’s drunk, and Shellie has the bruises to prove it.

Unknown to Jackie and company is that Dwight is standing in Shellie’s apartment, all muscle and naked, right behind her. Seems like Jackie has interrupted their lovemaking and he is none too impressed. He whispers to Shellie to let them in, saying he’ll take care of them. He’ll make sure Jackie will never bother her again.

Shellie looks at him alarmed telling him to stay out of this, so Dwight makes himself scarce but watches from the shadows as she lets Jackie in. They argue, Jackie’s goons raid her fridge, and Jackie starts to lose his temper and hits her.

A bathroom break results in Dwight making his presence known and shoving Jackie’s head in a toilet bowl. Dwight warns Jackie to leave Shellie alone and never come back. Jackie and his goons high tail it out of there, but Dwight is convinced that they are still looking for trouble. He decides to follow them and jumps down from Shellie’s apartment window, hopping into his car. Shellie appears at the window and shouts at Dwight to stop.

At least, that’s what Dwight thinks she says but a helicopter flying overhead makes it so he isn’t sure. He really should have listened to Shellie and stayed out of it. But he follows Jackie, and they all end up in Old Town… a section of Sin City best avoided if you’re drunk and looking for trouble.


Welcome to Old Town. If you have the cash, you can pretty much buy anything you want from the women who work the streets. That is unless you’ve got a temper. The women of Old Town have bled for these streets, and it is now their turf. If you’re looking for trouble, then all you need to do is act violent towards a woman in Old Town and trouble will fall upon you from on high quicker than you can blink. Pull out a weapon and you’ll get a one-way ticket straight to hell. And you don’t need cash for that ticket, that’s on the house.

When Jackie and his mates come rumbling in and start wanting to hire the services of a prostitute, the prostitute calmly tells them she doesn’t do ‘group’ jobs and suggests they check out Alamo on Dillon Street. Jackie doesn’t get the message and won’t take no for an answer. He’s already on a knife’s edge after the vitriol shot at him by Shellie and then having to drink toilet water by Dwight. The man can only take so many rejections and kicks to his ego. He pulls out a gun and tells the prostitute to get in.

Bad move.

Old Town is ruled by a matriarchy of prostitutes led by Gail wearing an S&M outfit that you can’t take your eyes off and has a ton of history with Dwight. In Dwight’s own words, he describes her as: “My warrior woman. My Valkyrie. You’ll always be mine. Always and never.” Thus, indicating that they will always do anything for each other, but they’ll never be together because theirs is a fire that will consume them both.

Gail and her girls have been watching Jackie (and Dwight) ever since they drove into Old Town with a cop car in pursuit (more on this in a minute). When Jackie makes the mistake of pulling out his gun on Becky the prostitute, Gail gives the signal for Miho to do her thing.

Ahh Miho… the Japanese angel of death. She makes merciless work of Jackie and his mates using her assortment of acrobatic and assassin moves combined with dual katanas and swastika shurikens.

It’s around this time of dismembering that Dwight starts getting this feeling in his gut that he can’t ignore. That type of feeling that screams at him that things don’t quite add up. Yes, Jackie and his goons are trouble. Yes, they’re nasty drunks. Yes, Jackie talks the tough talk and throws threats at people like confetti. Yes, Jackie-boy has a temper and has hit women. But, to Dwight’s knowledge, Jackie has never actually killed anyone.

In the aftermath of the slaughter, Dwight finds Jackie’s wallet and discovers to his horror that Shellie didn’t yell “stop” when he jumped out of her window, she yelled “cop”. As in, “He’s a cop!”

And not just any cop. Turns out Jackie-boy is Jack Rafferty, a hero cop. When Dwight flashes the badge at Gail, Miho and the rest of the girls, they know the proverbial has hit the fan.

Remember the cop car I mentioned before? The one that was in hot pursuit? Turns out, there is an uneasy truce between the police and the prostitutes of Old Town. The deal is the police give Gail and her girls in Old Town freedom to defend their turf and in exchange the cops get a slice of the profits made and free parties. The police also ensure Old Town can operate without intrusion from nefarious influences such as pimps and the mob. The cop car that was pursuing Jackie-boy turned around once he saw they would enter Old Town.

However, the truce goes all down the tube if a cop gets killed.

