Saturday, May 21, 2005

21. The Hard Goodbye

by Frank Miller

I’ve never been much into comics. I guess that shouldn’t be too much of a surprise, since they’re the kind of thing that seems to pass many people by, even if they’re seriously into reading. Yeah, I’ve seen the comic book movies and loved them, like Spiderman and Blade and Daredevil (which really was more about Colin Farrell than anything else) and I’d go with my friend to the Virgin Megastore after watching the movies and peruse the collections of comics with him, but I’d never actually thought about reading them. I think my opinion on that only started changing when I moved to Lakeview and would stop in Chicago Comics every once in a while and see all the glossy graphic novels. I’d think about reading them then, but still, the act of reading a comic didn’t appeal much to me. I’d rather read words than look at a series of words with pictures. Then Chris Ware appeared in my January issue of Esquire. You don’t get to be a Chicagoan without knowing who Chris Ware is, but I didn’t really know what the fuss was all about until I was met with his take on what he’s learned thus far. And I was bemused.

I hate to credit a movie for making my final introduction to comics, but it was when I watched Sin City that I decisively gave this comic thing a go. It was a brilliant movie with amazing visuals and great acting, but I felt that there was more to the stories than what was portrayed on screen. I liked the movie very much, but I wanted to know more about the characters and the plotlines – everything the movie left out. And that’s how I came to read my first comic.

The Hard Goodbye is Marv’s story. He’s an enormous, ugly, thug-like killer who spends one night with a prostitute, Goldie, only to wake up and find her dead beside him. Not knowing that she was a prostitute, and knowing only that she had the heart to give him a second look, Marv goes on a rampage to find her killer and avenge her death. This leads him through three members of the Roark family – a senator, a cardinal, and a psychopathic son – and ultimately ends in a vicious murder and Marv in the electric chair for crimes he did and didn’t commit. For anyone who really enjoys gratuitous violence and raging testosterone, which I do on occasion, the story is a good one. Sure, Marv’s doing all of this for a girl, but there’s no mushy love stuff messing everything up. You could read it as a story of redemption. Goldie was the one pure thing in Marv’s life, the only person to treat him like a human worthy of compassion and love, and to honor that he’s willing to spend an eternity in hell. Maybe there is some love stuff there, on the underside, but when you get to the razor wire and the beheading, well, you know this story wasn’t written for chicks.

The pictures and the words go marvelously together. I would say it’s unfortunate that, having seen the movie, I have no choice but to associate Marv’s narrative with Mickey Rourke’s voice, but, having done things in this order, I only have a greater appreciation for how aptly the actor captured the character’s essence. The noir-ish narrative reads deeply and gruffly. This is a man who smokes, who drinks. Whose voice rumbles across a gravely terrain, an unwavering undercurrent to his violent actions. You can see his hulking body move through the rain, in Miller’s stark monochrome. The sinews in his neck and the rippled muscles in his chest and arms stand out when he removes his coat. The tightness of Goldie’s dress across her perfect body, the insanity in Kevin Roark’s eyes, the determination and brutality of that final murder – these are all things Miller managers to capture on the page. All things I would have comprehended had I never seen the movie. And all things that make me appreciate the translation to film just that much more.

Suffice it say, I really enjoyed The Hard Goodbye. I look forward to reading the remaining six of the Sin City books because, if they’re anything like this first one, they’ll be both visually and verbally amazing. I don’t know if that’s something you often get with comics or if Miller’s something of an anomaly among artists, but I think I might finally have the desire to find out.


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