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‘Polar: The Black Kaiser’ – Advance Hardcover Review

They pay him to kill.
He lives in a world of faces without names, without futures. Two-dimensional images frozen in time.
An amateur would be shaking like a leaf before each operation.
He’s like a cold, tranquil lake.
Its surface…frozen.
Its depths…unreachable.

Surrounded by the clutter of takeout and bottles of alcohol, a solitary figure sits in a hotel room, sniper rifle in hand, waiting for his opportunity, his target.  The overwhelming amount of black on the page gives weight to the tension of the moment; owever, the light-absorbing color sets off the grey textured objects and shadows, the stark areas of white light from the window, and the use of red to denote the lethal danger of the Damocles Initiative calling card, as well as the target scope of his rifle.  It should have been an easy job, but his target was in an office tower in New York City on September 11, 2001.

Black Kaiser is the most notorious assassin and a product of the Cold War; welcome to Spanish writer/artist Victor Santos’ (The Mice Templar, Filthy Rich) world.  Originally a webcomic that Santos began releasing in 2012, Polar: The Black Kaiser is volume zero of a five-volume graphic novel series published by Dark Horse Books. (Volume four is scheduled to be released in April 2019.)  With minimal use of colors – black, grey, white, and red – Santos admits in his introduction that he was influenced by Wil Eisner’s The Spirit, Frank Miller (Sin City), and Jim Steranko (Shield, Chandler: Red Tide, Outland).  A target in the U.S. is the catalyst for readers to learn Black Kaiser’s origins, training, and his legendary status in a post-Cold War world, which makes him a very dangerous man – and, ultimately, a target himself.

While Santos serves up a delicious noir narrative with a humorous bite, the real power is in the visuals.  As mentioned above, Santos’ work with a minimal color palette capitalizes on the ambiance of a new post-Cold War climate that is hidden in the grey shadows and the black background that fill each page.  Santos is not afraid to play with opposing image styles and textures that add to the complexity of the visuals.  For example, the dust storm that ravaged the streets of New York after the World Trade Center Towers fell is depicted in greys, splatters of white, and black silhouettes.  It is exceptional art that could be found on a gallery wall.

Polar: The Black Kaiser whets the appetite; volume zero is an entertaining noir story jam-packed with stunning visuals.  The good news is volumes 1 – 3 are already out, and if that isn’t enough, Netflix premiered a filmic version of the most dangerous assassin last month, Polar, with Mads Mikkelsen as Black Kaiser. (Note: The film is based on Polar Volume 1: Came From the Cold) And, as mentioned above, a fifth volume will drop in April.


Creative Team: Victor Santos (creator/writer/artist)
Publisher: Dark Horse Books
Click here to purchase.



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