Sin City is a series of neo-noir comics by American comic book writer-artist Frank Miller. The first story originally appeared in Dark Horse Presents Fifth Anniversary Special (April 1991), and continued in Dark Horse Presents #51–62 from May 1991 to June 1992, under the title of Sin City, serialized in thirteen parts. Several other stories of variable lengths have followed. The intertwining stories, with frequently recurring characters, take place in Basin City.
Writer-artist Frank Miller rose to fame within the American comics industry with his 1981–1983 work on Marvel Comics' Daredevil, and the 1986 DC Comics miniseries The Dark Knight Returns, both of which exhibited subtle elements of film noir. Miller's venture into the film noir genre would deepen with his creator-owned series Sin City, which began publishing in serialized form in the Dark Horse Comics anthology series Dark Horse Presents #51–62. The story was released in a trade paperback, and later re-released in 1995 under the name Sin City: The Hard Goodbye.
In a 2016 interview with the Kubert School, Miller explained his inspiration for Sin City thus:
I've been a fanatic for a long time for old crime movies and old crime novels. But it started with the movies. And the old Cagney movies. Bogart and all that. I loved just how the morals of the stories are. They're all about right and wrong. But in Sin City in particular I wanted them all to happen to in a world where virtuous behavior was rare, which greatly resembled the world I lived in. It's kinda like the old Rolling Stones song, where every cop's a criminal, and all the sinners are saints, where the lowlifes would often be heroic, and the most stridently beautiful and sweet women would be prostitutes. I wanted it to be a world out of balance, where virtue is defined by individuals in difficult situations, not by an overwhelming sense of goodness that was somehow governed by this godlike Comics Code.
The film noir influence on the series' artwork is seen in its use of shadow and stark backgrounds. Black and white are the sole colors most of the time, with exception of red, yellow, blue, and pink, of which limited use is made in some stories to draw attention to particular characters.
Miller's Sin City work challenges some conventions of comic book form. The letters of onomatopoeic words like "blam" are often incorporated into scenes via lighting effects, or are suggested by the negative space between panels, or are created by the outline of the panels themselves. This is especially evident in early "yarns," such as The Hard Goodbye, which were more experimental.
Basin City, almost universally referred to by the nickname "Sin City", is a fictional town in the Western United States. The climate is hot and arid, although Sacred Oaks[clarification needed] is characterized as being heavily wooded. A major river runs through the city, which has an extensive waterfront. Usually twice a year, a major downpour comes, and the city is prone to heavy snowfall in the winter. Desert lizards and palm trees are common, while tar pits, desert areas, mountain ranges and flat farmland make up the landscape around the city.
The Basin City Police Department are more or less along the lines of paramilitary or SWAT, as they have to deal with incredibly high crime rates among criminals and civilians alike, which is why they have access to what most would consider "heavy weaponry" and full body armor. Those who make up the force have been described as commonly being lazy, cowardly and/or corrupt. Only a handful of the cops are honest, though frequently the wealthy of the city bribe the corrupt members of the police into performing their duty (usually as a result of some crime being committed or threatened against a member of their family)(Miller, 1991).
During the California Gold Rush, the Roark family "imported" a large number of attractive women to keep the miners happy, making a fortune and turning a struggling mining camp into a thriving, bustling city. Over the years, as the Roark family migrated into other areas of business and power, these women ended up forming the district of Old Town, the prostitute quarter of the city where they rule with absolute authority. In addition, the people charged with governing the city, most of them from the Roark line, remained in power for generations, running it as they saw fit. (Miller, 1991).
As the various yarns progress, the audience gradually becomes familiar with key locations in and around Basin City:
- The Projects, the run-down and poor side of Sin City, are a tangle of high-rise run-down and desolated apartments where crime runs rampant with no police inside. Its inhabitants have apparently evolved their own independent society with almost no legal contact with the outside world and SWAT teams rarely go in The Projects. Marv was born in the Projects, and currently resides there. Dwight avoids The Projects and hates the neighborhood.
- The Docks, a collection of wharfs and warehouses that are local to the Projects, since The Docks overlook The Projects. Hartigan and Roark Junior have their first confrontation here in That Yellow Bastard, and Marv drives a stolen police car off one of the piers at the beginning of The Hard Goodbye.
- Kadie's Club Pecos is a strip club and bar in Old Town, where Nancy Callahan and Shellie work, and where Dwight McCarthy and Marv spend their spare time. Despite being filled with drunk and violent men, Kadie's bar is one of the safest areas in Sin City since it is heavily guarded by prostitutes and their protectors. Marv, who possesses an extraordinarily high sense of chivalry, protects the female employees of Kadie's from any violence that makes its way inside.
