Sin City: A Dame to Kill For
Written by Frank Miller
Art by Frank Miller
Published by Dark Horse Comics
Sin City: A Dame to Kill For is the second book in Frank Miller’s seven-book series, originally published in 1993. For fans of the 2005 film Sin City but are perhaps unfamiliar with the original graphic novels, A Dame to Kill For provides necessary context behind one of the protagonists, Dwight McCarthy, and his troubled past with his ex-lover, Ava Lord.
The graphic novel takes a hardboiled crime story and presents it in a highly stylised way, with the themes and characteristics of classic 1940s’ noir repackaged for modern audiences. The book was written 21 years ago and perhaps it is this, or the era that it is trying to recreate, that is to blame for the clear sexism towards female characters; they are depicted as sexual objects, scantily dressed or nude, and always inferior in terms of power.
Like most graphic novels, Ava is a typical female character: highly sexualised, rarely dressed yet powerful in demeanour, her role as the femme fatale drives the story and reflects a need to be in charge of the situation. However, her ability to manipulate men for her own personal gain reinforces the notion that a woman needs a man to survive and ultimately, she remains an object to satisfy the sexual or violent needs for the story’s male characters, or both in Dwight’s case.
Dwight’s initial mission to save Ava from her abusive husband provides a classic plot of where the valiant hero charges in to save the day and win the girl. On paper, it looks like a male power fantasy but in less-cynical eyes, there is a hint of romance behind this foolhardy mission. A troubled man, obsessed with his ex-lover, only for her to come back into his life and not only beg for his forgiveness but also save her for her life of misery. Up to a certain point, there is a glimmer of hope that Basin City has not truly corrupted everyone if a nobody like Dwight is willing to go and save the one he loves, but as Ava’s true intentions are revealed, this hope is immediately crushed.
The capitalised dialogue hardens the story and the minimalist art, the graphic scenes of violence and sex, as well as consistent night scenes, reflect the seediness of not only the city but the characters that live there.