Riding the Goddess: The Women of Frank Miller’s Sin City Part 3

Frank Miller opens the third issue of A Dame To Kill For with a potent image – that of Dwight falling through the air, arms outstretched in crucifixion pose. Dwight is the falling angel, tumbling from his lofty role of noble knight into his darker and more primal male self. He has fallen.

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After he hits the pavement, Dwight is confronted by a more definite symbol of the underworld. Three headlights approach him. It’s clear these could represent the three-headed dog Cerberus, guardian of the entrance to the underworld. Dwight’s descent is just beginning.

The headlights belong to the car carrying Ava back to her Hades. She is both Persephone being returned to the underworld and Orpheus’ lover being taken away. There is a poignant panel of her staring out of the car window at Dwight, her Orpheus.

But Dwight is no love-lorn poet – he is a dangerous man finally pushed too far. The thought of losing Ava again is too much for Dwight. The emergence of his bestial personality was artfully foreshadowed in the first two issues. Now it breaks free and Dwight lets loose a primal scream.

“The monster in my gut uncurls itself and erupts from my throat with an endless bloody roar,” thinks Dwight as he screams his anguish to the sky. However, this panel is tragic rather then frightening. Dwight’s expression is one of loss instead of fury.

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“They can’t take her away from me. Not this time,” he laments.

The next page is a scene change to a strip bar. It’s deliberately jarring – from Dwight’s twisted features on the last page, we jump to a full page spread of the luscious Nancy. There is no establishing panel to set up the scene. This creates a sense of both unease and expectation in the reader. We know to expect more of the staccato disjointed story-telling Miller so successfully employed in the previous chapter.

Nancy reminds us once more of the presence of the goddess. She is on a raised stage, similar to an altar, and her cowgirl hat is tipped back, framing her head like a halo. Like most of Miller’s females, she is rendered with clean lines, giving her a pristine appearance. She is later referred to as a “gal.” Despite her profession, she can be viewed as the maiden aspect of the goddess.

From a statue, Nancy becomes a dynamic figure, twisting in her erotic dance even as events themselves gather momentum. Despite her role as sex object and stripper, Nancy is the “safest gal in the world.”

Apparently she is protected by Marv, the embodiment of raw yet chivalrous masculinity. Marv is essentially the noble savage, lacking the niceties of civilized behavior but also the corruption.

Dwight bumps into an old flame Shellie who complains that he never bothered to phone her after they presumably spent some time together. After she rebukes him, she calls him wildman. This clearly foreshadows his return to his original personality.

The reader is reintroduced to Marv in a way that is typical of the Noir genre. An out of town stranger begins to ridicule Marv, comparing him to King Kong. Marv is surprisingly tolerant of the stranger and his friends, despite being insulted. However, they cross a line when they insult the female bartender. Unlike the most of Sin City’s females, the bartender is heavily-built, a maternal figure. Her conversation with Marv reinforces this motherly image – she can be seen as the mother aspect of the goddess.

In contrast to the strangers’ debased masculinity, Marv’s natural chivalry asserts itself. He warns them to stop insulting the lady. The stranger continues to assert his masculinity, eventually pulling out a huge phallic gun. Marv is unimpressed by this artificial symbol of potency and takes the stranger apart with his bare hands. The other strangers quickly back off, leaving their friend in a puddle of pain on the sticky bar-room floor.

Dwight enlists Marv’s help in rescuing Ava, a clear indication that Dwight is getting in touch with his inner wildman. As discussed in previous articles, Marv represents a primal yet pure example of basic masculine energy. Without hesitating, he agrees to help Dwight.

When the two of them enter Lord’s property, it deliberately mirrors Dwight’s break-in during the previous issue. At this point, Frank Miller really comes into his own. His specialty has always been dynamic action scenes and the reader is treated to several scenes in which Marv creates a distraction and finally takes on Manute.

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If Manute represents a foreign and dangerous male energy, he has met his match in Marv. Echoing the scene in which Manute hurled Dwight out a window, Marv knocks Manute through a glass plane and proceeds to put out his eye.

Dynamic panels give way to heavy black and white contrast again as Dwight enters Lord’s house. Several of the angles Miller uses here are reminiscent of those used in a horror movie. Dwight has resumed his role as noble knight confronting a monster. And that monster is Damien Lord, Ava’s husband.

After a brief and heated confrontation during which Lord is calm and reasonable and Dwight a seething mess of anger, Lord attempts to shoot Dwight. Dwight loses it, reverting to animal-like savagery at long last. He proceeds to beat Lord to death. This brutal scene is staged in the library. The books are used as symbols of civilization. It is not just Lord that Dwight is murdering – it is his own emasculated and civilized self.

After killing Lord, Dwight falls to his knees, calling out “Oh jesus, oh jesus” when he realizes what he has done. Ironically, although he has killed a man for the goddess Ava, he calls on a chaste male god at this moment of realization.

But it is Ava, now in the mode of huntress once more, who responds to his cry. If Nancy was the virgin aspect of the goddess and the bartender was the maternal one, Ava is the final incarnation of the goddess – she is the huntress, she is Death.

She thanks Dwight for killing Lord and reveals the whole thing was a set-up before shooting Dwight. The issue ends here, leaving the reader wondering if Dwight, like so many others, has also fallen prey to the huntress-goddess.

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LJ Phillips
About LJ Phillips (82 Articles)
LJ Phillips is an ex-bodyguard and professional artist who has had three solo exhibitions. He has also published numerous articles and pieces of short fiction. His interests include Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu, over-analyzing pop culture and staring into the abyss. Currently he lives in SA and spends his free time working on his various creator-owned comics.

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