- Roark Family Farm (a.k.a. "The Farm") is located at North Cross and Lennox on the hills outside Basin City and shows up in several stories, including The Hard Goodbye, That Yellow Bastard, The Babe Wore Red and Hell and Back. It was also home to Kevin, a serial killer with ties to the Roark family. Marv burns down one of the buildings, and the Farm is abandoned sometime after the initial Sin City storyline. The Farm is the only location in the comic books that is outside Basin City.
- Old Town is the red-light district, where the city's population of prostitutes reside. Old Town is run by Goldie and Wendy. Old Town is off limits to the police. Though willing to engage in almost any sexual act for the right price, the women of Old Town show no mercy to those who "break the rules," and back up their independence with lethal force. The mafia families and pimps who were into Old Town's business were thrown out of the neighborhood.
- Sacred Oaks is the home to the rich and powerful of Sin City. This suburb is located on the outskirts of Basin City as a protection. A university is located in Sacred Oaks, and the entire area is patrolled by armed employees of its wealthy inhabitants, mostly SWAT teams.
- Basin City Central Train Station, which has a direct connection to Phoenix. It is located in the outskirts near The Docks and it is considered one of safer places.
- Mimi's, a small run-down motel on the far outskirts of Basin City, with only few rooms and a place where young couples make love. Nancy and Hartigan hid in Mimi's where she confessed her love to him. Junior also attacked Hartigan here and left him to die, although he saved himself.
- The Santa Yolanda Tar Pits, an abandoned amusement park of sorts outside the city, where several tar pits are located and dinosaur bones were excavated at some time. After a "big-budget dinosaur movie" caused a sensation, the county put up concrete statues of dinosaurs there to draw crowds. However, after an old lady fell through a railing into one of the pits and had a heart attack, the place was shut down indefinitely. They are frequently used as a place to dump things that people don't want found; high-schoolers also tend to sneak in there a lot. This is where Delia tells Phil to drive in Wrong Turn and where Dwight takes the corpses of Jackie Boy and his friends in The Big Fat Kill. Frank Miller has admitted the main reason the Tar Pits exist is as an excuse to draw the dinosaur statues.
Because a large majority of the residents of Basin City are criminals, there are several organizations and cartels central to the stories who are vying for monopoly over the various criminal enterprises in the city. Listed below are crime syndicates, gangs and other low-lifes who figure heavily in the Sin City mythos.
The Basin City Police Department: So deep does corruption and criminality run in Basin City that even their police officers qualify as a gang of paid thugs, turning a blind eye to the affairs of those too poor to pay them off. Few among them are considered incorruptible; even the honest officers are unable (or unwilling) to curtail the criminal actions of the dishonest ones. Notable characters in the series who are police include Detective John Hartigan, his partner Bob, Lieutenants Jack Rafferty and Mort, Commissioner Liebowitz, and Officers Manson and Bundy from Hell and Back.
Roark family: A dynasty of corrupt landowners and politicians whose influence over Basin City has stretched as far back as the days of the Old West. Famous Roarks of this generation include a senator, a cardinal, an attorney general, and Roark Junior, 'That Yellow Bastard'.
The Girls of Old Town: Populating the region of Basin City known as Old Town is a group of women in the world's oldest profession, having made a truce with the cops to allow them to govern and police themselves. As of A Dame to Kill For, they were led by the twins, Goldie and Wendy.
Wallenquist Organization: A powerful crime syndicate led by Herr Wallenquist, a mysterious crime lord with a broad range of criminal enterprises to his name. Although they are one of the city's two "normal" criminal organizations, the Wallenquist management seems to be the most peaceful and forgiving of the various leaders. It is unknown which crime rings they hold.
Magliozzi Crime Family: The undisputed heads of the local Cosa Nostra, the Magliozzi family seems to be the purest example of "true" Mafia lifestyle. While they appear in only one story, it is hinted that the Mafia influence in Basin City's underworld is a lot larger than just their family and that there are more families.
Other groups that have been seen or mentioned in the comics include:
Tong gangsters: Mentioned, but not seen as of A Dame to Kill For. Miho's life was saved by Dwight when he secretly protected her during a fight with several Tong gangsters in a dark alleyway.
White slavers: Mentioned, but not seen as of A Dame to Kill For. Led by a man named Manuel, whose brothers were also involved. Were "taken care of" by Dwight prior to the events of A Dame to Kill For.
Irish mercenaries: Seen during The Big Fat Kill, most of them are evidently former IRA members, as implied by one of the mercenaries referring to his glee at blowing up a public house (British pubs were targeted by the IRA). All are killed by Dwight and Miho.