The action comes thick and fast once reality sinks in of what Dwight, Gail and company have done. Bodies are chopped up and stuffed into the boot of a car, Jack’s decapitated head starts talking to Dwight as he drives frantically to the pits to dump the bodies, mercenaries are hired to stop Dwight, the mob gets involved, there’s manipulation, there’s double-cross, and by the last page the body count will be far higher than Jackie and his goons.

It’s all classic crime-noir written and illustrated masterfully by Frank Miller. I have already spoken extensively about his artistic style in previous reviews of the Sin City series. All I will add in this review is Miho the assassin is a marvel, and I was happy to see rain swept scenes in this volume, which were absent in volume two.

The ongoing presence of Dwight McCarthy in volume three (he was the main character in volume two) demonstrates that Frank has more to tell of this character. While I am not as enarmoured with Dwight as I was with Marv (the main character in volume one), there’s enough to enjoy in the story and art that you’ll cast your eyes repeatedly over Sin City: The Big Fat Kill.

4.5 out of 5.

Book Review: Sin City (Volume 2) – A Dame To Kill For by Frank Miller

TL;DR – Dwight can handle most things in Sin City until Ava comes calling. He’ll do anything for her, she’s a dame to kill for but is she a dame to die for?

Summary (warning: spoilers)

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

Dwight McCarthy is a private investigator who does jobs that involve digging out skeletons from closets and photographing them. And when it comes to Sin City, there are plenty of people with skeletons in the closet (and plenty of literal skeletons buried in the swamps or beneath the city).

Dwight takes on contracts without fuss. Doesn’t ask too many questions. Minds his own business unless he is paid a large sum to do otherwise. He’s a professional and from the outside appears like a guy who has his head screwed on straight, which is a feat in itself when we talk about the denizens of Sin City.

However, beneath that exterior is a beast wanting to get out. A beast that torments him and will unleash mayhem if he ever loses control. For almost four years, he’s never lost control. He has stayed on the straight and narrow and moved forward.

Enter ex-lover, Ava Lord.

Oh Dwight… poor bastard never stood a chance.


Femme fatales and crime noir are a match made in heaven (or hell depending on your point of view). They are an immediately strong archetype that grabs your attention, and for Dwight McCarthy, he is no less immune as Ava Lord waltzes back into his life with wide eyed innocence (you know she’s not innocent), full pouty lips (that you want to kiss even if they’re laced with poison), and seductive curves. She injects herself into his veins like an old addiction with new fire.

Dwight comes off as a disciplined man. He does his job. Doesn’t drink, do drugs or smoke. He’s clean shaven (both head and face), lean and trim (with enough muscle to make a boxer pause) and has a sharp intellect.

Four years ago, Ava broke his heart (left him for a richer guy) and it has taken him years to get himself back to the way he wants. And just like that, Ava re-enters his life, all ‘damsel in distress’. Dwight knows she’s trouble. We know she’s trouble. Dwight’s head screams at him to stay out of whatever mess Ava has got herself into. It’s the sane move. The smart move. But, of course, his heart goes for the dumb move.

When the double-cross happens, it is textbook crime noir but thankfully Dwight has an ace up his sleeve. And that ace is the hulking giant that is Marv. I urge readers who have not read volume one of Sin City – The Hard Goodbye to do so before diving into this one. Marv is a wonderful creation and the main protagonist in volume one. His supporting role is key to Dwight’s survival and eventual redemption.

Frank Miller’s writing has the same flow as the previous volume, and there is the unintentional consequence that readers might think Dwight is the same sort of character as Marv. They both have inner demons, they both become afflicted by a purpose driven from a female character, and they both have this thread of decency that seeks to rise above the crime and corruption of Sin City.

Miller attempts to make distinctions between the pair with mixed success. Dwight is smarter. Marv is cunning and loyal. Dwight is not as damaged as Marv, and physically Marv is built like a tank while Dwight is more an athletic hit-man build. The visuals definitely help differentiate the pair, which segues nicely into Miller’s exquisite art.

Black and white, light and shadows, the constant juxtaposition gives Miller’s art a three-dimensional effect which is filled with surprising detail yet in a minimalist way. The smoky atmosphere of a seedy bar, the shine of lipstick on Ava’s lips, the intensity of Dwight’s stares and the lift of his eyebrows, the movements of Nancy the exotic dancer with her cowboy hat and boots, lights through windows, terracotta tiles of roofs and brick walls, the rippling house lights onto a swimming pool… it’s a feast for the eyes if you take the time to absorb its stark and surprising beauty.

