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Original "Sin": A "Sin City" Primer

One of the latest in a long line of comic book adaptations, Sin City, hit DVD last month. Directed by Robert Rodriguez, Frank Miller, and Quentin Tarantino, and boasting an incredible cast ranging from Mickey Rourke to Jessica Alba to Elijah Wood, it’s one of the year’s most talked-about movies.

Right from the start, it looks different from Daredevil, Catwoman, Constantine, and X-Men before it. Director Robert Rodriguez set out with the stated goal of producing the most faithful comic-to-film adaptation of all time. The original writer/artist behind Sin City, Frank Miller, was less than thrilled with the prospect, having refused to sell the movie rights on several occassions. Rodriguez was insistent, however, and filmed an entire sequence with Josh Hartnett and Marley Shelton on his own dime. Rodriguez also requested that Miller co-direct the film. Though this decision cost him his membership in the Director’s Guild, it also won him the property.

It can be argued as to whether or not the Sin City movie lives up to its promises, but one thing is definite: the original Sin City is a truly fantastic comic series. Soaked in blood, babes, booze, and bullets, it isn’t high art, but it is high entertainment. With the movie hyped up to 11, and the original comics both readily available and not as well known as the folks in spandex, the staff of Toon Zone’s The Wikipedia entry on Sin City has compiled a handy primer on the comics that inspired the movie.

This article will cover all of the Sin City books released so far, and what makes them so cool. For those of you who enjoyed the movie, and are interested in checking out the source material, consider this the perfect place to find out more. For those of you already familiar with Sin City, consider this a nice refresher course.[/color]

A Little Background, or What Is Sin City and How Did It Come to Be?

By the time 1990 rolled around, Frank Miller had become one of the biggest personalities in comics. After cutting his teeth at Marvel in the late seventies pencilling books like Spectacular Spider-Man and Marvel Team-Up, Miller’s popularity skyrocketed after a critically and commercially acclaimed run on Daredevil that completely revitalized the character. He followed it up with The Dark Knight Returns, a four-issue Batman miniseries which would go on to become one of the most popular, influential, and controversial comic book yarns ever written. The eighties also saw the publication of Wolverine, a miniseries (one of Marvel’s first) pencilled by Miller and written by longtime X-scribe Chris Claremont, still considered one of the definitive Wolverine stories.

By this point, Miller’s status as a top-notch writer, artist, and visionary was assured. His popularity in the comics community allowed him the unique freedom to do whatever projects he desired. He took advantage of that freedom when he went to then-young publisher Dark Horse, and proceeded to do a series of stories that he could have never done at DC or Marvel.

Miller had always shown a taste for gritty, urban noir. Under Daredevil, he had taken a character who essentially amounted to a second-rate Spider-Man, ditched the wisecracks, and crafted a dark and compelling crime drama. Miller’s Daredevil was packed with all the film noir conventions: pounding rain, sleazy hangouts, and drunken thugs eager to prove themselves. He also introduced a classic femme fatale in Elektra Natchios, Daredevil’s former lover turned assassin. At Dark Horse, where he was free to show as much sex and violence as he wanted, Miller took the grim sensibilities of his Daredevil work, and borrowed some tricks from old EC crime comics, classic noir films, and writers like Spillane, Hammet, and Chandler.

The result was Sin City, a series of graphic novels and miniseries set within the titular town (short for “Basin City”). Sin City is a perpetually rainy, dreary metropolis, infested with crime and corruption. It is a place outside of time, where buildings, cars, and fashions from scattered decades co-exist in harmony. On its streets, tragedy, romance, compromise, redemption, and drama play themselves out daily. Each of Miller’s stories would be different. They would share characters and introduce new ones, but the locale of Sin City itself, its atmosphere and its demeanor, would be the common thread running through everything. Sin City was no mere setting, but a living, breathing character in the stories. Miller made his environment, his characters, and his drama come alive. The resulting stories were as grim, as gritty, and as dark as anything else you’ve ever read, but they were also entertaining and affecting.

So now that you’ve got a good idea what Sin City’s premise is, let’s take a look at the individual books. Please note that the versions pictured are the most recent re-releases. Starting this winter, Dark Horse began reprinting the Sin City volumes, with new covers by designer Chip Kidd, and a fancy coffee table-friendly design scheme. If you’ve missed out on Sin City so far, they’re a great way to get into the swing of things. Clicking on each cover’s picture will take you to the corresponding Amazon.com listing, and should you decide to purchase one of the books this way, a small portion of the proceeds will go to support Toon Zone.

Also, please remember that all these books are intended for mature readers.

Book One: “The Hard Goodbye”

to find a friendly neighborhood comic shop near you.

Other Sin City Resources:
The Wikipedia entry on Sin City
Dark Horse’s official Sin City site.

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