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'Sin City': A retrospective

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The (extremely) long-awaited Sin City: A Dame to Kill For is poised to hit theaters in less than two weeks, which can only mean one thing: It’s time to start getting in the spirit. While that doubtless means revisiting the first filmic installment of Frank Miller’s most iconic work, it also presents the perfect opportunity to revisit the books that started it all.

Whether you’ve read them all before, or have never turned a single page – actually, if you haven’t yet experienced the books firsthand yet, you may want to note the title of the beastly book that collects every Sin City story to date and stop reading there, because you have some serious pages to turn; 1,360 of them to be exact. Yes, that’s right. Knowing the mighty appetite that still exists for the Sin City canon the good folks over at Dark Horse saw fit to release a massive tome that collects every single bit of Sin City that has been published to date. It’s called Big Damn Sin City, and to put it as Marv would, it’s one d*mn fine book.

To say that reading these works is to see a master at work would be to state the obvious, we all already know that Sin City is amazing, so instead we’ll take a look at all of the yarns to be found in this enormous collection.

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The Hard Goodbye

The Hard Goodbye, in which Marv goes on a quest for answers and revenge after being framed for the murder of Goldie, was already brought to life in the first Sin City film. Revisiting the text after seeing Mickey Rourke in action is a testament to his stellar performance. We couldn’t ask for a better Marv. The action on the pages is meticulously reconstructed in the film, but as in any adaptation there are a few items left behind on the page like little treasures waiting to be rediscovered. This introduction to Basin City includes glimpses at some major players - Nancy, Shellie, Lucille - and features iconic settings like Kadie’s, The Farm and Old Town.

Classic lines:
(Basically everything Marv says should be included here, but for the sake of brevity, it's been parsed down to a few choice cuts)

“Worth dying for. Worth killing for. Worth going to hell for. Amen.”

“When you got a condition, it's bad to forget your medicine.”

“This is blood for blood, and by the gallons! This is the old days, the bad days, the all-or-nothing days! They're back, there's no choices left, and I'm ready for war.”

“It's beautiful Goldie, it's just like I said it would be, only better. And when his eyes go dead, the hell I sent him to must seem like heaven after what I've done to him.”

A Dame to Kill For

The tale that is set to anchor the new film installment, A Dame to Kill For is arguably the most classically noir installment in the series. Make no mistake, every blood-soaked page is hardboiled-noir at its best, but A Dame to Kill For has the twisty plot and irrepressible femme fatale that are near ubiquitous among genre classics like Out of the Past and Double Indemnity. Dwight, pre his new face, is struggling with, but containing his inner demons and working as a photographer. That is until his former lover, Ava Lord, contacts him one night. Though he knows better than to do so, Dwight agrees to meet Ava. A decision and a rendezvous that lead him down a dangerous path, on which he is joined by Marv, and even Gail and Miho.

Classic lines:

“Buddy, I don't mean to poke my nose in where it don't belong, but that there is a dame to kill for. Why'd you let her go?”

“Nancy's got a guardian angel. Seven feet plus of muscle and mayhem that goes by the name of Marv.”

The Big Fat Kill

Some years after the events of A Dame to Kill For, Dwight McCarthy returns to town with a new face and once again finds himself in a whole heap of trouble. Dwight and Shellie find their evening together interrupted by the drunken knocks of Jackie Boy, who has decided that he and his pals should impose themselves on Shellie and her friends from the bar (Kadie’s) for a night of fun. Jackie Boy’s abusive nature toward Shellie arouses Dwight’s ire. After scaring Jackie Boy off, Dwight determines he must give chase to make sure, menace that he is, that Jackie Boy doesn’t harm anyone else. This he does, despite Shellie’s warnings, a well-intentioned act that once again leads him down a violent and dangerous path. And on a collision course to a reunion with deadly little Miho, his old flame Gail and the rest of the girls of old town.

