Sin City “Hard Goodbye”
Originally serialized in Dark Horse Presents #51-62
Written and drawn by Frank Miller
Published by Dark Horse Comics
Full spoilers for the “Hard Goodbye” Sin City story
If you’ve read any of Frank Miller’s comics, you’re probably familiar with some of his most beloved tropes found in his work from Daredevil to Holy Terror, including pudge-faced, long coated wearing anti-heroes, prostitutes, a crapsack urban setting, and hardboiled voice-over narration that ranges from unintentionally hilarious (” Sin City, she’s a big, bad broad flat on her back begging for it and I take her for all she’s worth and then I take her again and still she’s begging.”) to tight and poignant (“Worth dying for. Worth killing for. Worth going to hell for. amen.”) In “Hard Goodbye”, Miller plays with these tropes and devices like a kid with his favorite action figures, but he also constructs a three dimensional character in Marv, who is the dark grey anti-hero Sin City needs. Marv is a driven character, who will go to any means necessary to avenge the death of Goldie, a prostitute and “goddess”, who gave him the time of his life before she was killed. The plot of “Hard Goodbye” is filled with forward momentum and doesn’t go down any rabbit trails. Miller fleshes out some of the backstory of (Ba)Sin City, its ruling clan the Roarkes, and supporting characters, like Lucille and Nancy, but it mostly focuses on one violent, mentally unhinged (yet well-intentioned) man’s quest for vengeance , justice, or something in-between.
Let’s start out with Frank Miller’s art on “Hard Goodbye”. Miller’s figure work on Marv is one of Miller’s most intriguing because he a character with superhuman strength and agility, who is also one ugly bastard. Miller makes him both a vulnerable and tough-as-nails character. It takes two tries in the electric chair for Marv to finally die, but he also has a very childlike relationship with his mother, who has kept his room immaculate, toy biplanes and everything. Miller’s art shows the fierce and vulnerable sides of Marv in his twin portrayals of his approach to Kevin’s farm. The first time Marv is hesitant and huddled in the background as various critters take the foreground; the final time he confidently strides through the woods in a single small panel. Miller’s linework is also steadier in this scene. The art in “Hard Goodbye” is a little inconsistent though. Miller’s fight scenes range from cluttered bare-knuckled brawls to easier to follow scenes where one can follow the line of bullets into Marv’s trenchcoat. There are also some problematic pages at the beginning of the story where Miller spends four pages on a strip-tease. He may have been using this to set up Nancy’s character for later stories like “The Yellow Bastard”, or also showing how Marv can have platonic relationships with sex workers. However, this scene is just a little too much.
Miller has quite the obsession with long strands of narration (which work better when delivered by Mickey Rourke), but even if it sometimes reads like a bad ripoff of a Dashiell Hammett novel, the narration adds depth to the character of Marv and tells a little about the world of Sin City setting its roots in the mythical realms of spaghetti westerns and the robber barons of the Gilded Age before bringing it into the kind of modern neo-noir setting. However, Miller does his own take on these well-worn film noir tropes through little things, like only having it rain for the big epiphany scene instead of having it rain in basically every page/frame like most noir films and comics. He also makes Marv a less than capable detective. Marv eventually makes it to the big fish in the murder pond, but his route is tortuous and filled with one too many maimings and killings. This catches up with him, and he loses friends along the way before readers find out the true meaning of the “hard goodbye”. Despite its moments of sexism, shaky art, and overdependence on voice over narration, Sin City “Hard Goodbye” is a fast-paced read with a complex anti-hero that I would argue is Frank Miller’s best original creation.