Skip to content →

We Love the City Posts

Toronto Film Festival: S.P.L.

I’m not generally a huge kung fu fan. Don’t get me wrong, I love a good fight scene: When the fighting and the direction are good, it can really take your breath away. But many martial arts movies I’ve seen are simply too weak on plot and script. I rented Once Upon a Time in China a few weeks ago, and while fight scenes are incredible, I just didn’t care about the story or the characters. Frankly, I’d rather just wach 20-30 minutes of hardcore kung fu than sit through an hour or so of clumsy script and flimsy characters. Consequently, I tend to prefer movies like Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon or House of Flying Daggers, which may be lacking in kung fu credentials, but feature more compelling stories.

S.P.L. (short for Sha Po Lang, apparently the astrological signs of the three main characters) isn’t as eloquent as those films – of course, it doesn’t pretend to be – but it’s definitely more than a couple nifty fight scenes draggin along a third-rate plot. For most of the first three quarters, it’s a pretty straight dark copy drama: Detective Chan (Simon Yam) and his squad have been trying to nail crimelord Po (Sammo Hung) for years. When Chan is diagnosed with a brain tumour and faces imminent retirement or death, he steps up his efforts, and his over-zealous team of cops are willing to employ any methods – legal or otherwise – to bring Po to justice. Chan’s replacement, Ma (Donnie Yen) is understandably dismayed with the squad’s methods, and is under orders to bring them under control.

What follows is corruption, violence, murder and deception – on both sides. At times, it’s not hard to be more sympathetic to the crime lord than the cops; as played by the charismatic Sammo Hung, Po is a family man, a caring father and husband who just happens to be a ruthless criminal. At the same time, Chan and his men are so driven to arrest Po that they can completely disregard the law they’re trying to uphold.

Yen’s character is a bit of a dull straight man: He’s the honest-to-goodness Good Cop who wants to catch the bad guy without becoming a bad guy himself. He’s a tough guy with a mean repuation, but he tries to keep his violent streak under control after learning the hard way that with great Kung Fu Power comes great Kung Fu Responsibility.

While the movie simmers and bubbles for the first three quarters, the final half hour explodes like a stick of dynamite in a gasoline stew. When Po finally tires of Chan’s efforts, he calls in his silent and nameless assassin (Wu Jing) to dispatch the helpless cops. Wu is a flurry of punches, kicks, flips, and a very large knife; from the second he steps on screen, you know you’re going to see something very, very cool.

From there it’s an almost constant one-upmanship, as each fight tries to best the last. No one rivals the pure ferocity of Wu Jing: He’s like a vicious cat who wants to inflict the most damage before levelling the final blow. Donnie Yen more than holds his own, but he seems less the focus than his opponents; he’s still fantastic, but one invariably ends up watching the other guy.

And when that other guy is Sammo Hung, it’s a heck of a fight. For a big guy in his fifties, Hung’s a heck of a fighter. Not particularly graceful, but that’s not the point: by the time the final fight rolls around, no one has the time or patience for finesse. It’s a knock-down, smack-around, brutal fight scene that captures the dark and murky nature of the entire film.

S.P.L. has that rare combination of qualities that can make a film great: Stylish director, intelligent script, good actors and some absolutely top-notch fight sequences. Essential viewing for martial arts fans, and a pretty good introduction for those who could never get into them for the usual reasons.

Comments closed

Lady Snowblood vol. 1 review

snowblood1.jpgLady Snowblood is the story of an unstoppable and beautiful female assassin who leaves a trail of bloodshed and violence through the criminal underworld as she tracks down the four criminals responsible for destroying her family.

No, it doesn’t sound terribly original, does it?  And the cover’s not exactly screaming “unique and original”, either.

In fact, the only thing saving Lady Snowblood from being a complete Kill Bill ripoff is that it was originally published thirty
years ago, and that the subsequent adaptation was heavily referenced in Tarantino’s film: From the music in the opening credits to the final scene set in a snowy garden, Lady Snowblood
made an obvious impact on Tarantino. Accordingly, the original manga, written by the creator of Lone Wolf & Cub , is a pretty significant piece of work.

