Sunday, 24 August 2014

Sin City, Volume 2: A Dame to Kill For Review (Frank Miller)

It's hard to give a summary of the story without making it sound cheesy and stereotypical with far too much macho action, because the book, and series even, is all of those things but manages to be so much better than all of that. A sleazy photographer takes pictures of an extra-marital affair with which he plans to blackmail the man with - this is our hero. Then the noir element kicks in - the femme fatale enters the bar in a haze of smoke and shadows. She's in trouble, and the photographer called Dwight is the one to save her after all... they used to be lovers. And then we're off, onto a twisting plot through the deadly streets of Sin City to a blood soaked ending.

I read the Sin City series shortly before the first movie back in 2005 and, now that the sequel's out, I thought I'd revisit this one to see if it holds up - and it most certainly does. This is Frank Miller: The Glory Years, when he was writing amazing Batman books, Daredevil stories, and creating his own comic masterpiece with Sin City. He writes and draws these books providing a master-class to all artists who read it: this is how you write a noir comic and make it both high art and bad-ass to boot.

The book is in black and white, and Miller uses light and shadows to full effect in all of the panels. Look at Ava Lord's entrance: first full page silhouette with hazy white smoke at the top, then close up, then look at Dwight's face, then close up still but not making out any features on the shadowy face, then the meeting, then straight into dialogue fresh from the 1930s. It's so cinematic! 

Or Dwight's fight with Manute and his bloody end, flying through a window, falling with the glass, hitting the bottom of the page, then a blank black page, then a full page look at his spread-eagled, unconscious form - end of chapter. There are too many moments like this to go into but I was shaking my head in awe of Miller's use of black and white in this book. The guy created a unique look to these comics that remain untouched with age and still looks innovative today.

I won't go into the twisty, turning plot which takes you one way and then, halfway through, switches direction with breath-taking ease and sends you hurtling another way. I will say one thing which is to read "The Hard Goodbye" before this as that's the first Sin City book and "A Dame To Kill For" is the second, and the two cross paths in their telling in a way that you'd appreciate more if you read them both in order. Hell, read them all, they're all brilliant!

The dialogue is wonderful, full of macho metaphors, moody voice-overs, each character playing an archetype with relish and verve - they're cartoons, they know it, Miller knows it, and that frees them up to just have fun with it. Don't approach this book expecting realism - it's gritty but not at all in a realistic way. 

The book and series is nothing short of a triumph of high art, literature, and the beating heart of what people love most about comics: fun. If you know someone who doesn't like comics because to them it's for people with low IQs or are perennially stuck in childhood, give them a copy of this book and see if it won't change their mind. 

Noir was a great genre while it lasted and Chandler, Hammett, and Cain were all geniuses but Miller takes Noir and makes it even better with his Sin City stories. There should be another label for the genius of these books but there isn't so I'll end this review by urging new and old readers of the series to pick up these books if you're looking for a damn good read. 

Get yourself a copy and settle down with a shot and a brew - Marv and co. have some stories to tell you.

Sin City, Volume 2: A Dame to Kill For

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