Story: Anthony Del Col
Art: Joe Eisma
Colors: Salvatore Aila
What They Say:
Teen detectives Frank and Joe Hardy have investigated many crimes in their lives, but nothing that hits this close to home. Their best friend died mysteriously after taking down a major crime organization. They must put together the clues to uncover the truth about this shocking crime, but the clues lead them to a stunningly unexpected direction!
Written by Ringo-nominated writer Anthony Del Col (Kill Shakespeare, Luke Cage) and with art by Eisner-award winner Joe Eisma (Morning Glories, Riverdale), this gritty and stylish story is a noir that will attract fans of Nancy Drew of all ages.
Content: (please note that content portions of a review may contain spoilers):
I didn’t really read Nancy Drew when I was a kid. I read plenty of Hardy Boys novels, but if you asked me to remember any of them, all I might be able to do is dredge up some vague memories of pirates or smugglers or something. It never quite stuck. Regardless of my own experiences, Nancy and the Boys have been around for quite some time and have left their mark on pop culture and many people’s childhoods.
Perhaps that’s why The Death of Nancy Drew is so jarring. Despite my lack of experience with the stories, she’s a part of pop culture, and one I have affection for through cultural osmosis, so having a story about her death just feels wrong, and makes me sadder than I expected.
After taking down the evil Syndicate, one would think that Nancy’s work would be done. That’s what Joe and Frank Hardy believed, anyway. Nancy, however, thought that the conspiracy went beyond the capos her investigation brought to life. Her investigation became an obsession, and it pushed away the people who loved her the most, something that Joe felt more keenly than most, being in love with her.
And then she died.
Factory recall, they said. Defective parts, they said. Freak accident, they said. Her car failed, she lost control, and went into the river. Case closed.
Except that didn’t wash with Joe. How could Nancy Drew die in a car accident? After all the good she did, all the evil she exposed, it had to be someone getting revenge. Joe knows this deep in his marrow, and he’s bound and determined to discover her killer and make them pay, no matter what his mother or brother or the River Heights police have to say.
The comic is narrated by Joe, and it does a good job of catching readers up to speed on the important points about Nancy, their relationship, and the events that led to her death. It also establishes the tone for this story, and it’s a very different one from the books.
The Nancy Drew series is written for a middle grade audience (although that term didn’t exist when they were first conceived), and that carries with it a specific tone that’s appropriate for that age range. The series is also rooted in classic, puzzle-oriented Golden Age mystery, where the emphasis is on the plot and the game of figuring out “whodunnit?”.
The Death of Nancy Drew is an entirely different animal. You get that right from the start with Joe’s narration. This is a hardboiled detective story with shades of noir, complete with rain and shadows, a morally-compromised protagonist, crooked cops, and the rest. Joe and Frank’s father is dead—murdered, in fact, by crooked cops—and Joe and Frank are on the outs. Before her death, Nancy became an obsessed conspiracy theorist, and her town River Heights suffered from severe economic hardship, and all the pain that went with it. There’s a real sense here that there’s no clear right or wrong and morality is up to the individual, not the system.
All of that is fine, and I think that putting these characters in a different mystery milieu is an interesting idea. In fact, there’s nothing wrong with the execution here. The pacing is solid, the tone consistent and genre-appropriate, and the line and color work strong. The issues I had reading this were, I think, unintentional on the part of the creative team, and have to do with the sidelining of Nancy in the story of her death, and the timing of this publication.
Make no mistake, this is not a story about Nancy—it’s about Joe. While it’s clear that Nancy has done many amazing things, everything we’re told and shown is through the lens of Joe’s narration, and the pain we feel over her death isn’t the pain of the loss of a righteous force for justice, it’s the pain Joe feels over losing the unrequited love of his life, and that subtly tells the reader that everything of value about her is associated with Joe’s love and pain, and that takes away from her autonomy as a character.
The other major issue has more to do with timing than anything else. There’s one part of the story where Joe is called into questioning by the cops. Joe doesn’t cooperate, and in his internal monologue, he says, “I won’t ask them anything. Won’t tell them anything. I used to love cops. Wanted to be one. Now I love frustrating them.”
I’ve just spent seven days watching and reading about George Floyd and the protests against police brutality and this scene where a young white man gives nothing to the cops, and even condescends them just does not work. If Joe were anything but white, male, and presenting heterosexual, you better believe he’d be incarcerated on some trumped up charge, and maybe even beaten—or worse. It’s a small scene that just does not play well given all that’s been going on in the past week, and it really left a bad taste in my mouth.
There are definite flaws to this first issue. Some of them are highlighted by the current situation in the United States, others have to do with gender politics that have been part of the hardboiled genre since almost its inception, and others are just narrative choices that don’t feel right. I’m not really sure who to recommend this to. I don’t see fans of Nancy Drew enjoying this, or fans of the Hardy Boys, for that matter. It’s a well put together issue, and there’s something to be said for the intellectual enjoyment of seeing these characters in a different mystery genre, but it just feels like the wrong story for the wrong time.
Dr. J gives it a…
Age Rating: Teen +
Released By: Dynamite Comics
Release Date: 3 June 2020