Set in late-1800s Japan, Yuki  is born in a women’s prison to an inmate serving a life sentence for murder.  No one knows who the father is, since the mother has been sleeping with the guards since she arrived.  Her cellmates finally learn the reason: Not for sexual voracity or even to seek favours, but to bear a child to carry out the vengeance she can not.

The adult Yuki is a highly paid assassin who pursues her blood vengeance between her
professional assignments.  Most of this first volume concerns itself with the paying work, primarily as a way of showing how formidable she is. The character teeters on the edge of being completely and utterly invincible, which defuses some of the dramatic tension.  Kazuo Koike balances this by
making sure not all of the stories revolve around more than simply Lady Snowblood‘s inclination to perform acts of great violence.  While she’s not opposed to slaughtering everyone in sight if that’s what it takes, later chapters in the book require more cunning and subtlety.  One assignment sees her armed with a paintbrush instead of a sword, while the final story involves pickpocketing, rape, murder, and the creative placement of several bodies.  The reader’s question becomes less “is
she going to make it out of this?” than “what on earth is she doing?”

Koike centres several stories around the politics and society of turn of the century Japan.  Western economic and political influence is seeping into the country, and there are those who want to embrace it and those who want to turn it away. Lady Snowblood offers a number of observations on the changes in society, from the top minds of the country to the lowest scum in the gutters. It’s often
secondary to the plotting and carnage, but it adds more depth to the stories: while Lady Snowblood herself can be something of a cypher, the interactions with her environment elevate the story above the simple blood vengeance tale.

In addition to inspiring Kill Bill, Lady Snowblood has a lot in common with the “Bad Girl” trend in comics that became particularly virulent in the 1990s.  Lady Snowblood is a hot chick, after all, who can pretty much kick any man’s ass.  And like any good bad girl, she frequently ends up naked in the course of her assignments.  One can suggest that it’s because fighting in a kimono isn’t exactly conducive to speed and agility, but few of the similarly attired men seem to view nudity as a strategic
advantage.  There are some minor misogynistic themes cropping up, but at this point in the series it’s difficult to say if it’s the writer’s work or just a reflection of the setting of the book.  It’s not enough to seriously detract from the story, and as long as “Lady Snowblood gets naked and bloody” doesn’t become a routine plot device, it’s probably not a huge problem.

Kazuo Kamimura’s illustrations capture the violence and depravity nicely.  Lady Snowblood is beautiful, while her actions are often terrible.  Koike relies on Kamimura to tell much of the story on his own – many sequences have little or no dialogue, and Kamimura depicts the action well.  Most of the fight scenes are expertly choreographed; I can’t quite tell if some are confusing, or if I’m still getting used to reading right-to-left.  Altogether, it’s not surprising that Kamimura’s artwork was used in the film to illustrate some of the backstory of the character.

The first volume of Lady Snowblood is somewhat lacking in an overall narrative.  The main purpose here is to show off the main character and provide a look at her origin.  As a result, it reads like more
of a collection of stories than one epic tale.  It’s still a very good collection of stories, introducing an intriquing character and showing off some excellent plots.  Lady Snowblood surpasses all of her imitators in grace, beauty, and ruthlessness; even The Bride would think twice before crossing her. Lady Snowblood is essential reading for fans of Kill Bill and Asian cinema, and a pretty good deal for anyone up a healthy serving for some sex, violence and vengeance.

Comments closed

Toronto Film Festival: The Great Yokai War

I’m not entirely sold on “Takashi Miike: Family Film Maker”.

Miike is, when he’s on top of his game, and insane genius. Audition and Happiness Of The Katakuris are fantastic, and Gozu, Visitor Q and Dead or Alive are inspired filmmaking. It’s true that he makes a lot of dreck, but you can’t be perfect when you’re making 3 or 4 movies per year. His films are often remembered for their bizarre, often grotesque scenes; while Miike doesn’t get by entirely on shock value, he still knows how to shock, repel, and entertain with graphic sex and violence.

