Wednesday, December 27, 2023

The Dyatlov Pass Mystery, the Graphic Novel

It is a shame the original Leonard Nimoy-hosted In Search of… never “investigated” the strange deaths of the nine Soviet hikers known as the “Dyatlov Pass Incident,” because it would have been a perfect thematic fit for the series. However, many of the relevant records were sealed until after the dissolution of the Soviet Union. Since then, there have been many books and documentaries that offered speculation, but nobody has conclusively solved the case. Many theories informed Jando & Mayen (artist Gonzalez Jandro & writer Cedric Mayen)’s graphic novel, but the truth remains elusive in The Dyatlov Pass Mystery, which goes on-sale today in e-book formats.

Ten experienced hikers set off into the Ural Mountains in January of 1959. One got sick and turned back. The other nine died. Officially, the cause of death was hypothermia, but some bodies showed signs of extreme violent trauma—and just as mysteriously some did not. The KGB has recruited honest police officer Lev Nikitch Ivanov to solve the case and do it quickly (so as not to distract from the Party Congress underway), much like the protagonist of the Russian TV series
Dead Mountain.

Just finding all the bodies is an ordeal, but the great disparity in their conditions produces more questions than answers. Obviously, the detection of radioactivity stirs Ivanov’s suspicions, but the Red Army and KGB quickly close off that line of Ivanov’s inquiry.

The narrative and structure of
Dyatlov Pass Mystery is indeed very much like that of Dead Mountain. Both cut back-and-forth between the hamstrung investigator’s doomed efforts to get to the truth and the drama of the Dyatlov expedition’s final days. The weather turns bad and internal dissension grows, but the true nature of the “overwhelming force” that caused their demise is deliberately kept mysterious.

On the other hand, Mayen unambiguously suggests the KGB played a significant role covering up whatever really did happen. Therefore, they shoulder the blame for the conspiracy theories that have proliferated. Ironically, Mayen makes the bossy Dyatlov a surprisingly unsympathetic character. However, he clearly invites reader empathy for Ivanov, who is clearly stuck in an impossible situation.

Jandro’s art evokes the vibe of the late 1950s Soviet Union, as well as the harsh climate of the Ural Mountains. His characters have a shrewd hawk-like appearance that well-suits the narrative, while the muted colors are appropriate to the era.

Even though it ultimately offers no hard-and-fast answers, its critical depiction of Soviet deception and cynicism will be satisfying to Cold Warriors. It is highly intriguing, but also completely grounded. Recommended for fans of cerebral graphic novels,
The Dyatlov Pass Mystery is now on-sale at digital retailers.