Bits of flesh and severed noggins, sadistic brutes and femmes fatales and we haven't even mentioned the Yellow Bastard, who is literally yellow and actually a rapist. Sin City might be a comic-book movie, but you won't find masked marvels patrolling these scuzzy streets. ''I told my mom I was dressed like an S&M superhero,'' says Rosario Dawson, who plays a hooker in the $40 million marriage of crime saga and special effects. ''She was like, 'What's your name?' I said 'Gail.' She said, 'No, your superhero name?' I said, 'No, Mom, I'm not actually a superhero...'''
But there is a creative Superman behind Sin City: Frank Miller, 48, whose original comic series drew fans with its spartan storytelling and smashmouth violence, rendered in jet black and angel white and a periodic gush of color. Since 1991, Miller has produced seven volumes' worth of Sin ''yarns,'' none better than his shock-of-the-new first. Its hero was a hulking killer with a billowing trench coat named Marv (played by Mickey Rourke in the movie), out to avenge the murder of the only woman who dared love his ugly mug. His growling thoughts were pure pulp poetry: …and when his eyes go dead the hell I send him to will seem like heaven after what I've done to him. I love you, Goldie.
El Mariachi wunderkind Robert Rodriguez, 36, had been a Sin City fan since the beginning. In September 2003, the director won a reluctant Miller over with his pitch: ''I don't want to adapt Sin City,'' said Rodriguez. ''I want to translate it.'' In January 2004, Rodriguez invited Miller to Austin to demonstrate how computer animation could replicate Miller's shadow world. The ''test'' material was Miller's two-character short story ''The Customer Is Always Right,'' with Josh Hartnett and Marley Shelton playing the roles. '''Test,''' says Miller. ''That was the stealth name for 'first day of photography.''' (In fact, ''Customer'' serves as Sin City's opening sequence.) ''Coming to Austin finished the deal. Robert knew it would.''
Soon after completing ''Customer,'' Rodriguez and Miller (who's acting as codirector on the film) got a $40 million green light from Miramax/Dimension. The plan was to make Marv's tale, plus ''The Big Fat Kill,'' in which Clive Owen's Dwight and Dawson's clan of hookers find themselves up crap creek after a fateful encounter with a very bad Benicio Del Toro, and ''That Yellow Bastard,'' about a good cop (Bruce Willis) with a bad heart who tangles with the titular monster (Nick Stahl) over a lasso-twirling exotic dancer (Jessica Alba).
For Elijah Wood, who plays (brace yourself) a mute cannibal serial killer, Miller's hands-on role was a big plus, especially during the greenscreen filming: ''Having the man who created this world on set was invaluable especially since we couldn't technically see it.''And Willis? He was sold even earlier, by the ''Customer'' test: ''About a minute into it,'' the actor recalls, ''I said, 'No matter what else I see, I want you to know I'm in.'''
(This is an excerpt from Entertainment Weekly's Feb. 18, 2005, cover story.)