Steven Wu's Book Reviews
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Sin City
A Book of Sin City
by Frank Miller

A book review by Steven Wu
January 13, 2002

Rating: 9 (of 10)

Sin City was the first book published in Frank Miller's "universe" of Basin City (hence, "Sin City"). And it's fantastic--both as an introduction to Miller's world and as a book in its own right.

The book starts off quickly--within a few pages we have a good idea of Marv's character, we know what the driving force of the entire book is, and we've seen what Miller his capable of with an intense (and wordless) escape sequence that effortlessly conveys excitement, violence, and tension in only a few pages. The excitement rarely lets up during the entire book; again and again Miller ramps up the tension, raising the stakes each time until the book's explosive (and eminently satisfying) conclusion.

The artwork in Sin City is wonderful. Miller draws each scene in stark, moody black-and-white; the overall effect works so well that I can hardly imagine this story being told in color. Miller's depiction of shadows is particularly impressive, and he occasionally just seems to show off how much he can do with only two colors: take a look at the chapter where Marv is thinking in the rain. (It says "rain doesn't come to Sin City real often," probably because the effort it takes to draw such scenes in black and white would prove exhausting.)

The writing is some of the best that Miller has done. All the text has a spare, clipped, hard-boiled quality to it that never seems artificial and never lets up. And there are some really choice lines in this book: for instance, "The killing, no. No satisfaction. But everything up until the killing will be a gas." And, of course, the infamous, "Now that is one fine coat you're wearing there."

Miller also does a great job with the characters. I had been afraid that, given the book's premise, the characters would be as black-and-white as the artwork. But Miller delivers again here. Marv, the protagonist, is a great creation. Sure, he's a "macho pig," as he calls himself, and he's also violent, merciless, and more than a little crazy (speaking about a psychiatrist, he says, "She tried to analyze me once but got too scared"). But underlying it all is a strong sense of loyalty, a great deal of passion, and a devotion to do what's right. I wouldn't say he's a good person--the scene with the hitmen creeped me out, even though by that point he'd already won me over--but despite the corruption and evil in Sin City it's clear that Marv has a strong moral backbone that sustains him through all the punishment he takes.

As well as Miller portrayed Marv, I'd say that an even better character was Kevin, the villain of this tale. He never says a word--but he's creepy as hell: the half-smile, the swift movements, the somewhat stooped shoulders. You know how they say it's always the quiet ones? Well, they don't know what they're talking about until they've seen Kevin. (As a sidenote: it's a relief to see people writing effective but believable villains in a genre that has steadily moved toward crazier and wackier villains than ever before.)

Finally, I just want to say that for a first book in a series, Sin City does an excellent job setting up Miller's creation. The feel of the city--the endemic corruption, the lack of reliable organized structures, the good and evil flowing side by side through the streets--every panel does an excellent job of letting us know just where we are. This book is a completely self-contained tale: but suffice to say that after I read it, I wanted to see what else Miller was capable of in the little town called Sin City.

Copyright © 2002 Steven Wu

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