The Great Yokai War, like last year’s Zebraman, is more or less a family film. There’s some weird stuff here, like a newborn calf-demon and a some occasionally frightening monsters, but for the most part it’s family-friendly. It’s sort of a live-action version of Spirited Away, with a dose of Harry Potter: A young boy finds himself proclaimed the hero of a war between demons and an evil sorceror who’s turning friendly spirits into mechanical monsters. It ends up looking like Power Rangers on a big budget: Cheesy, but with enough enthusiasm and originality to keep the audience entertained.

The story is children’s entertainment by-the-numbers for most of the film: Unpopular boy, prophecy, reluctant hero, plucky friends, furry sidekick… Miike gets away with it by infusing it with his usual weirdness. The spirits and demons are imaginative and fun: One is a wall with legs, another hops around on one leg, and one just counts beans. It’s not quite enthralling, but there’s enough to provide some laughs and entertainment.

The final fifteen minutes, though, see Miike break out his usual bag of tricks, as things go from “Kind Of Weird” to “What The Fuck Was That?” While most of the film sticks to a safe formula, it’s fair to say that you’ve never seen anything like the finale to Great Yokai. It shows that Miike doesn’t rely on explicit violence to make a point; it’s just as crazy as anything else he’s done.

Not entirely essential viewing, but enjoyable for Miike fans and those with an appreciation of the weird and cheesy things in life. If nothing else, rent it and watch the last 15 minutes. No amputations or necrophilia, but perhaps he’s saving that for his big romantic flick.

Comments closed

Adrian Tomine is spying on me

I think a lot of people read Adrian Tomine’s work and say “Hey! That could be me!” His characters seem very real and normal (albeit in an emotionally dysfunctional way), and the fact that they’re generally losers and outcasts makes them an easy identifier for comic book fans.

But this is just silly. I picked up Summer Blonde a few weeks ago (yes, yes, behind the times), and while “Alter Ego” doesn’t resonate with my personally, the character names are just freakin’ me out. The main character, Martin, doesn’t have any relation, but he’s got a friend named Ryan (me) dating a girl named Beth (my ex). That’s weird enough. But Martin’s dating a girl named Erin, a name shared by my sister and another ex. (Yes, I know, that’s fucked up even without Tomine’s help) And the girl Martin almost has an affair with is named Jenna (my current significant other).

None of the people in the story have much in common with the people in my life (aside from Ryan dating Beth), but it’s just too weird.

And yes, I know it’s sad that I’m only starting to read Tomine now. Summer Blonde was awesome, though, I’m going to pick up Sleepwalk soon, and there’s an all-new issue coming out in December. So get off my case.

Comments closed

I’d kinda like to fight the dragon

A couple years too late with this, but I just watched the final episode of Angel. Lorne & Lindsey shocked me, and Wesley & Illyria ripped my heart out and jumped up and down on it. The whole thing was great.

Some people seem to think I’m odd for this, but I’ve often preferred Angel to Buffy. It’s not an entirely logical preference. Angel doesn’t have a season comparable to Buffy 5, and the first season is pretty spotty – the first half is very monster-of-the-week oriented.

I think I preferred the different dynamic. While Buffy was very light and fluffy, Angel always walked on the darker side of fantasy. Yes, horrible and dark things happened on Buffy, but they almost always worked out in the end. Even the finale to Season 5 had an uplifting feel to it – Buffy did her part, made her sacrifice, and saved the world. (A lot.)

But Angel didn’t have a lot of happy endings. Just look at the season finales:
Season 1: Evil vampire brought back to life.
Season 2: Buffy is dead. This is a particularly nice contrast to Buffy: After the group’s return from Pylea everyone is happy until they see Willow standing there.
Season 3: Angel sunk to the bottom of the ocean.
Season 4: Probably the most mixed finale. It’s uplifting because Connor finally gets the life he wanted, but at the same time it’s a depressing because of how he got there. Plus they make a deal with the devil and Wesley has to deal with Lilah burning in hell for eternity.
Season 5: My. There are an awful lot of demons, aren’t there?

Angel wasn’t about happy endings at all. It was about fighting the good fight and doing what was right even if there would be no reward other than pain or death. The ending is fitting in that sense: Angel never really knew where his fight would take him, and most of the time he didn’t care. Buffy ended with the Hellmouth destroyed, the First defeated, and Buffy looking forward to the rest of her life. Angel didn’t really end at all. The fight goes on.

