Petrograd (2011) is a historical spy thriller set in 1916 Russia, a fictionalized recreation of the secret machinations behind the assassination of Grigori Rasputin. He’s a figure I knew little about, but this book — a beautiful, 250-page hardcover from Oni Press — definitely piqued my interest about him. Rasputin was a legendary mystic who possessed a profound influence over Russian policy during World War I. Petrograd speculates as to how the threat he posed to the allied war effort may have led to British intelligence’s involvement in a plot to have him killed.
This is probably an obvious observation, but the more comics I read, the clearer it becomes to me that writing is so much more important than art for a comic to work. Philip Gelatt’s intelligent, engaging script bears out this theory. In Petrograd, dialogue drives the story — many pages merely involve historical figures talking to each other, but I never lost interest, and the story clicks along briskly. This isn’t to dismiss the artwork by Tyler Crook, which is terrific and at times gorgeous, particularly when it pulls back to show the foreboding streets and snowy landscapes of the setting. The pencils are in black and white, but they’re shaded throughout with muted reds that resonate thematically both with the political backdrop and the bloodiness of the undertaking. The combination of words and art strikes me as similar to Queen & Country, which maybe explains why I liked it so much — I found it entertaining, historically interesting, and uncommonly satisfying.