Sin City: The Hard Goodbye
Collects: Dark Horse Presents: 5th Anniversary Special, Dark Horse Presents #51-62
Writer: Frank Miller
Artist: Frank Miller
By Michael David Sims
What makes Sin City cool is that it doesn't give a shit, just like the cool kid on the playground. He smokes and curses and stares at girls' tits and he doesn't care if anyone sees because no one can touch him. And so what if they can? It doesn't matter, 'cause he don't give a shit. That's cool. That's Sin City.
First serialized in 1991 as part of Dark Horse Presents, Sin City: The Hard Goodbye (as it's now referred to) started out slow. Like any good crime novel (and that's exactly what this book is), it takes its sweet time setting up the players, but once it gets rolling it rolls hard and fast and doesn't stop until the ending comes crashing down on your head like a three-hundred pound man. And even then you're left with a cold, empty feeling in the pit of your stomach because it tells the awful truth of the world; there are no real "good guys" to save the day, but there are plenty of "bad guys" more than willing to stick a knife into you back when your usefulness has run its course. Worse yet, nobody wins. Ever. Not the heroes. Not the villains. And when the do, it's a temporary victory. A battle that means nothing in the grand scheme of things because we all die and life movies on. That's Sin City.
Yeah. So just as Sin City is as cool as the crass kid on the playground, it's just as depressing because you know the characters, just like that kid, have no future — not the way they're headed, anyway. But, unlike the kid, that's okay because Sin City is craftily written fiction that tears at your guts and draws these scummy characters right into you heart.
Truthfully, there's only one character in this book that's worth a damn and that's pushing it. Marv is a down on his luck, pill-popping ex-con with an ugly mug and a propensity for gruesome violence. He's unstable and questions his own sanity more often than not. He knows he's not smart and sees a bleak future for himself, so he drinks until the sun comes up and passes out in ten dollar flophouses. Or on the curb. Whichever is more convenient.
When Goldie walked into his life, however, his outlook changed. Sexy and blond and sweet like an angel with all the right curves that drive men wild, she could have had any man but she chose Marv. Marv might be as tough as a tank, but he doesn't get laid all that often. Not even the whores of Sin City will get near him. He's too damn ugly. Too damn scary. But Goldie didn't care. She treated him like a man should be treated, riding him until both their sweaty bodies fell into the sheets from sheer exhaustion. It was perfect. She was Goldie. She was his angel.
Three hours later, Marv is awake but Goldie isn't. Her perfect body lays forever motionless in bed. Could have been a heart attack and if it weren't for the lack of bruises Marv guesses he could have killed her in his sleep, but the approaching sirens tell him something different. This was a frame-up and the police are in on it. He could go down easily and maybe he would have if Goldie hadn’t changed his life. But she gave him something to live for. Something to die for. Something to go to kill for. Something to go to Hell for. And, because she was a friend when he needed one most, Marv will break everyone who stands between him and the truth.
What he discovers along the way is a conspiracy so deep that he knows he can't win, but he can go down fighting. He can make them pay for killing his sweet, sweet angel. And that's just one of the things that makes this two-time loser the perfect hero. He knows he can't win but he pushes forward anyways. He doubts himself time and time again. His nerves get the better of him. He vomits. He drinks. He's flawed to the core. He's human. Marv could have been you or me had we taken a wrong turn in life; he is that cool, futureless kid on the playground.
This human aspect is what makes Sin City so damn wonderful. Miller could have written it from a cold distance, telling it mater-of-factly and, thus, making Marv just another large tough guy with a high tolerance for pain. Instead he let Marv tell the story, which allowed the brute to share his feelings and doubts with us. Outside he's an armored vault with a few dings; inside he's an insecure child that doesn't want to grow into what "they" always said he'd be. Inside he's a rebellious teenager enjoying the scrapes and bruisers and scars collected during fights. Inside he's a man looking for the soft embrace of a woman.
At 200+ pages, Sin City is a literary masterpiece that ran away with itself (it was initially plotted as 48 pages), but never loses sight of what it was meant to be. It's a hard-nosed, gritty, unrelenting crime drama with a human soul. Had it been written as a novel many would have called Sin City "pulp" and compared it to the works of Mickey Spillane, Harry Whittington and Jim Thompson. As a comic book, however, Sin City has no peers. Imitators have followed, but none can touch the sheer brilliance of Miller's pen.
Then there's the stark art dutifully crafted by Miller's brush. Unlike the characters, which are the definition of "shades of grey", everything is black or white. There's no crosshatching to give definition and depth or colors to convey mood. This style lends Miller the unique ability to illustrate what he deems important, and he can thus ignore what is not. If we need to see that there's a brick wall behind Marv or grass beneath his feet, Miller will show us. If not, he won't.
By employing this style Miller can continue to drive the story forward without distracting us with the background. All too often artists will labor over the minutest details, details that don't progress the story and can distract the reader from what's important. (Geof Darrow — Miller's buddy and model for the character Kevin — is guilty of this to the extreme.) And while littering the backgrounds and surrounding areas with perfect detail can serve some stories, crime fiction is not one of them. They need to be to the point: This is the case, these are the clues, those are the guilty. Additionally, any good author will tell you that you only show what's important. Meaning, if there's a rifle hanging over the fireplace in the first chapter, it better come into play by the last. That's exactly what Miller has done with his art. If there's a brick wall, chances are someone's face will meet it. If there's a hatchet, chances are someone will lose a head. If there's a wolf, chances are it will eat someone. In that, Miller scored a touchdown and the two-point conversion.
But as much as I'd like to say his artwork in this book is perfect, it's not. Several transitions seem out of place and feel as if they were added only to help lengthen the story (remember, it was originally serialized, so length was of the utmost importance), and, while Marv is on model from the fourth chapter onward, his initial design is slightly off. (It's akin to comparing Matt Groening's shorts from The Tracey Ullman Show to the third season of the The Simpsons. The basic designs are there, but they went through some changes.) Despite that, Sin City is visually stunning and these minor grievances never hinder the sheer enjoyment one receives while reading the book.
If you frequent Earth-2, chances are you're a comic book reader and have already read The Hard Goodbye. If not, you're truly doing yourself a disservice by ignoring this wonderful chapter in comic book history.