Sin City: That Yellow Bastard

By Frank Miller
240 pages, black and white, with some spot color
Published by Dark Horse

With the movie adaptation of several of Frank Miller’s Sin City graphic novels about to hit theatres, and the re-issuing of the books with a new uniform trade dress, now seemed like a good time as any to re-read Miller’s works. While I found most of the books matched my memories of them, one book in particular stood out above the rest: Sin City: That Yellow Bastard.

It’s Hartigan’s last day on the police force, with early retirement mandatory thanks to heart problems. First he’s got to find Nancy Callahan, though. She’s just eleven years old, and wherever she is, her life is in danger. What Hartigan doesn’t realize, though, is that this final day on the job is going to affect his life for more than just 24 hours… but for years to come as it sets in motion a series of events of which no one can see the final conclusion.

That Yellow Bastard can best be described as a story with an elongated narrative; every piece of plot leads directly into the next, but the effects and consequences of each action in That Yellow Bastard are much more dramatic than one might have expected. This is a story that spans years, with a single man’s wish to help someone changing the lives of everyone around him. Hartigan himself is a very stereotypical crime noir police officer, putting himself through hell in order to save Nancy, going above and beyond what any normal person would ever do. As Miller puts Hartigan through one bad situation after another, you can’t help but wonder if and when Hartigan’s going to crack, and become all the more impressed when he doesn’t. Miller tries to keep the story from being too predictable by throwing some twists in, but That Yellow Bastard is ultimately a by-the-numbers book… but that doesn’t really matter. Miller brings a real sense of style to the writing, from Hartigan’s over-the-top monologues where he wills himself to live, to the creepiness of the titular “yellow bastard”, to the overall grand scheme of things that continually unfolds. Hartigan’s one of the true good guys, and you’ll find yourself cheering him on from one page to the next.

Miller’s white-on-black style that he uses for Sin City is gorgeous here, from ghost prison cell bars floating across the page to every wrinkle of Hartigan’s face showing up in his stark white expression. It’s a style easily imitated but hard to master; Miller has an innate sense of the depth and heft of objects on the page, so when he draws a set of doors opening that are crafted out of just a few lines, you get the sense that these are real, that you’re somehow getting a glimpse into reality filtered through Miller’s brush. Even something as simple as the shadow of a character on the floor showing the pattern of floorboards or the fringe on a dancer’s jacket arcing through the air has a certain weight to it. It all looks real, even as Miller’s stylized art continues to maintain its own unique identity. The usage of yellow in an otherwise black-and-white book on the figure of the “yellow bastard” works surprisingly well; it makes a creepy and misshapen character pop out on the page, deliberately looking out of place and alien amidst the other characters. It was the second Sin City volume to use this particular coloring trick, but That Yellow Bastard used it to the greatest effect.

That Yellow Bastard is a thoroughly enjoyable book, and I’m really excited at the idea of a whole new audience discovering it. I really like Chip Kidd’s new packaging/redesign of the series as well (although I do have to question the removal of the old Sin City logo, considering it’s also the logo of the movie, something that necessitated a sticker being slapped onto the books); it’s nice to see them with a uniform look, and one that might lure uninitiated readers in. If you’re going to read just one Sin City book, That Yellow Bastard is a great choice to make.

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