Lastly, I think I’ll just say that Wesley is probably my favourite character in all the Wedonverse. I’ll elaborate on that another time.

Comments closed

Now Resuming Transmissions

Since one of my reasons for stepping down from the Review Editor gig at Comixfan was to devote more time to writing my own stuff, it seems prudent to resume writing my own stuff. This is my own stuff. Pedantic stuff of little interest to anyone beyond my immediate and stunted social circule, but my stuff nonetheless.

The world is very cool. There are many interesting and intelligent people doing wonderfully creative things. There are probably more dull and moronic fools doing utterly meaningless drivel as well – and probably amassing considerably more fame and fortune for it – but who cares. It’s like high school, in a way: The jocks on the football team are jerks, and the rich kids are stuck up and arrogant, but everyone’s still got their own group of friends who are worth hanging out with.

I’m not a huge Franz Ferdinand fan, but I’ve always loved the lyrics to Matinee:

I charm you and tell you of the boys I hate
All the girls I hate
The clothes I hate
All the wors I hate
How I’ll never be anything I hate
You smile, mention something that you like
How you’d have a happy life if you did the things you like

So I can bitch and complain about things – and boy, do I bitch and complain – but ultimately, I’m much happier talking about things I enjoy. This often involves comparing the thing I like to something less favourable, but what can you do? I’m not Mary Freaking Poppins.

So in brief, some things I am enjoying right now:

  • Lucifer vol. 3: A Dalliance With The Damned. I’ve switched to trade format, as it’s totally the way to go for a series like this. Been catching up with some older volumes – I only started at around #25 – and dang, it’s some good stuff. I love Dean Ormston’s fill-in issues, and Ryan Kelly’s art is pretty spiffy, too. When Mike Carey’s on, he just sparkles: Great dialogue, intricate and unpredictable plots, and a great eye on the bigger picture.
  • Angel, Season 5. I only got into Wedon’s stuff after both series were off the air, so this is a DVD thing. At times, I enjoy Angel more than Buffy; there’s just an element of darkness and ambiguity to it. Disc 4 is just bizarre: The hilarious Smile Time, the very serious and excellent You’re Welcome and Hole in the World, and the generally dull Why We Fight.
  • The Impressionist, by Hari Kunzru. It’s a bit too Victorian at times – while I like the humour, the characters are too distant to really become attached to – but still a fun book. Very clever.
  • Howl, by BRMC. Apparently they’re a blues/country/folk/gospel band now. And it works. I wonder how many fans absolutely hate it, though.
  • You know, I haven’t seen a new movie for several weeks now. (Last Seen: The Aristocrats, which I loved) But fall is looking good, and the Toronto Film Festival is getting underway. Things I’m looking forward to include Takashi Miike’s Great Yokai War, Tim Burton’s Corpse Bride, Terry Gilliam’s Tideland and David Cronenberg’s History of Violence.

There. See how happy and well-adjusted I am? Isn’t life just peachy?

I’ll be more coherent and in-depth next time. Honest.

Comments closed

The Losers vol. 1 review

The Losers is the
best Hollywood summer blockbuster you’re never going to see at the local

It’s got explosions. 
It’s got gunfights.  It’s got
helicopters, airplanes, speedboats, oil tankers and armoured cars.  It’s got an eclectic cast of funny, cool and
clever characters.  It’s got daring
heists, ingenious escape plans and devious doublecrosses.  It’s The A-Team with a $200 million budget,
James Bond mixed with Ocean’s Eleven and The Usual Suspects.

You’re never going to see it on the big screen – at least,
not the way it’s meant to be seen – because there’s simply not a director in
Hollywood cool enough to pull it all off. 
Perhaps James Cameron could have made a good run at it before he became
obsessed with antiques at the bottom of the Atlantic.  Robert Rodriguez would have been a good
choice if he hadn’t made so many bad movies after Desperado.  If you could somehow combine the genes of
Quentin Tarantino, Christopher Nolan and Steven Spielberg, you might just have
yourself a director who’s up to the job.

