Go Away, Scary Man: “That Yellow Bastard” and Frank Miller
Out of curiosity surrounding the new movie, I recently picked up what I’d heard was the best Sin City story since the first: That Yellow Bastard. All I knew about it was that the black-and-white palette of the first three stories was disturbed by one new color, the bright yellow of the titular bastard. Not a bad idea, I figured.
The book is awful. Not in the “this sucks” way of awful, but in the “I think I need a shower and then sell this book on eBay” awful.
In case you’re wondering, yes, I’m about to blow the plot of That Yellow Bastard.
The Sin City series allows Miller to play with the darkest aspects of his mind and muck with his pet obsessions. The protagonist of the first story was a psychopath who went on a killing spree to avenge a murdered prostitute he loved. The second and third stories starred another “hero” of dubious sanity who loved a dangerous woman and went on revenge-driven killing sprees. Repetitive and a little disturbing, but nothing that rankled. They seemed unnecessary, but not gawdawful.
That Yellow Bastard reads like wank fuel for an S&M enthusiast.
Miller’s usual obsessions of sex, violence, pain, and corruption shot past “excessive” and well into the territory of “ooky.” The violence, almost all torture, is lovingly portrayed and never far from any given page. If no one is being tortured on page twenty, rest easy that by page twenty-four, somebody will be brutally beaten, whipped, or shot (to wound, not kill, and shot many times over). By the way, the person being beaten, whipped, or shot is usually tied up.
Then there’s the heroine of the piece. You’d have to search for a long time to find such a pure example of a sexual fantasy figure. She’s nineteen, a ridiculously-proportioned stripper, a literary genius, and totally devoted to Our Hero, a sixty-eight year old man who saved her life when she was eleven.
Oh, and to tie back to the S&M motif of the book: her stripper act has her dress in leather chaps and toss around a lariat, her titties jiggling for all to see.*
There really isn’t much of a story to That Yellow Bastard beyond “Good Strong Man saves little girl, is tortured over and over, reunites with now-grown girl, is tortured again, girl is kidnapped by perv, girl is tortured, Good Strong Man kills perv, saves girl, then, in act of Noble Heroism, shoots himself to protect her from his enemies.” The story is interspersed with full-page pictures of Nancy’s titties and a couple of nice uses of the Sin City style of black-and-white art.
It’s a pure undiluted male fantasy pickled in sadomasochism. Romanticism taken off the deep end. An overheated and unsatisfying pile of crap.
This is not to dig on Miller overall, or even to say “I like his early stuff better.” I think he’s improved tremendously over the years. As a committed and passionate artist, he takes a lot of chances and puts a great deal of himself into his works. This leads to works of greatness like the first Sin City or 300.** It also leads to turds like Yellow Bastard.
To dig a bit deeper, what’s my problem with the book? Is it that the torture scenes or S&M motif is “too intense?” Is it that I’m simply disturbed by the content?
What bothers me is the lack of a point to any of it. Yellow Bastard reads like Mickey Spillane filtered through Hustler: tough guy porn.
What’s the appeal of the book? What is the reader supposed to like?
It can’t be the characters; they’re one-dimensional. It can’t be the plot, since it’s a rote sex fantasy/revenge story with absolutely no modifications or depth. It can’t be the art, since the previous three Sin City stories used the same art style, and the addition of a color isn't enough to merit a book. Ditto for the setting. It can’t be the story's wit, since none is present. Penetrating insight into the human condition? I’m gonna take a chance and say “nope” to that as well.
No, the only appeal of That Yellow Bastard is the visceral thrill of seeing men and women torturing or being tortured, and the joy of titties. Sounds like porn to me. How...boring.
Hopefully the movie will be good. Yellow Bastard is supposed to be only a subplot.
*Please excuse the vulgarity. No other word seems to capture Miller's stylings. When Frank's fantasy woman is shakin' her moneymaker on stage, the word "breasts" seems inaccurate to convey the image. "Boobs" would be too light-hearted a term. No, the correct word is "titties." To any and all offended, you have my sincere apologies.
**For those who’ve read 300, I gotta ask this. The Spartans make a couple of derogatory references to Athenians as “boy-lovers.” Spartans mocking other Greeks for having sex with young boys? What the hell? The Spartan military was based on institutional pederasty, fer cryin’ out loud. Miller mentions a couple of books at the end as sources of information for the battle of Thermopolae. Surely he read a few. At least one. I could understand if he avoided mentioning the boy-buggering built into the system, but to cast the Spartans as essentially homophobes? That’s just plain bizarre.
The fact that he kept referring to all the Greeks as “the only free men in the world” annoyed me, too. Sparta was the model of tyranny, dumbass. I just take it as either a deliberate anachronism or the “sophisticated” idea that the Greeks saw themselves as free simply because they weren’t under Persian control. Neither makes much sense, but I can see the Spartans telling themselves such rhetoric.
But the pedophilia digs? Come on. I mean...come on.