Sin City: The Hard Goodbye
by Frank Miller
1993 Eisner Winner for Best Graphic Album: Modern Reprint
1993 Eisner Winner for Best Penciller/Inker: Black and White Publication
1993 Eisner Winner for Best Writer/Artist
Frank Miller has become something of a joke in comic circles lately and not without reason. It's become increasingly difficult to tell the difference between a Frank Miller comic and a parody of a Frank Miller comic. Sin City is often considered to be part of that descent into self-parody. It's Miller's attempt to make a story so hard boiled you could use it crack skulls. He wasn't always successful at it but with the first storyline, The Hard Goodbye, he created something interesting to read.
Marv's a tough guy with a scarred face and on medication to keep his hallucinations in check. One night he meets a woman named Goldie, they have sex, and he falls asleep right afterward. When Marv wakes up she has been murdered in bed next to him and the police are on their way. Goldie was kind to him so Marv feels a need to avenge her and to do it he'll cut a bloody path through the underworld, the police, and the halls of power.
The Hard Goodbye was initially printed in short chapters in the anthology comic Dark Horse Presents and that had a major impact on the pacing. Miller has to get through the plot point for the chapter and end on a cliffhanger so things move at a breakneck pace. It's an hyperactive story but Miller never loses track of the focus; there are no side plots that derail the story for a few chapters. It makes the book exciting and tense.
Marv as a character is simultaneously fascinating and horrifying. He comes from the tradition of hard boiled protagonists who are tough as nails, charge through obstacles, and loyal to a fault. He's also capable of gruesome violence and relishes in it. He takes far too much enjoyment in hurting people. Marv is as bad or worse than the people he's killing and he only keeps the reader's sympathy by being the focus of the story.
Miller's artwork for Sin City is distinctive. It's a black and white book and instead of simply being black lines providing outlines of white space he applies that black ink with a roller. White space tends to provide shape to the heavy shadows without actually being enclosed in order to make an outline. It's a book done almost entirely in silhouette or negative images and it looks terrific due to that.
I'm not fond of all of Sin City but it's hard to find a reason to not recommend The Hard Goodbye. If you hate depictions of extreme violence then this is not a book for you (though the most gruesome of actions generally happen off panel). This is a brutal, violent book and while I think Miller handled those themes well (I'd never want to be anywhere near Marv) it's also a situation where it could easily repel some readers. On the other hand if you like that kind of pulp detective, action story then The Hard Goodbye is a great one.