But really, why worry about the adaptation when can have the
real thing in your hands?  Writer Andy
Diggle and artist Jock have produced an action-packed spectacle that will draw
you in and have you pushing your copy on all your non-comics-reading friends
telling them they’re going to love it. 
And you’ll be right.

The Losers used to
be a special ops military unit doing dirty work for the CIA.  Cool-as-ice Clay is the leader; there’s also the
hyperkinetic techie and conman Jensen, all-purpose getaway man Pooch,
hard-nosed Roque and taciturn sniper Cougar. 
They’re a motley bunch – hence the name – but are damned good at doing
all the things people aren’t supposed to be good at.  Then something happened in Afghanistan – we
don’t learn what, or when – to make them re-think their allegiances.  This didn’t go over with their Agency bosses,
who tried to have them killed, and succeeded as far as the paperwork was

So now they’re officially dead, and if they show their faces
in the wrong places, they’ll be really officially dead.  They’re faced with a fairly daunting task:
Take revenge on the CIA and get their names off the “Death List”.  They have the advantage of being familiar
with many of the dirty tricks the CIA are involved in, and decide to turn them
to their advantage for both profit and blackmail. 

First up is stealing a package that’s being transported
under very heavy guard in an armoured car. 
That requires a helicopter, and walking into Crazy Al’s Discount
Helicopter’s just isn’t going to cut it. 
Diggle weaves the plot with the intricacies of a master craftsman,
giving us Step 1, Step 2 and Step 3 before finally telling us what it’s all
supposed to accomplish.  When he does,
you’re left shaking your head in amazement because it all makes perfect sense
and you wish you had the brains to plan a job like that, either in fiction or
in real life.

From there, it’s on to oil tankers, insurance offices,
computer hacking, illegal drugs and arms shipments and ruthless CIA
hit-squads.  Telekinesis is used to
escape a tricky situation (or is it?) and an innocent marlin falls victim to an
M-16 assault rifle.  There’s a place for
gasoline, magnets, a game of paintball and a catastrophically destructive MOAB
bomb.  The plot twists and turns like a
rattlesnake on acid as plans fall apart and are replaced instantaneously with
even more brilliant plans. 

The Losers are
joined in their schemes by Aisha, a veteran of the Mujahedeen in Afghanistan
who’s working for the CIA.  Her
motivation for helping them is kept to herself, but there’s no question she’s a
handy to have around when you find yourself in a tight corner – as long as
she’s not just there to double cross the team when the moment is right.  She’s all business, but still provides one of
the book’s best comedic moments when she tells the super-suave and
ever-so-slightly egotistical Jensen about her hobbies.  Diggle’s got the knack for inserting clever
quips and repartee at all the right moments, fitting them in amongst the
automatic weapons fire but never detracting from the very serious fact that
people are occasionally being shot in the head.

The killer script is brought to life by artist Jock.  Now, before you even open the book, you
notice two great things about Jock. 
First, the covers are beautiful; they’re dynamic and distinctive,
playing nicely with Vertigo’s willingness to move the titles and logos
around.  Second, his name is Jock.  How cool is that?  Jim Lee, Mark Bagley, John Romita Jr. and
John Cassady may all be jim-dandy artists, but their names aren’t even three
fifths as cool.  So Jock’s off to a great
start and he hasn’t even drawn a panel yet.

The panels in question live up to both Jock’s covers and his
name.  It appears moody and dark by
default, occasionally reminding one of Mike Mignola’s work.  But when the occasion calls for it – and
occasion calls so frequently it should have its own private line – Jock turns
in great action sequences.  People’s
insides splatter about just so when repeatedly punctured by automatic weapons
fire, and the full-page shot of Aisha with her grenade launcher will knock your
socks off – and that’s before you realize what she’s shooting it at.  Jock’s personalized all the characters a
great deal, and it’s obvious both he and Diggle have an affinity for
Jensen.  In the theoretical The Losers movie, Jensen would be the
guy who’s not quite the main character, but still manages to steal the
spotlight whenever he’s on screen. 
Jock’s weak points are few and far between; occasionally Roque &
Clay become indistinguishable when shadows or angles prevent the showing of
Roque’s scars.  And every now and then,
Jock seems to skip a panel, as though he and Diggle are so in synch that he
forgets everybody else hasn’t already read the script.

