01st Mar2018

‘Death to the Tsar’ Graphic Novel Review

by Dean Fuller

Written by Fabien Nury | Art by Thierry Robin | Published by Titan Comics


I enjoyed the previous effort by these guys so much, I decided to jump straight in on this book. They wrote The Death of Stalin, a fine piece of political satire made all the funnier because most of it was true. Dial back 50 years from those shenanigans in the 1950’s Soviet Union, and you have shenanigans in 1900’s Tsarist Imperial Russia. What’s that saying about only the faces change…Russia seems a well to which you can return many a time. Obviously we all love to raise a smirk or two, but what makes these great reading is that they actually happened. The creators have taken a few minor liberties here and there, but essentially you are getting entertainment and a history lesson all in one go. Nice.

So, we start in Moscow, September 1904. Russia is not a happy place, with terrible poverty for everyone except a select few. The anger in Moscow is focused on the Governor himself, Sergei Alexandrovich, a man who is going to make an error that will ultimately destroy Russia itself. At a public demonstration, the Governor had given instructions that if he waved his handkerchief as a signal, the mob were to be fired upon, in case things turned violent. Handkerchief was duly waived, the army opened fire, and 47 people died. Only this is, the Governor didn’t mean to give the signal, it was misread. People died for nothing. Public anger was strong before but now, now the people are gunning for the Governor.

Funny thing is, the Governor doesn’t seem a bad person as such, just completely disconnected from the people. As with pre-Revolutionary France, the wealthy lived in a bubble with no real appreciation of the hardships and harsh lives that most lived. The creators do a great job of pushing this narrative, of events that could have been prevented at any time, by either side, but events that because of the refusal by the wealthy to concede anything to their opponents, were inevitable. The sense of paranoia among the wealthy, and especially the Governor’s household, is almost palpable. Everyone is suspected, any errant comment could see you arrested as a radical. Maybe Stalin wasn’t as despotic as we thought. He just built on a Russian apparatus that already existed.

The Governor soon realises that everyone thinks he will die soon. On the one hand, congratulations for killing rebels. On the other, everyone waiting to see who will replace him. High farce. Even his wife wants his will updated. The Governor’s death, if it occurs, would obviously have consequence. He is he uncle of the current Tsar, and was brother to the previous. He decides to leave Moscow, but soon discovers that while rank has privileges, it also has its handcuffs. The Tsar cannot have a Romanov run, so the Governor must remain. We could have blamed the Jews, the Tsar remarks drily, but you had all them all removed from Moscow a decade ago.

We then switch viewpoints, to that of the revolutionaries plotting to kill the Governor. The Governor of course is their first target, the downfall of the entire Romanov regime their ultimate goal. These are not rag tag anarchists as some in government believe, but well organised, and well resourced people who truly believe in what they are doing. Plus they have bombs. That helps. We see some of the same events that we have already witnessed, but now from the rebels point of view. It’s great writing, cleverly constructed and smartly done. The final part, detailing the Governors assassination and the aftermath, reads like an early Twentieth century James Bond. Lots of action, double crosses, and assassinations. Cell leader, and all round badass Boris Azikov, just likes killing people and blowing things up. Does that make him the hero? or the villain? or both?

A great read. I actually enjoyed this even more than the Stalin book. Less black humour perhaps, but far more tension and emotion throughout. Perfectly written and drawn, this would be a book I would hold up as proof that comics aren’t just for kids. As worthy a read as any novel. Superb.

***** 5/5

Death to the Tsar is out now from Titan Comics.


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