What feels like 20 years ago, but was actually in January of this year, Dynamite Comics announced a new miniseries, Nancy Drew and the Hardy Boys: The Death of Nancy Drew. In honor of the beloved sleuth’s 90th anniversary, it seemed like she was going to… die? The issue was bumped from its original release date, as the comics industry struggled with coronavirus shutdowns, but it hits shelves today and introduces an intriguing new Nancy Drew mystery in a fun, if predictable, way.
When The Death of Nancy Drew was announced, longtime fans of the girl detective, including this one, were concerned. The new series is a follow-up to the company’s noir-inspired Nancy Drew and the Hardy Boys: The Big Lie, in which the three famous teen detectives investigate an organized crime syndicate. Was Dynamite really celebrating Nancy Drew by resorting to the tired trope of using her death to propel a story about men?
For his part, Nancy Drew and the Hardy Boys writer Anthony Del Col asked that readers give the first issue a chance before judging it.
“If you read the first issue,” Del Col told Polygon following the backlash to the announcement, “I think any concerns that you might have will be allayed.” Though he talked around spoilers, Del Col dropped plenty of hints leading up to the book’s (delayed) publication, teasing that Nancy’s mysterious death wasn’t quite what it seemed.
[Ed. note: this post contains spoilers for Nancy Drew and the Hardy Boys: The Death of Nancy Drew #1.]
Even without Nancy Drew’s keen eye for clues, readers connected the dots. The Death of Nancy Drew follows Joe as he returns to Nancy’s hometown of River Heights and attempts to find out what happened to her. The authorities say that Nancy died in a freak auto accident. Joe’s convinced that it was murder. It turns out that Nancy Drew is, of course, not actually dead. She appears on the last page of The Death of Nancy Drew #1, to chastise a shocked Joe Hardy for meddling in her investigation.
Dynamite has stated that The Death of Nancy Drew doesn’t need to be read alongside its predecessor, The Big Lie, but I’m not convinced that The Death of Nancy Drew would be compelling without having read The Big Lie first. It provides some much needed context, both in terms of story, and the work the first book does to establish a very different tone than the original Nancy Drew and Hardy Boys stories.
Anthony Del Col and Werther Dell’Edera’s series is a noir-inspired take on the classic mystery novels. In the vein of The Chilling Adventures of Sabrina and the CW’s Riverdale, writer Del Col and artist Dell’Edera modernized the characters, aged them a few years (they’re college-aged in Nancy Drew and the Hardy Boys,) and dropped them into a much darker story than the children’s literature they spring from. (Joe Eisma replaced Werther Dell’Edera as the artist for The Death of Nancy Drew.)
The Big Lie opens on Joe and Frank Hardy being accused of murdering their father, a former detective. Nancy helps them investigate, and together they uncover an organized crime organization called the Syndicate. That series ends with Joe, Frank, and Nancy vowing to find out more about the shadowy organization. Joe provides some exposition about the Syndicate and his dad’s muder at the beginning of The Death of Nancy Drew, but it’s a quick info dump that provides even fewer plot details than this paragraph does.
According to Anthony Del Col, The Big Lie and The Death of Nancy Drew were conceived as a single 12-issue arc, with the first six issues set in the Hardy Boys’ hometown of Bayport and the final six issues set in Nancy’s River Heights. The Death of Nancy Drew #1 feels more like the first act of a sequel than the beginning of a standalone story. By separating the two arcs, Dynamite did both of them a disservice.
Though Nancy’s appearance at the end of The Death of Nancy Drew #1 isn’t as shocking a reveal as it’s presented, it’s still a compelling cliffhanger; I am admittedly curious about why and how Nancy faked her own death! But while the desire to maintain that noir-ish surprise does explain Dynamite’s tone-deaf framing of the story, it doesn’t excuse it. Now that the cat’s out of the bag, The Death of Nancy Drew reads as a compelling sequel to The Big Lie, and would have benefited from being billed as such from the get go.
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