Review by Frank Plowright
Three volumes of Polar were published before the announcement of a Netflix TV movie, and along with that came The Black Kaiser, a story explaining the background of the lead character.
It’s the first Polar graphic novel to presented in the standard portrait format, and introduces Black Kaiser, a genetically modified assassin trained by the old Soviet Union to be faster and more efficient than the traditional killer. Unfortunately the Soviet Union collapsed just after his training was deemed complete, and he’s become the world’s most feared hitman. However, his competence and independence also makes him a threat to those who might hire him.
In his introduction Santos notes the work of Jim Steranko as an influence, and while Santos’ style of art is very different, the influence is there in the flowing action and the constantly creative layouts. At first glance, though it’s Frank Miller’s Sin City that seems the greater influence, with its stark contrast of light and shade, and reliance on just the single colour beyond black and white. Either way, it’s stunning art, every page having an energetic impact or a cool, poised calm, and Santos drawing his hero with an eyepatch both echoes Nick Fury, on which Steranko worked, and shows he’s not invulnerable.
As fast-paced and viscerally thrilling as The Black Kaiser is, it’s also very short on plot, counting far more on style to captivate readers than it should. BK, as he’s sometimes known, is lured to the USA for a mission, only to find himself a target and on the run in New York as the 9/11 attacks are taking place. He’s been established as resourceful, lethal and a man who likes women considerably younger than himself, yet beyond a solution there’s little more to the plot than has been described, which is disappointing, but characteristic of the series as a whole.
There’s no denying the quality of the art, though, and for some that will over-ride any concerns about the plot. Santos is definitely enthusiastic about the character and premise, and if you’re captivated, the series began with Came in From the Cold.