Riding the Goddess: The Women of Frank Miller’s Sin City Part 2

The second chapter of A Dame To Kill For leans far more heavily on the visual impact of Miller’s high contrast artwork. The narrative is more disjointed and panels often no longer flow in sequence. There are jumps in events that are filled in by Dwight’s internal dialogue.

This cleverly reflects his inner turmoil. As Dwight’s selves collide, his sense of time and space begins to unravel. This is most apparent after this chapter’s opening events.

Dwight, unable to forget Ava’s plea for forgiveness, steps into his role as a noble knight and goes looking for her. He breaks into her husband’s estate. Much is made of the opulence of the estate and the wealth of Ava’s husband.

“They don’t get much richer than Damien Lord,” thinks Dwight, upon entering the property. Later he compares himself to a mere cockroach in the eyes of people like Damien Lord. Clearly, Damien Lord’s wealth is the source of his masculine power and it is this wealth that makes him a threat. The name Lord is also telling. He is set up as a consort, a companion to the goddess-like Ava. The return of Ava in this chapter firmly establishes her in the role of imprisoned deity. An entire splash page is devoted to her, poised above the pool. The moon, huge and luminous, hangs behind her.

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Women in the previous chapter were connected to Judeo-Christian images, suggesting a degree of purity. However, Ava’s association to the moon clearly marks her as a pagan figure. Similarities between her and prominent female lunar deity Artemis are drawn throughout this chapter.

While Ava is not virginal like Artemis, she too is a huntress and a danger to men who assume that intimacies with a goddess are without a steep price. In mythology, Artemis struck down Bouphagos, transformed Sipriotes into a girl after he saw her bathing and most famously, punished the huntsman Actaeon for seeing her naked by transforming him into a stag and having him ripped apart by his own hounds. Like Artemis, Ava leaves a series of degraded, murdered and emasculated men in her wake throughout the story. Therefore her association with water and the moon is no coincidence.

Watched by Dwight, she plunges into the pool. Artemis transformed Sipriotes into a girl as punishment for seeing her bathe – the ultimate emasculation. Dwight’s punishment is less extreme but features the same element of emasculation nonetheless.

Dwight is discovered on the property and in order to protect Ava, claims to be an ordinary Peeping Tom. This leads to a brief confrontation with Ava’s husband, Damien Lord. It is clear that Damien’s masculine power is limited to his wealth – he is drawn as effeminate with a slender neck, prominent lips and no facial hair. And he is portrayed as impotent when it comes to controlling Ava. After instructing Manute to “tend” to Dwight, he requests that Ava put on clothes. Her response is to tell him to “rot in hell.” Rather then enforce his authority, Damien retreats from the conflict.

Meanwhile, Manute (who was introduced in the last issue as an embodiment of raw masculine power) symbolically castrates Dwight. Dwight sneaked onto the property with his photographic equipment, complete with telescopic lens. Manute shatters this lens before booting Dwight in the crotch.

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It is at this point that the narrative and sequential storytelling starts to fragment. Dwight is lost in a haze of pain and confusion. He is beaten up, tossed onto the pavement, calls Agamemnon for a ride home and arrives at his destination. However, many key moments in this series of events are missing. Rather then show them, Miller chooses to have them described by Dwight’s internal dialogue.

This contributes to a sense of his carefully ordered world and most importantly, his persona as chaste knight crumbling. Several characters comment on his shifting self, asking if he’s being drinking, the implication being that this would signal a re-emergence of his more primal and dangerous side.

Dwight’s world is further shaken when he discovers Ava in his apartment. Her cigarette smoke signals her presence. As her cigarette smoke curls through the air like incense, Ava reclines on the bed like a goddess on an altar, waiting for the conflicted Dwight to approach.

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Dwight is clearly angry at her and seeks to restore his sense of potency by ordering her to leave. In response, she briefly adopts the role of penitent, begging for his forgiveness. Finally she asks her to punish her if he cannot forgive her. It is a common male fantasy found in pop culture – the goddess pulled from her altar by circumstances and reduced to begging on her knees.

Presented this way, Ava fires Dwight’s libido, apparently restoring his potency. He was emasculated by her rich, powerful husband and Manute but the debased goddess restores his manhood. His wildman side rears its head and he strikes her, thus administering the punishment she demanded. However, he is reluctant to fully abandon his Lancelot persona and after striking her, kisses her with surprising tenderness.

Their coupling is shown through a series of panels in which the human form is almost reduced to basic geometric shapes of light and shadow. Both Ava and Dwight are rendered as anonymous figures by Miller. They could be any man and woman lost in a dance as old as time. But the dance he portrays isn’t simply sexual – it is a dance of dominance. Ava and Dwight are not simply lovers – they are combatants.

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It begins with Dwight calling Ava “every foul name there is.” She responds to this show of power and disdain by submitting, making Dwight’s name sound like “like a chant to some dark god.” Ava quickly regains the upper hand once Dwight’s anger is spent. She drags him to the ground like “a jungle cat.” Through the act of copulation, she “devours” a grateful Dwight. This description reminds the reader of Ava’s role as huntress. The scene ends with Dwight on his knees before Ava, no longer a “dark god” but instead a worshiper, admitting she owns him “body and soul.”

His dominance over her was short-lived. She is once more established as the goddess and at best, Dwight is her consort. Commonly, the consort to the goddess is sacrificed – a concept Miller explores in greater depth in the next chapter. He briefly touches on this theme here in a piece of artful foreshadowing.

Ava tells Dwight that Lord intends to torture and kill her. As Dwight swears to protect her, Manute enters his apartment to retrieve Ava. Once again, Dwight is out-matched – he attempts to fight but is hurled out the window.

The chapter ends with a naked Dwight lying on the pavement, arms outstretched in a near-crucifix position among broken glass, a martyr to the goddess. An impassive Ava studies him from the window, leaving the reader wondering if she is truly the victim as she claims or instead the huntress that Miller’s imagery seems to imply.

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LJ Phillips
About LJ Phillips (81 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 creator-owned comic, Silver Bullet Nights.

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