Mads Mikkelsen's new action movie Polar hit Netflix on 25th January 2019. Based on the brilliantly noir webcomic by Victor Santos (that was later collected into a series of graphic novels by Dark Horse), the story follows the recently-retired assassin Duncan Vizla, aka the Black Kaiser, as he is betrayed by the agency he works for and forced to go on a rip-roaring rampage of revenge.
The comic was highly stylized, with a widescreen layout and minimalist approach to linework, color and dialogue. It did have some ultra-violence and gore, however, which the movie definitely also brings to the table (to mixed critical results). If you dug the movie, though, we reckon the following are 10 comic books that should also tickle your fancy.
10 VIOLENT LOVE
Our first pick is Violent Love, a romantic crime tale written by Frank Barbiere (Five Ghosts) and drawn by Victor Santos. The series, which ran for 10 issues and was collected in two handsome trade paperback volumes ("Stay Dangerous" and "Hearts On Fire"), followed a Bonnie and Cyde-esque duo of criminals in love: Daisy Jane and Rock Bradley.
It was a perfect book for Santos' noir sensibilities and artistic style, with his Alex Toth and Bruce Timm influences shining through. The series reunited Barbiere and Santos after they had collaborated on a previous Boom Studios project entitled Black Market.
9 SIN CITY: THE HARD GOODBYE
Arguably the most obvious stylistic influence on Santos' original Polar comics is Sin City (and Frank Miller's work in general). The comics are rendered in stark black and white, with the occasional splash of orange (like Miller did with yellow in That Yellow Bastard). Even though the Polar movie is distinctly different from the comic in its sense of style, we still reckon Sin City would appeal to fans of the film.
With its gritty feel, gravelly voiced tough guy protagonist Marv, hardboiled noir dialogue and narration, sexy femme fatales and abundance of extreme violence, The Hard Goodbye is definitely the best place to start.
8 SHANGHAI RED
Christopher Sebela and Joshua Hixson's Shanghai Red was a brutal, bloody comic book and Polar fans should definitely read it. Published in 2018 by Image Comics, the five-issue miniseries is set in late 1800s Portland.
Our main character Red sets out on a trail of vengeance on the men who took her and sold her into slavery on a ship, where she was kept away from her family for years. The comic has something to say about gender, as Red was taken while using the male identity 'Jack', and she uses this identity to carry out her bloody deeds. Hixson's art is sketchy and foreboding, with more than a hint of David Mazzuchelli to it.
7 MEN OF WRATH
With series' like Scalped and Southern Bastards, writer Jason Aaron penned some of the greatest crime comics ever made. These are both long-running series', but if Polar fans want to sample a shorter Aaron tale then they should look no further than Men Of Wrath. A truly visceral slice of Southern noir, the five-issue Icon miniseries was recently published in hardcover by Image.
It tells the story of Ira Rath, a despicable aging hitman who takes on a truly horrifying job with very little hesitation: he is contracted to kill his son Ruben, a low-level criminal who refused to kill a young witness to an illicit act he committed for the Polk crime family.
6 BULLSEYE: GREATEST HITS
The Marvel and DC Universes are filled with hitmen/mercenary antiheroes such as Deathstroke, Deadshot and Deadpool. These guys are not unlike Polar's Black Kaiser. But one of the most notorious assassins in comics is most definitely not an antihero; his name is Bullseye and he is a villain through and through!
One of his best stories is Bullseye: Greatest Hits, a five-issue miniseries from 2004-05 that told the purported origin of Daredevil's most deadly enemy. Written by Daniel Way (Wolverine: Origins) and drawn by the late, great Steve Dillon (Preacher), the story is violent, blackly funny and cleverly subversive.
5 KILL OR BE KILLED
Ed Brubaker and Sean Phillips are arguably the greatest creative team in modern comics. In fact, for the last number of years they've exclusively worked together on all their projects. For fans of Polar who want to check out their crime noir ouvre, we think Kill Or Be Killed is the best place to start.
It has the most action of any of their collaborations and mixes in hints of something supernatural (that may simply be a figment of the protagonist's imagination). At 20 issues (or four trade paperback volumes), it's a decent-sized story to sink your teeth into, and it has interesting things to say on the consequences of vigilante violence.
4 DEAD BODY ROAD
Dead Body Road, a six-issue Skybound miniseries that came out in 2013-14, is one of the most straightforward revenge comics you're ever going to find. To give you a hint of how the book was pitched, it's solicitation copy read: "The men involved in his wife's death must die. All of them." Fittingly for a comic with such a stark premise, the series delivered on all the bullets, guts and gore any noir/action fan could ask for.
Writer Justin Jordan (Luther Strode) and artist Matteo Scalera (Black Science) crafted a bruising modern western that gave readers an insight into the dark road travelled by a man consumed with vengeance.
3 ELEKTRA: ASSASSIN
The Polar movie is bugnuts crazy. Director Jonas Akerlund said he wanted the initial downbeat scenes with Duncan and Vanessa Hudgens' Camille to contrast with the colorful, ultra-violent and downright insane scenes of the assassins searching for them. At the midway point the movie erupts in a gloriously over-the-top symphony of violence that is hard-hitting and absurd in equal measure.
To that end, Frank Miller and Bill Sienkiewicz' Elektra: Assassin should appeal to fans, given how mindbending and psychedelic it is while telling the story of an assassin on the trail of a US Presidential candidate possessed by a demon!
2 THE PUNISHER - WELCOME BACK, FRANK
Garth Ennis and Steve Dillon's Marvel Knights version of The Punisher perfectly mixed violence with black humor and piled it on top of Ennis' customary dose of the grotesque and absurd. It's the perfect place for Polar movie fans to start reading about Frank Castle, everyone's favorite gun-toting vigilante.
The original 12-issue run was collected into a trade paperback under the title "Welcome Back, Frank" and it has proved to be a perennial seller for Marvel. The 2004 movie starring Tom Jane took a lot of inspiration from this story and included Ennis/Dillon characters like The Russian and Spacker Dave (but don't hold that against it).
1 RICHARD STARK'S PARKER: THE HUNTER
A writer/artist whose work was very much in the vein of Polar's Victor Santos was the legendary Darwyn Cooke (DC: The New Frontier). He adapted four of Donald E. Westlake's hardboiled Parker crime novels (which were originally written under the pseudonym Richard Stark) into prestige graphic novels that were published by IDW.
The first, The Hunter, was released in 2009 and is just about as good as crime comics get. Parker, a professional criminal, is betrayed by the woman he loves and double-crossed by his partner in crime, so he makes his way across the country to exact his revenge on them.