The Complete Sin City Saga – Part 1

***Warning: there will be spoilers contained herein for the Sin City series. I’m trying to keep them to a bare minimum but it’s almost impossible to do with talking about the entire saga. And bear in mind this all began 22 years ago, so it’s not like we haven’t had ample time. Nonetheless you’ve been warned.

That warning is stressed here because we’re discussing the main stories that both movies are centered around. Tread lightly if you haven’t read them.***

If you read PoP’s recap of the Complete Grendel Saga, the above disclaimer may look a little familiar. Another landmark independent series is up for a full examination. The occasion? After nine years (!), a second Sin City movie is upon us later this month, as Sin City: A Dame To Kill For is finally hitting theaters. As an added bonus, you may have noticed that Dark Horse prepared for it by releasing the Big Damn Sin City hardcover, a collection of the entire series weighing in at over 1300 pages! Of this isn’t a time to take a comprehensive look at a groundbreaking series, then we don’t know when is.

Sin_City-Episode_01-01Sin City made its quiet debut in 1992 in the pages of Dark Horse Presents (volume 1). It came at a time when the market was flooded with gaudy art, convoluted stories, and every form of variant cover known to man. The speculator era would soon threaten to bring the entire industry down, but a handful of books rose as shining examples of what the medium was capable of. As was posted on the PoP Tumblr (yes, it exists!) about the time the Big Damn Sin City hardcover was released:

We can talk about 2014 Frank Miller (*coughHolyTerrorcough*) another time. This? Is when he was incomparable and at the height of his power. Redefining comic storytelling.

Accurate as they may be, it’s an understatement of the impact that Sin City had upon release. It wasn’t an instant sensation because audiences didn’t quite know how to react, but appreciation quickly grew for what was a completely different way to tell stories in comics. No amount of pouches or crossovers could match the effectiveness of lavish black-and-white art and a simple, gritty story drenched in noir. Even 22 years later, every crime and noir comic produced – hell, almost every black-and-white comic produced – had been influenced by and risks comparisons to Sin City, add it still stands as the benchmark by which all of those types of comics are judged.

And it all started with a rough-and-tumble loser out to avenge the girl who have him the night of his life…

 

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The first Sin City “yarn” – The Hard Goodbye – starts with a hard-luck palooka named Marv having the time of his life with a girl named Goldie that would normally never give him the time of day. Goldie turns up dead in his bed by the next morning as police are conveniently on their way before anyone would know to call them. Stemming from this, Marv (and the reader) take a tour of Sin City to get to the bottom of who killed Goldie and why. Marv, with the help of Goldie’s twin sister Wendy and her crew of prostitutes, discover who’s responsible for the deaths of many of Sin City‘s finest…ladies of the night. Marv on the ladies ultimately uncover a conspiracy that goes to the the very top of the city’s power structure and possibly even the Vatican itself.

SinCityComparison2Originally, The Hard Goodbye had no other title than simply, Sin City. As mentioned, the story ran in serialized form in Dark Horse Presents (volume 1). Unsure how the radically different art and storytelling would be accepted, Dark Horse ran the tale with very little fanfare. The result would be completely the opposite, as a franchise would be born and not only would comics be introduced to the cult icon that would be Marv, but this story would ultimately be the centerpiece of the first movie when it saw the light of day in 2005.

The Hard Goodbye (as it would come to be renamed when Sin City became a much bigger series) was so influential in look and tone that, when it came time to shoot the first film, directors Robert Rodriguez and Frank Miller opted to use the book itself as the storyboards for shooting. To say that The Hard Goodbye set a distinct tone with its presentation is a gross understatement. Miller stepped outside of convention by using a very detailed black-and-white style that looked nothing like what came before, much less like anything at the time. The gritty look and feel was a huge hit and spawned more stories and characters in Sin City. The next we would meet are the doomed Dwight and the love of his life that he had to kill, Ava.

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A Dame To Kill For introduces us to Dwight, a former photojournalist now slumming it as a photographer-for-hire shooting the likes of the cheating rich. We learn that Dwight’s downward spiral has a name – Ava Lord, supposedly trapped under the yoke of her husband, Damien Lord, and his hulking bodyguard, Manute. Ava pleads to Dwight to take her away from their torturous iron grip only to reveal a much larger plan once Dwight had murdered Lord. Left for dead by Ava, Dwight recruits aid in the form of the lovelorn Gail and her friends (including deadly little Miho) – as well as the walking time bomb Marv – in exacting revenge and bringing Ava’s me empire down around her.

sin-city-a-dame-to-kill-for-poster3A Dame To Kill For continues the hard-boiled noir look and feel of Sin City but switches gears with the story. We have a tale of power and greed, but on a more personal scale. Whereas Marv knew Goldie for one night and wanted to avenge the feeling she gave him, Dwight falls for Ava all over again and is pushed to the breaking point by her ultimate betrayal. This is a more emotional yarn (if you can imagine such a thing in the Sin City mythology) that speaks to anyone who had felt betrayed by their true love.

For the sake of familiarity, fan-favorite Marv made his second appearance here, but clearly took a backseat to the main narrative. The Hard Goodbye was an introduction to Basin City, but A Dame To Kill For expands on that introduction and makes it clear that there are many stories to be told here. It is in this yarn that we are introduced to Old Town, and many other locales – and characters – would flesh out Sin City in stories to come.

Join us next week as we continue our examination of Sin City, including another storytelling innovation and two more yarns that would be adapted to film.

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Who ARE these people!?

Michael Melchor has covered pop culture in all its forms for several publications and websites, including BackStage Pass magazine, 411Mania.com, and Examiner.com. He's been an avid comics reader since Barry Allen was first put on trial for the death of Professor Zoom. He's also been an avid wrestling fan since Dusty Rhodes beat Harley Race for the NWA World Championship. He now brings his fandom of comics, music, and wrestling to PanelsOnPages.com.

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