DC is giving The
quite a bit of support by producing a trade so soon after the
original issues were out. (Issue 6 was just released in November) This is a
book that deserves its proper place in the spotlight alongside such Vertigo
heavy-hitters like 100 Bullets, Y The Last Man and Fables.  It’s a safe bet that you’ve never read
anything quite like it in a comic book, and it’s probably just as safe to say
that many people have no idea a comic book can be so cool and exciting.  Buy a copy for yourself.  Loan it out to all your friends.  You’ll love it, they’ll love it, they’ll love
you for making them love it. 

And then, in a couple years, when Hollywood makes a watered-down,
lacklustre version with a big but wasted budget and casts Jennifer Lopez in the
role of an Afghan freedom fighter, you’ll be so much cooler and informed when
you tell people that it doesn’t even hold a candle to the original.

Comments closed

Here again … Birthday Bounty

Right then. So this blogging business didn’t get off to quite the right start.

My last update was around Xmas, and now it’s just after my birthday – that means I have more stuff.

My girlfriend has become quite proficient at buying stuff for me. She got me:

  • The Invisibles, Vol. 1. Yes, I know. It’s shameful that I haven’t already read it, but I’ve only gotten into Grant Morrison’s work relatively recently. This is interesting stuff; not “Wow, I’m absolutely stunned” good, but enteretaining, and I’m planning to pick up the next couple volumes this week. I’ve always loved Jill Thompson’s work – Brief Lives was my first Sandman story – and her depiction of Orlando is nice and creepy. King Mob looks a little too much like his creator, though. I wonder: With KM and Ragged Robin, does Invisibles feature more prominent comic creators than other books?
  • Owly, Vol. 1. How’s that for contrast? Owly is – yes, yes – an owl. He’s a cute litle guy who just wants to make friends. He has some problems with this, since owls are typically regarded as Winged Death. (nobody actually comes out and says that, but it’s fairly obvious) Everyone runs away, leaving poor Owly alone. One day, he saves a little worm who was drowning in a puddle. He looks after the worm, befriends him, then helps him find his way back home. Andy Runton tells the stories without any dialogue; the few speech balloons are filled with pictograms of houses, trees and families. It’s exceptionally well done, and just about the cutest thing you’re likely to read this year. “All Ages” is typically one of those terms applied to Disney direct-to-video pap, but Owly really is for anyone.
  • Falling somewhere in between the cute and the S&M lies Chester Brown’s Louis Riel. Even better, a signed, limited edition copy. Not that I really care about collectibility, but it’s pretty neat nonetheless. I’ve just started reading it, and it’s quite interesting. People outside of Canada (and probably a good man within) won’t likely know the story of Riel, a French/Indian who rebelled against the Canadian government in the 1800’s. Beyond the story itself, I find it incredible that a comic about a Canadian historical figure drawn by an indie cartoonist could find such (relative) fame and success. It gives me hope for the medium.
Comments closed

Sin City: Booze, Broads & Bullets review

Booze, Broads &
is like the beginner’s guide to Sin City.  A collection of stories Frank Miller wrote
and drew in between longer works, BBB
visits with old friends, introduces new characters, and shows off some of the experimentation
Miller would build upon later.

There are several longer stories included.  Chief among these is The Babe Wore Red,
starring Dwight, Miller’s least-dead protagonist.  Dwight pays a visit to an old friend, only to
find said friend hanging by the neck from his ceiling fan.  Upon a bit of requisite snooping, Dwight
finds another surprise: A beautiful woman in a hiding in the bathroom.  Dwight’s barely had time to ask her name
before the bullets start flying, so Dwight and the babe in the red dress hit
the road.

