“Nikolai” is a graphic novel based on the life of Nikolai Volkoff and authorized by him. It tells the story from his family beginnings in Croatia until the fall of the USSR and him leaving the wrestling world. The author, John Crowther, sat down with Volkoff to write down his story, and with illustrators, Dell Parras and Andrew Pate, brought it to life. This graphic novel is part of a series of illustrated pro wrestling biographies from Squared Circle Comics.
I have to admit that I was not a big fan of Volkoff and most of my knowledge of him came from WWE DVD compilations, documentaries that have his image, and him being a playable character in one of the Smackdown vs Raw videogames for the PS2. One of the most famous things you get from the documentary footage and compilations is him singing the Soviet Union anthem before matches and his red attire since he was a Russian bad buy. This comic book is perfect for people like me, that only has a fleeting knowledge of the wrestler and even less of the man. This is the story of a man that grew up in a communist regime, studied to be an electrician, lifted enough weights to become a powerlifter, while representing his country in Austria he defected to Canada, trained to be a pro wrestler with Stu Hart, and became a successful pro wrestler in the United States and Canada. The story is nothing short of amazing.
The graphic novel is divided into three issues. The first issue is his beginnings in Yugoslavia, his family story, how he became a powerlifter, and his defection to Canada. The second issue covers his pro wrestling training with Stu Hart and working the territories as part of the tag team The Mongols with Newton Tattrie, and him deciding to be a singles wrestler. The third issue is his beginning as a singles wrestler, his tag team with Iron Sheik, and the fall of the USSR, and the ending of his career.
What I really liked about this was the tone of the book, which felt like Nikolai was telling the story. The story is a first-person narrative by Volkoff himself, and from what I understand, the author sat down with him to record his story. You understand why Volkoff hated the communist regime and his difficulty in portraying a character in pro wrestling that was the antithesis of what he believed in. It was a regime that damaged a lot of his family, a regime that forced him to leave his birthplace. Still, at first, he was hesitant to do it, but McMahon convinced him that only he could portray a character of the evil regime that eventually gets his comeuppance. After the fall of the Soviet Union, he was relieved and even his character became babyface. The most important thing I got from this Nikolai Volkoff story is his pride. He was proud of where he came from, his family, his work, and his success.
The graphic novel is short, sweet, easy to read, and it is a good way to spend your time in the afternoon. The art is cool and Squared Circle Comics is doing a cool project with the wrestler’s stories. Most importantly, it captures the story of a man and how he felt about his life in a different medium from where we normally get these kinds of stories.