Review by Frank Plowright
There’s no denying this lives up to its title, weighing in a hefty 1300 plus pages in collecting all seven previously published Sin City books in one bumper bundle of bleak crime noir.
‘Sin City’ is the name applied to Basin City, where crime no longer lurks in the shadows, but is complicit with a corrupt police force to create a city bereft of hope occupied by the lost, the prey and the predators. Stylistically it’s a magpie fusion of classic architecture, most from the 1950s. When first published in the 1990s Frank Miller’s crime noir series was a real punch to the gut, and the opening sequence The Hard Goodbye remains barren, brutal and provocative beyond the remainder. With its horrific villain and the graphic presentation of his disturbing proclivities it steps well over any boundaries of good taste.
At its best, That Yellow Bastard and Family Values, Sin City provides edge of the seat tension based on the sure knowledge that the protagonists rarely walk away unscathed. Will this be the time they escape their seemingly inevitable fate? In other places the storytelling’s not quite as accomplished, with some of the shorter material and A Dame to Kill For the lower end of the scale.
Miller quickly establishes that he’s set his series up to have his cake and eat it. No matter a character’s eventual fate, they can be seen again as the material dots back and forth in time, with That Yellow Bastard spanning over a decade. He also cleverly cross-references sequences, as we return to a bar and realise that more than one person present has an issue worth relating.
What definitively comes into focus with the entire series gathered is that Miller never sits in one place, and is constantly developing his art. The almost visceral sheer scraping of white on black that characterises the opening serial remains the form of choice, but slightly softened, then parsed with the occasional colour. Some tales are more heavily inked, others specifically told in light and shade, and one in full page panels. The constant switching of styles within a single story for the final serial, Hell and Back, doesn’t always work, but that tale contains both Miller’s most ambitious art since the shock of the new when he began, and some of his sloppiest.
One constant delight is the classic cars Miller drops in throughout, helping greatly in setting the tone. The gull-wing Mercedes, E-Type Jaguar, Chevrolet Bel-Air, Volkswagen Beetle, Bugatti Atlantic, Studebaker police cars and many more populate the pages, reinforcing the pick and mix detail to create a classic visual style.
Sin City is no place for the faint of heart. The gruesome content never again quite matches the opening shot, but violence is graphically portrayed throughout, and following the template of the hard-boiled novel, there’s plenty of gratuitous sex. Some may have problems with Miller’s depictions of women, as until the closer there isn’t one sympathetic female character not also a prostitute or nude dancer.
There’s an obvious advantage to this book collecting the entire series, and although the price is hefty, it’s good value when compared to the total list price for individual volumes. It’s a larger format than both the more commonly available books, and the standard omnibus presentation. Those suspicious of art disappearing into the central gutter can be reassured about the quality binding, but opinions will differ on whether gloss paper stock is preferable to the previous matt presentation. In addition to the books already mentioned, this incorporates The Big Fat Kill and Booze, Broads & Bullets.