Classic lines:
(See note above and sub Dwight for Marv here)

“Hello, I'm Shellie's new boyfriend and I'm out of my mind. If you so much as talk to her or even think her name, I'll cut you in ways that'll make you useless to a woman. ”

“She doesn't quite chop his head off. She makes a Pez dispenser out of him.”

“Stay smart. Stay cool. It's time to prove to you're friends that you're worth a d*mn. Sometimes that means dying. Sometimes it means killing a whole lot of people.”

That Yellow Bastard

That Yellow Bastard, another of the yarns immortalized in the first Sin City film, follows cop and all around good guy John Hartigan. It’s his last night on the job - heart problems are forcing him to an early retirement – but he has one final loose end to tie up. A 11-year-old girl who is in the hands of psychopath. A psychopath who just happens to be the son of one of the most powerful men in the state, Senator Roark. When Hartigan refuses to turn a blind eye, persists in saving Nancy and does some serious damage to Junior, he begins his own undoing. Rather than being content to leave him to die by his wounds the Senator spares no expense to fix Hartigan up, and have him framed for the rape and murder of all those young girls in the process. Unwilling to yield and determined to protect Nancy at all costs Hartigan sits in prison for eight years, sustained only by missives secretly sent by Nancy. But, it’s not until her letters stop and Hartigan believes Nancy in mortal peril that their story really begins.

Classic lines:

“Just one hour to go. My last day on the job. Early retirement. Not my idea. Doctor's orders. Heart condition. Angina, he calls it. I'm polishing my badge and getting used to the idea of saying goodbye to it. It and the 30 odd years of protecting and serving and tears and... blood and terror... triumph it represents. I'm thinking about Ilene's slow smile, about the thick, fat steak she picked up at the butchers today. I'm thinking about the one loose end I haven't tied up. A young girl who's out there somewhere, helpless in the hands of a drooling lunatic.”

“An old man dies, a little girl lives. Fair trade.”

“I take his weapons away from him. Both of them.”

Family Values

Dwight returns in Family Values, once again paired with Miho. This time out, he and Miho have been dispatched by Gail to investigate a recent mob hit at a small diner. It’s not the kind of thing that sounds like much of a concern to the girls of Old Town, and messing with the mob is never a bright idea, but there’s much more concealed beneath the carnage of this hit.

Classic lines:

“You shouldn’t have shot the dog, Vito.”

Booze, Broads & Bullets

A collection of short stories, Booze, Broads & Bullets is a departure from the longer form tales that precede it. Comprised of 11 quick and nasty hits Booze, Broads & Bullets is the perfect source for a quick taste of the anything you can find in the right back alley of Sin City.

Collected stories:

  • Just Another Saturday Night
  • Fat Man and Little Boy
  • The Customer Is Always Right
  • Silent Night
  • And Behind Door Number Three…
  • Blue Eyes
  • Rats
  • Daddy’s Little Girl
  • Wrong Turn
  • Wrong Track
  • The Babe Wore Red

Hell and Back

The longest single story in the Sin City canon, Hell and Back is also the most unlike the other yarns to date, though there are a few easter eggs that reference earlier works in the series. The story is that of Wallace, an artist who is also a war hero and a short order cook. The action kicks off when Wallace saves a suicidal woman by the name of Esther. When the two head out together for a drink they are ambushed. Wallace is drugged while Esther is kidnapped. When Wallace comes to his wits – after being forced to spend the night in the drunk tank – he sets out to rescue Esther.

Fun fact:

Large sections of Hell and Back, which are comprised of Wallace’s hallucinations, are done in full color, with the color work done by Miller’s then-wife, Lynn Varley.

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That’s a lot of Sin City, every bit of it that has ever been on the page. However, two new yarns, written by Miller just for the film, will join the ranks when Sin City: A Dame to Kill For hits theaters, so you needn’t be too sad when you turn the final page.

Completeists, get reading.

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