Stew Reviews: Sin City – Hell & Back

Not BAMF

GOD, I loved the first Sin City movie.

I left the theater after seeing that flick completely amped. After it came out on DVD, I must have watched it a dozen more times. I waited with baited breath for a sequel to let me return to the visually striking world of meatheads and dames.

And I waited.

And I waited.

About a decade later—WELL after the fire of the original had died down—a second movie in the Sin Cityverse was finally released, and honestly? I never even saw it.

They just waited too damn long! Forget striking while the iron was hot; they waited until the iron had been covered in moss!

I have heard it’s not even good, which tracks given how long it took to capitalize. But damn, that first movie was such a winner. It probably hasn’t aged super well, but for 2004, I thought it was fantastic.

TITLE: Sin City: Hell and Back

Writer and Artist: Frank Miller

Publisher: Dark Horse

Protagonists: Wallace

Antagonists: The general corruption and filth of Sin City, The Colonel

To my knowledge, Hell and Back is the last ever “real” Sin City story collection. Miller may have revisited his famous capital of temptation and violence for a short one-off here or there, but I believe this was the last collected edition.

Hell and Back tells the story of previously unknown protagonist Wallace, a former military specialist turned peaceful artist. He is just trying to stick to his values in an advertising world focused on T&A while also finding ways to pay his rent… as long as it doesn’t infringe on his morality. He happens into the life of a beautiful woman named Esther as she attempts to take her own life. Thanks to his intervention, she is saved.

Before the two can advance much of a relationship, Esther is kidnapped by grunts working for The Colonel so she could be reprogrammed (and cleaned up of her more ethnic physical traits) and put up for sale in his sex trade. This prompts Wallace to start tearing apart Sin City in search of her.

Along the way, he runs afoul of Delia—The Colonel’s femme fatale, there to remind the reader that any one of us would DEFINITELY have failed in our quest to rescue Esther—as well as a corrupt police department headed up by a man named Liebowitz whose family is being threatened by The Colonel.

With an assist from The Captain, a war buddy of Wallace’s, the reluctant hero eventually finds Esther and frees her, while also giving Liebowitz the fortitude he needs to get out from under The Colonel’s thumb. It ends on a relatively uplifting note for Sin City, with Wallace and Esther driving off to make a new life far from the gutter world of Basin City.

This is my favorite Sin City story of them all. It lacks the success and fame of the earlier tales starring Marv or Dwight, but there is a lot to appreciate here.

Starting off with a point in the middle of the work, the seventh issue of Hell and Back is a strange one for the series because it’s almost entirely in color. A drugged Wallace hallucinates his way through the pages as he and The Captain fight off the police force that has been sent to collect him. Wallace’s hallucinations shift by the panel, taking him from picturing Raggedy Andy dolls to Hellboy to Leonidas to Wonder Woman’s behind. It’s a terrific issue as the reader powers through Wallace’s stupor and tries to pinpoint all the references.

And that’s the thing about Hell and Back: it isn’t afraid to surrender to comedic elements more whole-heartedly than the previous sagas. Especially on the covers, each of which with a word balloon that actually delivers on a scene included in the issue.

The trademark grittiness an grime of Sin City is all still there, though. I mean, the story is about women being sold into the sex trade, for god’s sake! Wallace is probably the single most pure being in all of Miller’s series, and it feels really odd that he calls Basin City home, but he also feels directionless to start the series. He has resigned himself to life in the sewer even as he fights to keep his own values within it. The ultimate battle in Hell and Back is less Wallace vs The Colonel and more Wallace vs the city’s insidious attempts to tear good people down.

Delia is the literal embodiment of that struggle. She enters the story as a deadly vixen sent to take Wallace’s eyes off of the prize and make him an easy kill. While he is searching for a road to Esther, she provides tease after tease after tease to get him to give himself to her instead. But Wallace stays single-minded in his pursuit of the woman he saved. By maintaining his virtue in a world where anyone else would have sold theirs years ago, he perseveres. As far as notes to go out on, it’s what Sin City needed.

Honestly, I think everything here works really well. It’s protagonist is a bit more flawless than previous ones, but he’s no less powerful and competent. The dialogue is witty, and the narrative is short and snappy. It’s as good of a Sin City book as any that came before it.

Talking Point: I’m still on the whole movie thing that gets my goat to no end, so let’s move away from pure comics talk here: what sequel came out far too late to really capitalize on the momentum of the original? Be it a movie or book sequel or a spin-off of a TV show.

OVERALL

If you like Sin City, I recommend this because it’s the tops of the run as far as I am concerned. The art is striking, as usual, the violence and sex are there for your base level titillation, and there’s more humor than usual. And issue 7 is a gem.

8/10

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