From the writer and illustrator team that brought us the amazing The Death of Stalin comes Death to the Tsar, another historically-extrapolated story of murder and mayhem in Russia. This time we go back a few years, to the pre-communist days at the dawn of the 20th Century. Grand Duke Sergei Alexandrovich is the Governor General of Moscow and the uncle of the Tsar. He’s deeply unpopular, though, particularly after an incident documented in the first few pages of the book, when he inadvertently gives the order to slaughter a group of protesting but unarmed civilians.
However, with this particular pivotal situation, writer Fabien Nury appears to have extrapolated events that are some way off the established historical record. Alexandrovich was certainly unpopular for the deaths of civilians at a rally, for example, though it seems they were crushed in a stampede for food rather than gunned down by the army. The names of conspirators and even the man who committed the murder have been changed too, perhaps with an unwillingness to pin particular character traits to named heroes of the revolution.
Perhaps even more so than The Death of Stalin, then, this is a broad sweep of fictional drama, pinned to a skeleton of fact. Played out in two parts, the first introduces us to the Grand Duke and documents his final days, juggling his closet homosexuality with the public face of contented family life, and a growing acceptance that his days are numbered. The second half tracks the gang of conspirators, making plans and bombs in an attempt to wipe Alexandrovich from the face of the Earth.
Although just as dark, the story isn’t as much fun as The Death of Stalin. Alexandrovich is portrayed as a broken, bungling but ultimately sympathetic character, while the leader of the terrorist cell is ruthlessly calculating.
As before, Thierry Robin’s art is powerful, with striking characters and authentic-looking backdrops, with his art style as at home in royal palaces as it is in torture chambers and hovels.
Clearly those who enjoyed The Death of Stalin will get some repeat enjoyment from this prequel of sorts, but it isn’t quite as comedic and, while The Death of Stalin clearly had to dive deep into imagination, the changing of key known historical facts in this volume makes it feel less like a useful, thought provoking leap into a turbulent moment of Russian history and more like a ripping yarn that ought to carry a historical accuracy warning.