[ITAL]Sin City[/ITAL] is in theaters, and all the comic writers and cartoonists are buzzing about how much its creator, Frank Miller, has influenced them. A while ago I read a piece that Alan Moore wrote about him, in which he said that everything Miller does is about as ?gritty? as comics can get. He?s a pretty hip dude; here?s some information on him, since I?m pretty sure most of you aren?t in the know.

Frank Miller is one of the infamous comic-book demagogues from the ?third great era? of comics in the early ?80s. At that time, he entered the business through Marvel after being invited to write a two-issue story for [ITAL]The Spectacular Spiderman[/ITAL]. The excited response to his unique film-noir comic style earned him the position as a regular penciler on the comic [ITAL]Daredevil[/ITAL], where he created the seductive ninja assassin Elektra. ?I figured Daredevil must be Catholic,? Miller mused at the time, ?because only a Catholic would be both an attorney and a vigilante.?

Additionally, Miller began to publish creator-owned comics of his own, often in collaboration with his wife Lynn Varley, such as the idiosyncratic science-fiction samurai comic Ronin. He also wrote many stories that were drawn by artists at Dark Horse, such as [ITAL]Give Me Liberty[/ITAL], with Dave Gibbons, a story about a perverse future of racial injustice; and [ITAL]Hard Boiled[/ITAL], with Geoff Darrow, a loose adaptation of Philip K. Dick?s [ITAL]Do Androids Dream of Electric Sheep[/ITAL]? (the same source material that inspired Ridley Scott?s cult movie [ITAL]Blade Runner/[ITAL]).

His success attracted DC to him, and they offered to let him make a solo run on [ITAL]Batman[/ITAL], with free reign to do whatever he wanted with the character. Miller?s comic, [ITAL]The Dark Knight Returns[/ITAL], literally redefined the whole character and created a cultural icon. Prior to Miller, Batman was the campy Adam West-style detective in blue tights, makin? puns and being a fun, man-about-town playboy. In contrast, Miller?s [ITAL]The Dark Knight Returns[/ITAL] is set in the near future in which a dark, aging Bruce Wayne comes out of retirement and dons the Batman suit again. Frank Miller?s Batman is a violent, mentally unhinged vigilante who murders the Joker and even takes down Superman in a delusional quest for justice and revenge. The comic was wildly successful, and single-handedly transformed Batman into the gritty, black-as-midnight hero icon that inspired Tim Burton?s 1989 movie and has survived until today. In interviews, Miller talks about how he received veritable crates of hate mail when the comic first hit newsstands accusing him of replacing a beloved character with an unfeeling monster, in addition to the mammoth pan-cultural praise.

From then on, Miller could basically publish whatever he wanted, and so he published his self-written, self-drawn [ITAL]chef d?oeuvre, Sin City[/ITAL]. The complete story is presented in seven threads that happen at around the same time in the same city, and occasionally overlap. Miller?s writing style for [ITAL]Sin City[/ITAL] can be best described as a roller coaster ride. He builds up horrific momentum; each scene snowballs further and further out of the characters? control until an inevitable crash in the end. I can?t imagine reading any of the books in more than one sitting, because they just suck you in with the visuals right in the beginning and don?t let go.

The first story, ?The Hard Goodbye,? is told through the eyes of a mentally unbalanced thug named Marv who wakes up one morning in a room next to a dead well-to-do woman and has no memory of the past few days. The second book, ?A Dame to Kill For,? introduces a recovering alcoholic, a photographer/detective named Dwight who?s being manipulated by an old flame named Ava. ?The Yellow Bastard? is the next piece, an emotional, psychological drama about an ex-cop, Hartigan, who?s mixed up in bad business involving a rich and powerful family. ?The Big Fat Kill? is the opposite of that, the continuing story of Dwight in the style of a Jerry Bruckheimer movie. The fifth book, ?Family Values,? was never a monthly comic, but published directly as a graphic novel, and fleshes out the character of Miho, an otherwise curious minor character in the background of the previous books. ?Booze, Broads, & Bullets? is a collection of short stories from [ITAL]Sin City[/ITAL] he?d published over the years, and the final volume, ?Hell and Back,? is a love story (rife with violence, of course) to finish off the series in a kind of perverse and ironic way.

As I?m writing this I haven?t yet seen the movie, but I probably will by this Monday. It?s just as well; I don?t really feel qualified to say much about movies in general, since I don?t have as much experience with them. Based on the trailers, I figure the film is going to be a mix of all the threads happening concurrently. It can?t be that bad, though, because Miller was actively involved and satisfied with ever step of the production process.

All the big-box, Barnes & Noble-type bookstores stock all these books, especially in light of the flick, so there?s really no excuse not to go read them. If you do, then seriously consider reading the whole shebang through rapidly, and then taking a second more careful read. I know that I became so enamored of the stark, black-and-white noir visuals at first that I missed a lot of the subtleties that Frank Miller wrote into the characters.