The Babe Wore Red
is notable for two reasons.  The lesser
one is that it introduced Douglas Klump and Burt Shlubb, the low-class hitmen
known as Fat Man and Little Boy.  Though
they’re pretty generic, almost competent hitmen here, they do go on to greater,
stupider things in later books.  But the
Big Deal about this story is that it’s the first time Miller used colour in his
stark, black and white world.  It’s used
to gorgeous effect, making Mary stand out in the dingy and dirty world of Sin

Fat Man and Little Boy get their own three-page story as
well.  Having messed up every job they’ve
ever had, they find themselves tasked with disposing of a body.  Only disposing of the body.  Nothing else. 
So poor Shlubb is sorely tempted when he compares the dearly departed’s
footwear with his own sorry boots.  It’s
all terribly pointless, but Miller writes some ridiculously funny dialogue for
the two attempted intellectuals: “Herewith it is incontinent upon me to
most strenuously challenge your assessment of the consequences of the simple
act of acquirement.” 

 The really short
stories – usually 3-4 pages – offer some of the highlights of the collection.
In The Customer is Always Right,
which will be familiar to anyone who’s seen the film, an unusual business
transaction takes place. And Behind Door
Number Three…
takes the reader back to Old Town, where the girls continue
to look after themselves quite nicely. 
They’re nice, fun, stylish and easily digestible tales, snapshots of Sin
City and its inhabitants. 

 Miller gets back to stories with wider implications in Blue Eyes and Wrong Turn, which introduce the lovely and lethal Delia.  Miller brings a bit of colour back to the
book for Delia; it feels squandered in Blue
, but makes for some breathtaking visuals in Wrong Turn.  Delia herself is
a bit of a one-note character, but it’s a fun note.  She’s the epitome of a Frank Miller dame:
Beautiful and dangerous, just as likely to snap your neck as show you the night
of your life.  Though she returns to play
a role in Hell And Back, Delia really
shines here; she was always a bit absurd to be a real Sin City villain.

 The most interesting work in the collection is Silent Night. As you may be able to
guess from the title, it’s both a Christmas story (more or less… there’s
snow, anyway) and a silent story.  Told
in full-page panels, this nearly wordless story follows old-favourite Marv as
he goes looking for a lost little girl. 
It’s some of Miller’s best visual work, beautifully capturing Marv’s
brutality and humanity.  It is not, by
any stretch of the imagination, recommended to those who are inclined to judge
the quality of a story by the number of panels and speech balloons.

 Booze, Broads &
isn’t essential Sin City reading. 
There’s no particular theme or narrative beyond “A lot of weird and
messed up stuff goes down in this city”. 
Not all of the stories are winners – Just
Another Saturday Night
is fairly forgettable, aside from the ghetto ninjas
– but there’s certainly enough to justify the price of the book.  There’s some interesting experimentation from
Miller, and plenty of dazzling art.  This
is Frank Miller playing with all the toys in his playroom, and while it’s not
particularly focused, it’s still entertaining.

Comments closed

Sin City: A Dame to Kill For review

Once upon a time, there was a boy.  He was a good boy who always tried to do what
was right and look after his friends.  He
had a bit of a wild streak, but he tried to keep it under control.

day, this boy met a girl.  The girl was
very, very beautiful.  The boy fell in
love with the girl, and they were very happy together.

For a
while.  Then the girl decided she wanted
more.  She moved on.

The boy

Or something like that. 
No one really knows what happened to Dwight before A Dame To Kill For, because Frank Miller hasn’t written that story
yet.  But it’s probably close
enough.  As the second chapter of Sin City opens, Dwight isn’t real happy
with the life he’s living.  It’s a dull,
grey existence, but he keeps everything under control.  He’s taking pictures of cheating husbands for
rich jealous wives, working for a fat slob who enjoys his work far too much.

still performs the occasional good deed – cheating husbands can get out of hand
when they’re afraid of being caught – but for the most part, Dwight keeps a low
profile. He keeps his cool.  He stays in

 Then one day, the girl comes back.  The girl – whose name is Ava – made a
mistake.  The man she left Dwight for had
money and style and charm, but he also had a few nasty tendencies that have
recently come to light.  She asks Dwight
for help, and Dwight refuses.  But then
he starts to think about it…

 To say
much more about the plot would be to risk spoiling it. A Dame To Kill For is full of twists and turns and lies and
betrayals.  It’s all about love, lust,
and the grey area in between.  Even when
Dwight’s doing the wrong thing, it’s hard to blame him; can you really blame a
guy for the things he does for love?