Sin City yarns
These are the individual stories, usually referred to as "yarns," set in Frank Miller's Sin City universe.
The stories have been collected into trade paperbacks and hardcover "Library Editions". There is also a collection of art, The Art of Sin City. The hardcovers include two releases, which include Volume 1 (Books 1–4) and 2 (Books 5–7 and "The Art of"). Additionally, Dark Horse released an omnibus-style collection, Frank Miller's Big Damn Sin City, containing all seven books and "The Art of" in one oversized volume.
In 2016, Dark Horse Comics released an ambitious, oversized edition titled Frank Miller’s Sin City The Hard Goodbye Curator’s Collection. This 15 x 21 inch book reprints the entire first storyline, scanned and reproduced exactly from the original art at 1:1 size. When referencing the production process in an interview with Michael Dooley for Print Magazine, editor/designer John Lind gave the anecdote “When Frank and I first reviewed some of the scanned pages from Sin City, he pulled one aside and said, ‘You can see details in some of the scans where you can tell what the humidity was like when I was lettering because you can see the smudging from my hand.’ That type of reaction represents the level of detail I'm working hard to achieve with the production.
|The Hard Goodbye||Episodes #1–13 of 13 from Dark Horse 5th Anniversary Special and Dark Horse Presents issues #51–62||ISBN 1-59307-293-7|
|A Dame to Kill For||Issues #1–6 of 6||ISBN 1-59307-294-5|
|The Big Fat Kill||Issues #1–5 of 5||ISBN 1-59307-295-3|
|That Yellow Bastard||Issues #1–6 of 6||ISBN 1-59307-296-1|
|Family Values||128-page original graphic novel||ISBN 1-59307-297-X|
|Booze, Broads, & Bullets||A number of one-shots||ISBN 1-59307-298-8|
|Hell and Back||Issues #1–9 of 9||ISBN 1-59307-299-6|
While The Hard Goodbye was the first story written, the first section of That Yellow Bastard is the first story chronologically. The Dwight-related stories fall in between these, with the short stories fleshing out the time between the main stories. Here is a rough chronology of the "Yarns":
- The first section of That Yellow Bastard, wherein Detective John Hartigan rescues Nancy Callahan from Roark Jr., resulting in Hartigan and Junior winding up in the hospital, occurs at least twelve years before the events of The Hard Goodbye. After being gunned down by his partner, Bob, Hartigan is framed as a child molester and charged with raping Nancy Callahan. He is placed into solitary confinement for eight years. Liebowitz beats Hartigan, trying to gain a confession. Mort is seen briefly in the hospital, where he tries to convince Hartigan to defend himself.
- Ava leaves Dwight and marries Damien Lord some time during this, referred to in A Dame To Kill For.
- Hartigan is put on parole, meeting up with Mort. finds the nineteen-year-old Nancy Callahan when he is out on parole. It is also on this night that Dwight goes home with Shellie, and sleeps with her (he is seen whining to Shellie when Hartigan enters Kadie's). Marv witnesses the reunion of Nancy and Hartigan, as shown in the beginning of Just Another Saturday Night.
- The remaining events of That Yellow Bastard play out within the next few hours or so.
- About a year later, Dwight secretly saves Miho from Tong gangsters; revealing this saves him during A Dame to Kill For.
- Three years later, the twins, Goldie and Wendy, take over Old Town. A few weeks later, Ava Lord contacts Dwight and asks to meet him. Ava mentions that it has been about four years since they last saw each other and Dwight agrees. Manute interrupts their meeting. Fearing for her safety, Dwight goes to Kadie's and recruits the help of Marv. Shellie lectures Dwight at having not seen nor heard from him in six months.
- Marv and Dwight attack the home of Damien and Ava Lord. Marv fights Manute, and Manute loses his eye in the process. After Damien is killed, Dwight is taken to Old Town by Marv, badly wounded. Dwight begins to be rehabilitated at this point.
- Gail, Dwight, Miho and Shellie develop a plan to get revenge on Ava Lord. Gail and the others tell Shellie that Dwight is still alive, and brief her on what she should tell the cops. On this same night, Delia (a.k.a. Blue Eyes) is inducted into the service of Wallenquist, placing her in league with the Colonel. Marv is at the bar when Delia sweeps off with her prey, happily resuming his nocturnal drinking habits. Manute is also briefly seen interacting with the Colonel, sporting a neck-brace.
- One night, possibly the same one as Blue Eyes, Marv meets Goldie at Kadie's. The Hard Goodbye begins with Marv waking and finding Goldie dead.