However, in the end, Dwight is no Marv. Marv is a far more complex individual and more fascinating as a result. Volume one was mind-blowing, so the bar was set very high indeed. Sin City – A Dame To Kill For is still an engrossing read, and you’ll still be driven to read the next volume in the series. It’s just that big lug Marv in volume one gets under your skin in a way that Dwight in volume two never can.

4 out of 5.

Book Review: Sin City (Volume 1) – The Hard Goodbye by Frank Miller

TL;DR – Artistically, one of the greatest noir graphic novels ever drawn with a solid crime story to back it up.

Summary (warning: spoilers)

Marv is good at killing. Very good. With a military background, he is now a professional killer for hire. He has been doing it for so long, he no longer knows why. It doesn’t help that he has been on the receiving end of several violent encounters and now looks like a bloke who dunked his face in a blender just for laughs. Still, you know whatever he has been through the other guy is far worse off.

When he meets Goldie, a gorgeous prostitute, they get drunk and spend the night together. He can’t believe his luck. Is it out of pity? Or something more? An act mercy from an angel from heaven?

Three hours later, Marv wakes up with cement in his head from all the alcohol and realises that Goldie’s beautiful naked form is not moving. She’s dead. No signs of the cause of death. Looks like she died in her sleep except Marv, who has always felt in his gut when something is wrong, knows she didn’t die of natural causes. She was murdered.

When police sirens come hurtling his way, he knows he’s been framed.

Set against the backdrop of Sin City, a place where corruption, crime and depravity are as common as the foul weather and foul streets, we follow Marv on his quest for revenge. Finally, he is feeling something. He knows it is fleeting, but he has a purpose. A sense of clarity that allows him to raise his head above the stink and despair. Even if he knows he will likely be dragged back down in the sewers, he’ll embrace the hard goodbye.


Frank Miller’s crime noir follows the well-trodden path of other stories within this genre. The main protagonist is instantly recognisable as a character who is barely holding on to the remnants of his sanity and soul in a city that wants you experiencing nightmares when you’re asleep and awake. Marv is a hulk of a creation that you gravitate towards even though you would never want to meet him alone in a dark alley. While there is a simplistic intellect about him, there is also a cunning and survival instinct honed from many years in the trenches. And through the many hells he has experienced, there is still this sliver of decency that seeks to rise out of the mire.

As Marv seeks to dish out his own justice for Goldie’s murder while evading (corrupt) authorities, his investigation eventually unveils not just an abuse of power but an evil that has festered in a way that makes Jack the Ripper look like a saint. The men responsible for Goldie’s murder and a string of other prostitute deaths is a serial killer named Kevin and a powerful cardinal of Sin City named Roark. Turns out Kevin and the Cardinal have a very sick relationship where Roark believes Kevin has a divine voice that only speaks to him, and they go about not only killing prostitutes but eating them and keeping the heads as trophies. Divine cleansing through cannibalism… like I said, sick.

Though Marv achieves his revenge and Kevin and Roark are taken down in suitably gruesome ways, he cannot escape the underlying corrupt power that runs through Sin City. He is eventually forced to sign a false confession for the murders of Goldie and the prostitutes in order to protect his innocent mother. And the story arc of Marv comes to an end when he is sent to the electric chair.

The narrative is well written and places you in Marv’s head. His willingness to not care about his own fate in order to get his hands on Kevin and Roark is both noble and distressing. But what truly elevates this above the standard crime noir is Miller’s art.

Never before have I seen a graphic novel that uses black and white in this manner. The ability to create light and shadow through stark straight lines, and the striking complex mix of silhouette and distinct physical character traits (e.g. the folds of Marv’s trench coat, the cowboy hat and lasso of an exotic dancer, the solid black outline of a revolver held by Marv’s parole officer etc.) evoke an atmosphere that fits so snugly in Miller’s crime noir story that you’ll be convinced the genre could never be depicted in any other way.

But what probably is most stunning of Miller’s art in The Hard Goodbye is how he captures rain. And how he uses rain to create outlines of the characters that are walking through it. It is an astounding effect that captures everything that is hellish about Sin City and the people who seek to survive living in it.

While the writing is evocative and done with loving care, when combined with the art, this first volume of Sin City will grab your throat, reach down into your guts with a vice like grip and keep your eyes glued on its pages even when the voice in your head is screaming for you to look away.

Good luck trying to resist buying the rest of the series.

5 out of 5.