With production on Robert Rodriguez's "Sin City 2" beginning within the next few months, Frank Miller has stated that there is definite potential for more "Sin City" comics in the future. At the moment, however, 2001's "Hell and Back", the seventh "Sin City" graphic novel, is the most recent tale to emerge from the seedy depths of Basin City. It's also the weakest, due to a number of bold moves on Miller's part - some of which succeed, some of which don't.
Subtitled "A Sin City Love Story," "Hell and Back" follows Wallace, a war hero who saves a beautiful woman named Esther from committing suicide on "one of those clear, cool nights that drops into the middle of summer like a gift from on high." He takes her back to his apartment building, gives her fresh clothing, and takes her out for a drink at (where else?) Kadie's. As they leave the bar, however, Wallace is shot with a tranquilizer. He awakens surrounded by cops and with no clue what has happened to him - or much more importantly, to Esther. Naturally, no hard-boiled Miller hero can let something like that slide, especially Wallace, who is considerably more violence-inclined even than Marv. Thus Wallace embarks on a no-holds-barred quest, not for revenge, but for Esther. Of course, just because it's not about vengeance doesn't mean he's afraid to kill ...
If not one of his best works, "Hell and Back" is one of Miller's most interesting. The tale is a disjointed experiment that holds together enough to satisfy at its end, but also to leave the reader longing for the pulpy sweetness of previous "Sin City" yarns like "A Dame to Kill For" or even "Family Values." The most risky of Miller's maneuvers involved Wallace's full-color hallucinations after he is drugged. This is a blast, as Wallace envisions rude cherubs, ferocious dinosaurs, the Cat in the Hat, and even Mike Mignola's Hellboy at one point (timed with a character's uttering of "Hell, boy!"). Mr. Miller does get a little carried away during this sequence, though.
Another change is Miller's drawing style. His previous "Sin City" tales featured rounded, full, shady, and lifelike illustrations. Miller draws "Hell and Back" in the same fashion in which he drew his seminal work, "Batman: The Dark Knight Returns," with gritty, less sensuous illustrations. On the upside, his wife, Ms. Lynn Varley, adds some new color the series in the form of an orange-haired femme fatale. The final and, arguably, most bizarre and amusing of "Hell and Back"'s experiments, is a tale recounted by a hospitalized teenage boy to his father about his first sexual encounter. Titled "My Blind Date: A Sin City Tale of Woe," the absurd interlude is a hilarious piece of work that will irritate as many fans as it will entertain.
As usual, a wealth of familiar characters pop up throughout the tale, including Manute, the hulking, one-eyed henchman, and most importantly Delia (a.k.a. "Blue Eyes," who previously appeared in the short story collection Booze, Broads, & Bullets). And, as any "Sin City" fan has come to expect, there's some great, noir-esque narration as well as a deliciously sweet conclusion. Still, "Hell and Back" is the weakest of the series. Maybe it'll work better when Rodriguez adapts it for the third "Sin City" movie (in which Johnny Depp is rumored to be playing Wallace), but on paper, the story just doesn't shine. Nevertheless, it's a lot better than most comics, and for anyone who enjoyed the other "Sin City" stories, it's still essential.
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About the reviewer
Tom Benton (TomBenton)
Aspiring high school English teacher with dreams of filmmaking and a strong taste for music.
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Can anything be darker than noir? Try Frank Miller's Sin City series. The tastyHell and Backfeatures Wallace, a brooding artist with a decided talent for hurting people, and Esther, a stunningly beautiful actress accidentally mixed up in a slavery ring that extends far and deep enough to transcend the wordconspiracy. The tale twists, turns, and backtracks, teasing the reader with hints of terror to come--until the explosive climax. Miller's art is exactly right for his words; he uses more black than white, and color only when appropriate. The chapter dealing with Wallace's drug hallucinations is beautiful, heartbreaking, and terrifying in turn. Readers interested in the human dark side should find out what fans of Sin City already know: Frank Miller has seen it and wants to share.--Rob Lightner--This text refers to an out of print or unavailable edition of this title.