- In the beginning of Marv's rampage, he goes to Kadie's to try to draw attention to himself. On the same night, Mort and Bob arrive at Kadie's (mere seconds after Marv's arrival) and interview Shellie about Dwight's location following the murder of Damien Lord. She relays to them all that she'd been instructed to by the Old Town girls in Blue Eyes and sends them on their way.
- A few days into Marv's rampage, Bob (Hartigan's former partner in That Yellow Bastard) is shot dead by his partner Mort, who takes his own life (A Dame to Kill For).
- Less than three months later, Ava and Wallenquist unite their criminal empires. Dwight (with a new face), Miho, and Gail raid Ava Lord's estate, with Manute being gravely injured by both Miho and Dwight. Dwight kills Ava.
- The Babe Wore Red occurs, and in the story, Dwight states that Marv is currently on death row, framed for the deaths of Goldie and several others from The Hard Goodbye.
- Fat Man and Little Boy occurs, assuming[original research?] the witness they failed to silence is Mary, and that the two are concurrent.
- Eighteen months after the beginning of The Hard Goodbye, Wendy visits Marv on death row. A day later, he is executed by electric chair, dying on the second attempt (after the voltage from the first attempt was insufficient to kill him).
- Wrong Turn occurs and Delia kills the wrong target. Delia, the Colonel and Gordo dispose of the dead men. Wrong Turn features the first mention of Mariah, who makes her first full appearance in Hell and Back.
- Wrong Track occurs shortly after Wrong Turn, as Delia tries to kill the real target (on his way back from a delivery).
- The Big Fat Kill occurs. On a hot summer night, shortly before a major thunderstorm, Miho slaughters Jackie Boy and his friends. Dwight, in an attempt to prevent a mob war, tries to dispose of Jackie Boy. The Old Town girl known as Becky betrays them to the mob (Wallenquist, represented through Manute) in an attempt to make money and get out of the prostitution game. Manute, embittered by the death of Ava Lord, captures Gail and encourages a trade: Jackie Boy's head for Gail. Dwight and Miho arrange the trade, but the Old Town girls kill Becky and all of the other mob men. Manute is finally killed during a shoot-out. Wendy is also notably absent from this story, implying she was either still in hiding or otherwise preoccupied at the time, forcing Gail to take command of the girls.
- Family Values takes place in winter after The Big Fat Kill, indicated by Dwight making reference to Miho's previous killing of a cop (“The Big Fat Kill”), as well as his acknowledgement of Fat Man and Little Boy, who he says he shot in the legs last time he saw them (The Babe Wore Red).
- Behind Door Number Three... occurs at some point after Marv's capture, most likely after he was visited in prison by Wendy on the night of his execution; this is suggested by the fact she is seen wearing either Marv's crucifix necklace or one very similar, perhaps as a gift from him or as a way of honoring his sacrifice.
The short stories Rats, The Customer is Always Right and Daddy's Little Girl do not contain any of the series' regular characters, are not connected to the other stories, or do not give an idea of when the stories occur. Silent Night takes place sometime before The Hard Goodbye during the winter, as Marv is still quite alive and seen lumbering through one of Basin City's rare snow-storms. Robert Rodriguez stated that The Customer is Always Right occurs in between "That Yellow Bastard" and "The Hard Goodbye" on the Sin City: Recut and Extended DVD Edition.
Hell and Back does not fit into any particular time period. Manute is seen, alive with his false eye, suggesting that the events take place between A Dame to Kill For and The Big Fat Kill however, it is established that Hell and Back takes place over several cool nights in September; The Big Fat Kill took place on a hot summer night during a thunderstorm. (Potential reconciliation: Hell and Back AND The Big Fat Kill take place before September 21, if Miller is using any date before that as still, technically, "the summer".)
Dimension Films planned to develop a soft reboot of the series for television; Stephen L’Heureux who produced the second film was to oversee the series with Sin City creator Frank Miller. The new TV series would feature new characters and timelines and be more like the comics rather than the films. On November 15, 2019, Legendary Pictures bought the rights for the television series.
- The Hard Goodbye won the "Best Graphic Album: Reprint (Modern Material)" Eisner Award
- Frank Miller won the "Best Penciller/Inker, Black & White Publication" Eisner Award, for The Hard Goodbye
- Frank Miller won the "Best Writer/Artist" Eisner Award, for The Hard Goodbye
- Sin City won the "Best Graphic Novel Collection" UK Comic Art Award
- Frank Miller won the "Best Writer/Artist" UK Comic Art Award for his work on Sin City
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