Sin City: That Yellow Bastard
Collects: Sin City: That Yellow Bastard #1-6
Writer: Frank Miller
Artist: Frank Miller
By Michael David Sims
If I'm going to keep comparing Sin City stories to different age groups, then That Yellow Bastard would be the hardened old man with a stern sense of justice as well as the father that protects his family from all of the evils in the world, no matter the cost to himself. It also shows how much Miller's writing has matured.
Instead of relying on gross violence and impossibly tough tough guys, Miller takes his time to setup Hartigan as one of the few good guys in the honorably corrupt Basin City. He's old — pushing 60 as well as retirement — and he's seen good cops, such as himself, go bad time and time again, but that doesn't mean he's willing to lay down his badge and rollover like a whipped pup. In fact, it's the exact opposite; with less than an hour before his retirement sets in, Hartigan and his partner get a tip on the whereabouts of Junior Roark — the son of the esteemed Senator Roark and nephew to the sick and twisted Cardinal Roark from The Hard Goodbye. A known pedophile, Junior's crimes have gone unanswered because of his family name, but Hartigan aims to end all of that before the night is through and he's no longer able to protect the denizens of Sin City. And it's not that Hartigan needs to play the hero here by bringing down the twisted son of the corrupt politician; it's that Junior has kidnapped another child — eleven year old Nancy Callahan — and Hartigan will never rest knowing he retired before at least attempting to save the skinny child from her bloody fate.
As it is with all Sin City stories, something goes terribly wrong (mostly due to well placed bribes) and Hartigan finds himself on trial for the rape of Nancy and attempted murder of the young Roark. And there's no getting out of it. Not with the Senator's political stroke and money behind it all. Strangely, the grizzled cop doesn't want out of it. If he talks — if he dares to tell the truth — everyone he cares for and the young girl he selflessly saved will find themselves in shallow graves. So he keeps mum, never admitting the truth or confessing to the crimes he's been framed for. It's the one power he has over Roark. The fat man wants to hear Hartigan scream and beg and snap like a twig, but the former cop keeps his head high despite the beatings and eventual eight years of solitary confinement. He has to if Nancy is to stay hidden and grow up. He has to, otherwise it was all for nothing.
The only thing that keeps him going are the anonymous letters the girl sends him. Every Thursday a new one is silently slipped into his cell, but never do they give her name or location or any clues as to who she actually is. She blossoms into a teenager and then a grown woman. She falls in love — or tries to — and goes to school and finds a job, but the letters are vague to protect both her and her hero cop.
Then a Thursday rolls by without a letter. Then another and another and before he knows it, months have passed. Maybe she finally forgot about him, or maybe they finally found her. Hartigan assumes the worst and goes mad. It isn't until the severed female finger arrives in an envelope that Hartigan breaks and finally gives Roark what he wants. After eight long, silent years, the former police officer confesses to the trumped-up molestation charge and Roark uses his sway to have the parole board set him free.
His first order of business is to track Nancy down. If that was her finger it might already be too late, but he needs to know. And here's the one flaw in The Yellow Bastard: Hartigan looks her up in the phonebook. Eight years. He spent eight years cooped up in a jail cell protecting the young woman, never divulging her location, and he isn't out of jail for five minutes and finds her name listed in the Basin City phonebook.
What we quickly learn is that the finger did not belong to Nancy, and that it was sent to Hartigan in order to finally strangle the phony confession out of him. Once free, the Roarks correctly assumed that Hartigan would track Nancy down, and, thus lead them right to her. But if she was listed in the phonebook none of this was needed. Seriously, if the Roarks are so big and bad and connected to everything they could (and would) have found her using said connections and would have known that skinny little Nancy Callahan had grown into the lasso-twirling stripper of the same name.
This one flaw serves to keep That Yellow Bastard from a perfect score, and it's a damn shame because it truly is one of Miller's best. And what makes Bastard so great is Hartigan. He knows his limitations and he knows he screwed up — what with having led the Yellow Bastard straight to his prey — but he doesn't let that stop him. Nor does Hartigan give into temptation. After eight years in jail, the 70 year old man is in obvious need of a woman, and the 19 year old, hero-struck Nancy is more than willing to give him all of herself, but Hartigan can't do it. Even though they both profess their love for one another, he's too kind to take advantage of the girl. Forget what the papers have said about him, Hartigan is a glimmering beacon in the morally bankrupt city, and serves as a relic from a different age. He's also a stark contrast to the antiheroes of The Hard Goodbye and The Big Fat Kill. Though they're noble and stand by their friends at all costs, Marv and Dwight are hardly strangers to the seedier side of Sin City.
Anybody who's read the other Sin City books will quickly realize that this takes place long before the others — the clues being littered throughout — so Nancy's fate is hardly called into question. (Hartigan's survival is doubtful, however.) Despite that, Miller does a superb job setting up the tension which drives the story to its bloody conclusion. This is mostly achieved through the truthfulness with which he writes the hero and his damsel in distress. Of all the Sin City characters, Hartigan seems to be the one that Miller connected to the most and it shows. Then again, maybe it's simply that Miller's writing has finally matured to the point that he realized he doesn't need an "impossibly tough tough guy" as the lead to spin a wonderful yarn.
In my review of The Big Fat Kill I said, "When it comes to the art, this is Miller's best serialized Sin City work." I've since gone back and amended that statement so that it reads as follows: "When it comes to the art, this is close to Miller's best...." The reason for this is because I had simply forgotten how damn good That Yellow Bastard looks, and hadn't reread it before writing my review of The Big Fat Kill.
Unlike the other two books I've reviewed this week — which were sometimes plagued by rushed panels/pages and weak transitions — That Yellow Bastard is visually perfect. Everything is just as it should be. The aged Hartigan is slow and sometimes slumped and wrinkled around the face; Nancy is smooth and curvy and oozes sex; the Yellow Bastard is as round and lumpy as he is evil looking. The art flows by at a nice pace, and the double-page spreads are strikingly dynamic. And though you'll find yourself connecting to Hartigan through his selfless actions, it's the little details Miller has illustrated into the character that will truly anchor you to him.
In the end, That Yellow Bastard is more than a story about a good cop, his last case and the troubles that would follow him to the end of days. It's really a story about a man that believes in justice and fights to protect it even after it spits in his face. It's a story about friendship and sticking by those you truly care about. Most of all, however, it's a damn good love story presented in a genre that's normally mocks such things.