Review: The Death of Stalin

Written by Fabien Nury and illustrated by Thierry Robin, The Death of Stalin graphic novel is the story of a dictatorship plunged into madness. And it’s all based on truth. Joseph Stalin, the “Father of the People,” the man who reigned in absolute power over the people of Russia, had a stroke in the middle of the night on March 2nd 1953. He was declared dead two days later. Two days of fierce competition for the supreme power, two days that encapsulated all the insanity, the perversity and the inhumanity of totalitarianism.

The Death of Stalin would feel like a political comedic parody if not for the fact it’s based on real-world events. The story itself at moments feels too unbelievable to be real as events first role out surrounding the death of the world leader and then into the aftermath including his funeral and eventual power struggle for leadership. Nury and Robin put it together in a way where the story begins like a comedic farce with decisions having to be made by council and each decision leading to a realization that previous policies have made things more difficult. It feels like an Abbott and Costello routine in some ways and had me both laughing and in awe of the stupidity.

The details of Stalin’s death eluded me and I did some research after reading the graphic novel. While details are fudged here and there, the comedic beginning of the graphic novel is a solid set up for the tragic turn later on as the power vacuum leads to jockeying for control and power. Power corrupts and we see that on display here in power plays and deals that lead to double crosses. It’s a slide into inhumanity for individuals who were already far from it and we see how absolutely power corrupts absolutely by the end of it all.

The Death of Stalin is a gripping story and eventually will be turned into a film, where I am sure to the story will be entertaining with its interesting balance of humor and seriousness. That seriousness extends to the brutal nature of the regime and individuals that led to the deaths, imprisonment, and torture of so many. While not front and center we are reminded of that over and over as things shake out.

The art by Robin is interesting working really well for both aspects of the story. Each person is unique and distinct and there’s a stark blandness in a way that feels like the time and location it’s depicting. Juxtapose that with the little opulence that’s shown as well and you have a graphic novel that depicts dual stories, that of Stalin’s death and that of the disconnect with the leadership vying for control after it.

I had very high expectations going into reading this and came out the other side wanting to read it again and share it with more people I know. It’s a fun take on history that’ll have you researching what’s true and what’s close to the truth. But the key is, through all the weird, the story is beyond entertaining.

Story: Fabien Nury Art: Thierry Robin
Story: 9.0 Art: 9.0 Overall: 9.0 Recommendation: Buy

Titan Comics provided Graphic Policy with a FREE copy for review