is probably Miller’s best defined and most relatable character.  He’s about as close to a regular guy as
you’re likely to find in Sin City, being neither an ex-cop out for revenge nor
a drunken psychopath.  Dwight’s easy to
like: He screws up, but he always seems to do it for the right reason.  He’s a knight in tarnished armour who always
wants to do the right thing, even if he doesn’t always think it

While The Hard Goodbye was Marv’s book, the
big lug gets put to much better use in A
Dame to Kill For
.  While Hard Goodbye used Marv as the framework
for the story, Dameallows us to see
Marv from the outside.  Dwight summarizes
Marv perfectly: Marv’s not stupid or insane or anything simple like that:
“It’s like there’s nothing wrong with Marv, nothing at all – except that
he had the rotten luck of being born at the wrong time in history … He’d be
right at home on some ancient battlefield, swinging an ax into somebody’s

For all
that, and despite being a pretty decent guy, Marv is still just a tool; he’s a
fighting dog to be pointed at the target and let loose. Dame To Kill For is Dwight’s story, so while Marv gets to show up
and inflict some much-deserved violence, his overall impact on the plot is
fairly low.  He does offer some great
insights into the music of Merle Haggard, though.

 Dame takes advantage of the cast and
settings introduced in Hard Goodbye.  While Marv blasted through town like a
locomotive, Dwight takes his time.  Just
as Marv gets some better definition, so too do the girls of Old Town –
including the soon-to-be-deceased Goldie – the mob, and the Sin City police
force.  While Dwight is clearly the main
character, his supporting cast is far better defined than Marv’s.  Everyone serves their purpose in the plot,
and everyone seems like a legitimate character. 
And if Dame accomplished no
other purpose than to introducing deadly little Miho, Miller would still have
done a great, great thing. 

While Hard Goodbye gave Miller the freedom to
do whatever he wanted with his own toys, Dame
To Kill For
is a far more focused and evolved work.  There’s a clear purpose and direction at all
points, even if that purpose turns out to be a lie and the direction a wrong
turn.  This is the point where Sin City
moved from being a side project by a guy who usually did superheroes into one
of the most vital and artistic comics of the last decade.  It’s a prime example of what creators can do
with the medium, if they’re only willing to take the risk.


volume also represents the point where Miller really kicked his artwork into
high gear.  While his earlier work could
be inconsistent at times, here Miller is fully locked into his Sin City
style.  Characters are defined by smoke
and shadows and curves, and Miller’s phenomenal storytelling ensures that every
detail is captured perfectly.  Ava’s
entrance is a work of art; as glamourous and elegant as Ingrid Bergman, but twice
as much trouble.  Miller’s original
covers for the series are some of the most striking pieces of cover art you’re
likely to see: In an era of pinups and exaggerated anatomy, Miller’s sense of
design easily set him apart.  His
constantly evolving style has inspired a slew of imitators over the years, but
not even Jim Lee has managed to capture Miller’s magic.

 A Dame to Kill For isn’t included in the
Sin City film, which is somewhat puzzling; unlike Big Fat Kill, it shares overlaps with both Hard Goodbye and Yellow Bastard.  Marv’s own story bumps into Dwight’s on
several occasions, just as Dwight unknowingly crosses paths with Hartigan.  But Dame is probably the most complex and involving
story of Sin City, so one might hope it’s being set aside for its own movie.

while it doesn’t fit into the movie, it still provides the backstory and setup
for The Big Fat Kill, which is a part
of Rodriguez’s tapestry.  More than that,
though, this is simply one of the best stories of Miller’s career, and one of
the definitive Sin City stories: It’s
full of beautiful women, dangerous men, brutal violence, hot sex and
treachery.  While Hard Goodbye represented Miller firing on all cylinders, A Dame To Kill For is Miller driving
full speed through a twisting mountain highway. 
In a career that includes definitive runs on Daredevil and Batman, it’s Sin City that may stand as Miller’s
greatest achievement, and A Dame To Kill
is the best of the best.

Comments closed