“I’m a storm cloud; wipe that smile right off your face”
I didn’t review the first volume of Polar, Victor Santos’s web comic, for whatever reason, but it was pretty good, so of course I got volume 2, which is subtitled “Eye For an Eye,” which means you know it’s going to be a nice revenge tale. Much like the first volume, this is worth it for the art, as Santos doesn’t care too much about the writing – he has a simple revenge tale, and he’s not letting anything get in the way of that! But before we get into that, I’ll let you know that Polar costs $17.99 and it’s published by Dark Horse. You know you want to know such things!
According to the back cover, Polar is “soon to be a major motion picture,” and while I won’t hold my breath on that (lots of things get optioned, after all), the fact that it is brings up a good point in my mind, which is that comics remain in many ways a superior art form to movies and that this comic works almost perfectly as a comic and I doubt it will work as well as a movie. I mean, how many movies have we seen with a lone rogue who does a lot of violence and doesn’t talk much? Sometimes they’re okay (I like John Wick, to give a recent example, but don’t quite get the gushing over it), but often they’re not. It really depends on the magnetism of the stars, and as much as you might think Keanu is a dope (I don’t), the dude has presence in a movie, so John Wick works. The Polar movie, I imagine, will be based on the first volume, which doesn’t have too much to do with this volume (the star of volume 1 shows up here – I think – as a mentor to the main character, but he Miyagis on out of the story once his role is done), but it’s still a germane discussion with regard to this volume. Santos is all about mood in this comic, so the plot becomes secondary, way, way down on the list. Christy is a girl who was dating a gangster’s son, and when she realized that her boyfriend and his cronies were into bad things, they got rid of her. Naturally, they didn’t check to see if she was dead, so when she’s rescued by a polar Yoda, she gets trained in the art of killing, goes back to town, and starts killing everyone. It’s bland to the point of surrealness – Santos takes an age-old plot and does, literally, nothing new with it. But again, that’s not the point. The point is that this is an unbelievably stylish comic, and Santos is excellent at making it so. You don’t read Polar for the story, you read it to see the artwork. Santos uses negative space amazingly well to create a dark, depressing world where Christy’s quest is the only thing that makes sense. Early in the book, he uses watercolors in the background to create a wintry, haunted world, one where Christy and her mentor can train, and it’s achingly beautiful. As she begins her training, Santos adds some jagged, cartoonish flashbacks, with rough, thick lines and exaggerated features on the faces of those who almost killed her, and he switches to a red scheme that stands in stark contrast to the black and white of the present. Leading up to that moment when Christy remembers what happened to her, we get more and more red introduced to the black and white, as Santos slowly brings in the harsh violence of her old life intruding on the relative serenity of her present life. She never wants to stay in the North, because she’s too driven by revenge, but Santos shows how peaceful that life can be before Christy rejects it entirely.
Once she’s back in the city, Christy goes on an epic killing spree, and Santos again does marvelous work. Santos comes up with a lot of different ways to kill people, and Christy handles everything thrown at her with a balletic grace. Santos puts her in a red dress early on, so of course she pops against the stark silhouettes that surround her, and he uses some paint to spray blood everywhere when she kills some of the bad guys. In one amazing sequence, he colors the background red, the clothes of the people white, and puts the people themselves in silhouette, so Christy’s red dress melds into the background and it appears that the entire room is filled with blood. Santos has become quite good at complete-page spreads with small boxes scattered across it, each one showing a small part of the action, which allows us to focus on the movement of the action but also stay impressed with the grander tableau. He does it often in this story, and it works really well. He uses crisp, simple line work to keep things stark and intense, and his choreography is impressive, as Christy moves through the panels and her foes beautifully. When she kills the men who “killed” her, Santos slashes through the panel with a red lightning bolt showing the previous more cartoonish aspect of each man, which helps link them all together and shows their evil side clearly. It’s a neat device. The book is astonishingly violent, but it’s also gorgeous, and it’s nice that Santos does stuff like this. At the end of the book, there’s a short story about one of the cops in the main story, as well as a story that appeared in Dark Horse Presents a few years ago starring the protagonist from the first volume of Polar. That one is in color, and it looks as close to a Steranko comic as we’re likely to get these days. It’s terrific.
All of this points to why Polar might not work as a movie. We’ve seen movies that go for this kind of style, and they usually don’t work, because you can’t do negative space as well in a movie, and you can’t do silhouettes as well, and even with CGI, you can’t do balletic kills as well. Perhaps we might get a “Sin City-type” movie, but in that case, what’s the point? This comic works because it’s a comic, and while it would reach a larger audience as a movie, I have a hard time believing it would work as well. Santos uses juxtaposition of images too well, and the smaller panels within the larger spread wouldn’t be available, so we’d get something like Guy Ritchie’s explanation of Sherlock Holmes’s fighting prowess, which was pretty cool but isn’t as cool as what Santos does. I hope Santos got some coin when this got optioned, but I wish the comic would be what people consume rather than a tepid knock-off.
Ultimately, I can’t overwhelmingly endorse Polar: Eye For an Eye simply because comics are both art and writing, and the writing – such as it is – on this book is mediocre. I like a good revenge tale as much as the next person, but Santos does so little to make it stand out that it almost hampers the book. However, the art is so overwhelmingly amazing that I can forgive the bland story. As you know, as I get older I’m more about the art anyway, and Santos’s work on this comic is astonishing. You can check it out on-line if you don’t want to spend money for it (he’s still working on it, so there’s at least one more volume in the future!), and I encourage you to do that, even if you don’t want to spend money on it. But I like having these volumes, because they really are beautiful to look at. But that’s just me!
Rating: ★ ★ ★ ★ ★ ★ ☆ ☆ ☆ ☆
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