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Sin City: That Yellow Bastard

A graphic novel by Frank Miller

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Frank Miller's weakest Sin City story: That Yellow Bastard

  • May 4, 2012

Summary: The weakest of the Sin City books, this one features mostly powerful writing and glorious black & white illustrations with unsettling splashes of yellow but suffers from an unbelievable plot point and a nonsensical ending, both of which THIS REVIEW REVEALS.


In Sin City, heroism is relative but corruption is absolute. Anyone trying to be a hero would have reason to despair. Sin City's hardened residents live in a dystopia controlled by degenerate politicians. Life is cheap and the people in power have lots of money.

No one knows this better than John Hartigan, the hero in author/illustrator Frank Miller's grim Sin City: That Yellow Bastard. Hartigan is determined to defy overwhelming odds to try to secure some little bit of justice, and so he defies despair as well.

Hartigan is a cop, not the only good person on the force but one of very few. More typical is his partner, the guy who shoots Hartigan three times in the back and leaves him at the mercy of a maniacal U.S. Senator who is going to have Hartigan tortured and falsely imprisoned for raping a child. This is what Hartigan gets for saving an 11-year-old girl from being abused to death by the Senator's son. Between his bad heart, the bullet wounds and what the Senator has planned for him, Hartigan thinks he is going to die.

"An old man dies, a little girl lives," Hartigan thinks to himself. "Fair trade."

Except that nothing is fair in Basin City, a shadowy metropolis in which Miller sets his gripping and acclaimed comic books and graphic novels. In Sin City: That Yellow Bastard, Hartigan endures eight nightmarish years and still must put himself through hell to save once again the child he thought he had saved for good the first time. When he fails, it is an atypical failure of Miller's storytelling.

The failures start when Hartigan is released from prison and sets out to find the young woman he rescued eight years earlier. Both he and she know that the accomplices of her original tormentor want to kill her and so she has hidden from them. One expects that finding her will challenge Hartigan and test his talents for investigating.

Instead: He looks her up in the phone book.

And: She's listed under her real name.

The eyes see this and the brain rebels. Miller is a visionary storyteller adept at wielding words and images with dazzling skill. He is not sloppy. But it is sloppy to have a woman in hiding list herself in the phone book.

Miller's mastery in all other respects earns him trust and so one reads on, hoping the bit about the phone book is some kind of clever trick. The nagging concern that it might not be takes the reader out of a narrative that had grabbed us and not let go, until now. One is never again caught up in it so completely.

And then the phone book bit turns out to be not clever but careless. It is disappointing.

That word applies to little of Miller's work but it applies also to the ending of That Yellow Bastard. We hear gunfire. Hartigan's words from eight years ago echo in his head. He does something irreversible to ensure the girl's safety from the maniacs who want her dead. Except that now she is in as much danger as ever and Hartigan has placed himself beyond being able to help her.

Miller led us to expect better of Hartigan, and better of his Sin City stories.
Frank Miller's weakest Sin City story: That Yellow Bastard Frank Miller's weakest Sin City story: That Yellow Bastard

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