Kill Your Darlings (for Their Anniversary) : The Death of Nancy Drew

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I am a Nancy Drew stan. It seems weird to say in the year of our lord 2021, but I am. I love Nancy, and I always have. She’s been a major part of my life. I was given plenty of her books as hand-me-downs when I was younger, and they still live on my shelves. In middle school, I pretty much read a book a day, carrying around the bright yellow hardcovers and reading in the hallways between class. At seventeen, I got my first job working at my local comic shop. I would stare at the wall of floppies, and once a month, a Nancy Drew book would stare back. 

Elsa Chartier’s variant cover.
Image: Dynamite Comics

That book was Dynamite Comic’s Nancy Drew and the Hardy Boys: The Big Lie by Anthony Del Col. Admittedly, I didn’t even read it until 2020, even though I had all of the single issues in a box in my room. I treated it how I treat all new Nancy media: with extreme suspicion. Not that I thought it would be bad, per se, but that it would fundamentally change my own view of a childhood hero. Nancy Drew has been a role model for as long as I can remember. I am fiercely protective of Nancy. She means a lot to me, and a lot of other people, and I’m constantly afraid that someone will strip her of what makes her great. 

In 2020, as I stood in line for a COVID test, because the year was already so goddamn weird, I started The Big Lie. Simply summarized, Frank and Joe Hardy are accused of their father’s murder, and Nancy Drew comes to town to help prove their innocence. While murder is not entirely new to Nancy’s stories, it is still relatively modern. Murders were uncommon in the earliest books, but the Nancy Drew Files, which began being published in 1986, featured it prominently. The first Nancy Drew murder appeared in the Nancy Drew Files #3, Murder on Ice, and Nancy struggles to solve it. I’m not here to talk to you about Murder on Ice, nor The Big Lie.

I’m here to talk about the Death of Nancy Drew.

For the girl detective’s 90th anniversary, Dynamite comics decided the best course of action was to kill her. Needless to say, I was worried, but at the urging of Anthony Del Col, who told Polygon that he would like readers to “give the issue a chance,” I picked up the first issue, and set my worries aside for a moment.

Image: Dynamite Comics

My worries didn’t stay away for long, sadly. The issue begins with Joe Hardy asking the question “Who is Nancy Drew?” and then “Who was Nancy Drew?” Ok. Fine. Sure. Let’s establish her character, that makes sense. I can work with that. Sadly, by the next page, which features Joe standing over her grave, the book had lost me. Joe confesses to the reader that he had “loved [Nancy] for most of his life,” which… is an interesting choice. Romance between Nancy and a Hardy boy isn’t new at all, but historically the tension has been between Nancy and Frank, Joe’s older brother. And look, maybe I’m being too much of a purist, but if a Nancy Drew story is going to sideline Ned, Nancy’s longtime boyfriend, and have her pursued by a Hardy, I’d rather stick to tradition. At first, I genuinely thought that perhaps they had just drawn Frank as a blond, but the next page squashed that immediately. But enough about my nitpicking Nancy’s romantic interests, let’s get back to the murder.

Joe tells us that Nancy has died, that her car crashed and fell off a bridge in her hometown of River Heights. Authorities have ruled it an accident, but Joe knows better. Nancy has been murdered. Obviously the great Nancy Drew must’ve died in a more nefarious way than a car crash. If she hadn’t, this comic would have almost no reason to exist. The rest of the first issue follows Joe in his quest around River Heights, talking to Nancy’s friends, and somehow implicating himself in another murder. Of course it’s more complicated than just grief, and as Joe pokes around, he learns the truth: Nancy isn’t dead, and she’s in the process of solving her own murder.

Image: Dynamite Comics

In all honesty, I don’t hate this book, but I don’t love it either. It’s a solid story with a good execution, but it doesn’t do anything new and inventive with its characters and concept, nor does it utilize the 90 years of history at its disposal. Rather than a tribute to Nancy Drew, it feels like a rewrite of the character. I know that I’ve identified myself as a Nancy Drew purist, who fears change for the character, but I do think there have been successful updates for her. The video games, for one, are set in the modern day, but still pull from Nancy’s history in a way that creates a robust world. The newer novels also succeed at this, but the comic falls flat. Nancy is abrasive and pushes away help and her support system, opting to confide in a coroner she has no past with, and Frank Hardy, instead of utilizing her wide array of friends, who have always been part of her team. Nancy’s relationships are strained and underused and, as a result she becomes less likable as a character.

The story itself is nothing new either, as “fictional detective solves their own murder” has been used countless times before. And again, nothing interesting or new is added to the concept, following formulaic plots of small town secret societies, and the tried and true kid detective sneaking around. The shift to murder from the classic Nancy Drew kid friendly mystery could’ve been really interesting. Instead, the comic tires itself out and manages to create an almost boring version of River Heights, the Hardy Boys, and Nancy herself.

Nancy Drew & The Hardy Boys: The Death of Nancy Drew is currently available from Dynamite Comics.

*Featured images: Dynamite Comics.

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