‘Lost in the Longbox’ Episode 19: “Sin City” #1

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Sin City #1
(Dark Horse, 1991)
Reprinted in Dark Horse One for One in 2010

Story & Art by: Frank Miller

Greetings from the Wasteland!

There are names in the history of comics that will forever be lauded. Lee, Kirby, Schuster, Kane…and so many more helped to form the foundation of the industry, as we know it today. But atop that foundation there must be a structure, and others moved in to build on it. Names like Buscema, Romita (and Jr.), Perez, and Claremont shaped the way I thought about comics as a kid. And then came the mid to late 80’s, and I saw The Dark Knight Returns. That was my introduction to the inimitable Frank Miller.

No one can doubt that Miller has left his mark on the comics industry. In the early 80’s he changed Daredevil. Then Dark Knight came out, and he reinvented Batman. At the turn of the century he released Sin City and 300, two books that continue to be stocked and sell well in comic shops today, nearly 14 years after they were originally published.

Of course I’ve seen the great Robert Rodriguez movie, released in 2005, but it was always such a commitment, in time and money, to see the long line of Sin City trades on the shelf and know that I would like them, that I would want to read them all. I thought I was over it, but Dark Horse, clever bastards, released a series of one-shots, first issue reprints of their most popular books in 2010 under the “one for one” banner, to draw in new readers, and of course I picked up Sin City #1 when I saw it.

Let’s set the tone. 1991. I was in the eighth grade. C&C Music factory wanted everybody to dance now. The Silence of the Lambs, Robin Hood: Prince of Thieves, and Ernest: Scared Stupid were all released. In comics, the New Mutants from Marvel introduced the characters of Domino, Deadpool, and the X-Force team. Wizard magazine published its’ first issue. And in the Dark Horse Presents Fifth Anniversary Special, Frank Miller publishes Sin City for the first time.

Sin City has a distinct look. Miller uses black and white to the extreme, making the most some of the most dramatic splash pages on the market still. The trades, lined on the shelf with splashes of color denoting the story contained, has a visual element that is intriguing, and it is a look that he began in the first book and continuing to faithfully use throughout the series.

This is a noir story, so the use of black and white works well. The first three pages are single images and make a powerful statement. It is the one-night relationship between Marv and Goldie, the night that spawns the whole storyline for Marv, and is more powerful because of the lack of text. It evokes a more instinctual feel to the relationship, and accurately describes how it is framed in Marv’s mind. His use of negative space is amazing, and I can go back again and again to these images and be amazed at the detail inferred in the black.

Marv finds Goldie dead the next morning and knows he will be blamed. He has been set up and doesn’t take kindly to it. What his persecutors never realized was the connection that would be found between the two people. We never know if Goldie reciprocated the love that Marv feels, but we find that it doesn’t matter to Marv.

Marv is a creature of violence. There is beauty in those first pages, but even in the act of lovemaking Marv is clutching and grimacing. Only when they sleep do they look at all peaceful.

The cops come to pick Marv up and he goes on a rampage, diving through the door and taking them out with extreme prejudice. Even grinning in anticipation before he begins. The story ends with Marv saying, “I love you Goldie.” And we understand how destructive the love of some people can be.

Miller continues to amaze, even three decades after he first began his comic career. His unique art and writing style, his take on characters and his ability to reinvent them have made him a treasure to the comic community. Even if you don’t enjoy his work, you have to appreciate the fact that he can make a character seem different, can bring a new facet to a character. As with Batman. Would the Chris Nolan films be the same if The Dark Knight Returns had never been?

Okay. My “Ode to Miller” is complete. Read Sin City. Not just the first issue, but all of the trades as well, because they’re just that good. I know that many libraries have it now, as well as any comic store worth its’ long boxes. It is a fantastic example of why we love comics, and of how they can be anything we choose, if we only put pen to paper.

___________________________

Follow Brad Gischia on Twitter:  @comicwasteland

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