Review: The Death of Stalin
Written by: Fabien Nury
Art: Thierry Robin
Colours: Thierry Robin & Lorien Aureyre
Publisher: Titan Comics
The success of The Death of Stalin at the box office didn’t come entirely as a surprise to those who had read the French graphic novel La Mort da Staline beforehand. The book was smart, tempered with enough wit to fill a gulag, and chock full of plot twists and turns. Whilst the historical accuracy has been questioned, the fact remains that the book draws attention to the absurdity surrounding Stalin’s death, and the subsequent power struggles that ensued, avoiding the abject horror and absurdity of the life of Stalin. Yes, we are guided away from such controversies as the now well documented use of the prison system, we are left with a book that quite calmly navigates the paranoia and intrigue that followed this once revered man’s sudden death, and all with acerbic wit.
The plot begins with a performance of a Mozart recital followed by a request from Stalin himself for a recording. The fact that the performance hadn’t been recorded didn’t get in the way of the Radio Moscow broadcasters attempts to ‘fake’ the performance, under hilarious circumstances, to save themselves from a life in the gulag. The ludicrous results lead to a recording that in turn leads to Stalin croaking it. This almost pantomime opening sets a tone of the ridiculous for the entire book. From the inept attempts by the central committee to agree upon a doctor to attend to the dying Stalin, to the dancing around Stalin’s difficult son, Vasily; truth and fiction is folded expertly to expose open wounds and belly laughs alike. Although there have been some concerns regarding accuracy and fact, it should be remembered that one of the books key themes is that of revisionism itself. The many sequences concerning the backstabbing, double-crossing and double-talk only serve to highlight how tainted any fact emerging from the period was likely to be. It may be fairer to take the book as a farcical account of a enigmatic moment where all present eyes, saw nothing but smoking whispers.
Artwise, Robin’s work, in a wholly-encompassing European style, captures the rigour, coupled with the depravity and unwholesomeness of the central figures. Each character is introduced with a ‘frame-within-a-frame’ image with a short biog and this adds to the historical sensation created. The wide angle frames are also reminiscent of newsreel footage and this adds to the overall vintage mood. Added to this is a dull, grey inspired colour palate that renders each dark corner a conspiratorial hub and every twitching eyebrow a loaded gesture. Even the lettering gets in on the action with much thought given to the style and font of those who partook in copious amounts of double-talk. Clever stuff.
All-in-all, this is a great book for history buffs, fans of the European school and anyone who want a book laden with layers of intrigue. It not only rounds on the human condition, but also on those who attempt to play god with their grip on power. Read it and learn something about your place in the world.
Skully’s Corner: Why buy this book? He was a funny old bloke that Stalin. Not content with being feared, he had to go and wipe so much history off of the face of the chalkboard. This book shows the ridiculousness of how it’s done. 8/10.
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Review written by Arun Sharma.
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