Nancy Drew is dead. Car crash, apparently. The cops have written it off as an accident and the rest of River Heights, her hometown, is going about like it’s business as usual. But Joe Hardy, teen detective and Nancy’s boyfriend, refuses to believe that Nancy’s death was an accident -it’s murder and he’s going to solve it.
The Death of Nancy Drew #1
Salvatore Aiala (Colours), Anthony Del Col (Writer), Crank! (Letters), Joe Eisma (Artist)
April 1, 2020
Ever since The Death of Nancy Drew was announced, fans of Nancy Drew have been concerned about the direction of this story and whether or not it will be a fitting tribute for the character’s 90th anniversary. Having read the book, I can safely say that readers’ concerns are valid.
The biggest problem with The Death of Nancy Drew is the way the context of the series has been framed—you can’t celebrate a character by killing her off, or worse, fridging her. This is a plot point that should not even be on the table in 2020. Female characters have long been denied the spotlight and agency; we should be moving away from those tropes, not doubling down on them, even if the plan is to use the character’s death as shock value, or to reverse it later. The setup isn’t great and the creators’ surprise at being called out makes it worse.
Coming into The Death of Nancy Drew #1, I was obviously skeptical of what I was going to read but I wanted to keep an open mind and give the creators the benefit of the doubt. As a child, I loved Nancy Drew, but I also loved the Hardy Boys. The first time I read a team up with them, I was overjoyed, and I’m glad that contemporary readers are getting some of that enjoyment.
But does The Death of Nancy Drew #1 do justice to the characters and put readers at ease about the character being put in her grave? I’m afraid it doesn’t. For one, this first chapter is completely told from Joe Hardy’s point of view. He is the protagonist here, not Nancy Drew, whose 90th anniversary this book is celebrating; I keep harping on about this because it is such a bad idea.
However, writer Anthony Del Col has said that the points of view in each issue will change, as per the format of this series’ predecessor, Nancy Drew & The Hardy Boys: The Big Lie. At some point in this series, Nancy Drew will get to take the reigns of the narrative—either from beyond the grave or from before her ‘death’, or more likely because she isn’t dead at all.
Unfortunately, many readers may not stick around long enough to get to that part of the story. Killing off Nancy Drew in The Death of Nancy Drew #1 is the least of this book’s problems. The story is bad. It’s really bad. The writing is all over the place and so many gaps in the narrative are filled in with contrived conveniences that my eyes got a workout from rolling so hard. I understand that this book is aimed at teenagers, but can we please not treat them like idiots?
Joe finds connections between Nancy and a potential suspect by retracing her steps to a karaoke bar and then asking a bunch of cabbies if they were around on the night of her death. He uses dash-cam footage to find someone breaking into Nancy’s car. And voila, he is on to something.
Ummm. What? The cabbie happened to be parked exactly opposite Nancy’s car? And close enough for Joe to get a full and clear view of the guy? He’s literally staring into the dash-cam. And what does Joe do with this information? He hunts down the guy and breaks his door down. Of course, he’s immediately arrested because that’s breaking and entering and everyone in the building heard him. Oh, and the suspect is dead inside his apartment. Why would Joe Hardy, teen detective, do something this stupid? But that’s not even the half of it. Not only is Joe stupid, but he gets his way by threatening and coercing people. Ewwww.
As someone who got so much joy out of reading about Joe and Frank Hardy’s adventures, I am saddened by their depiction in The Death of Nancy Drew. Because Joe and Frank pretty much hate each other here—they even have a punch-out in the middle of the street. I’m sure this is an attempt at being edgy, but don’t teenagers deserve to read healthy and loving sibling relationships? Why are so many teen dramas and comics always pitting siblings against each other?
Let me set the scene. Joe has been following the prime suspect on Instagram—the suspect’s supposed girlfriend reminds him of Nancy (give me a second to roll my eyes again, but this is going to turn into a major plot point in the series). Joe goes looking for this girl and asks around (no idea where) for her identification and whereabouts. He comes across a woman who knows her and she—get this—tells Joe the girl’s name and where she works. And tops it all off by proclaiming that the girl is “totally a slut”. I need a moment to gag.
The fact that this series is created by an all-male creative team (so apt for a female character’s 90th anniversary, no?) is so painfully obvious. Women don’t generally give strange men information about other women—we’re always on edge because we don’t know why the man might be asking after her. Joe is a nobody. He is in high school and has no authority to be demanding any information. Why would she just tell him who the girl is? And the ‘slut’ proclamation. I mean, nobody talks like that, and why in the hell would this woman say that to a stranger? This is maybe a descriptor you would use among your friends, not with a strange man. Ugh!
I didn’t even enjoy the art in The Death of Nancy Drew #1. The sparseness of the character designs made me feel like I was reading the book through a funhouse mirror. I couldn’t even tell the characters apart because everyone looks the same. Despite the book being created in 2020, there were maybe three or four people of colour in the entire book— I’m being really lenient here with the definition of people of colour—including Nancy’s friend Bess. None of whom had any characterisation, of course; they were background characters and added little to the plot.
All this nonsense could have easily been avoided had there been an iota of diversity behind the scenes. But the comics universe still insists on putting together a group of cis white, straight men and insisting that they can somehow represent the cornucopia of lived experiences out there.
News flash: they’re doing an abysmal job!
Of course, we all know Nancy Drew will be back, because that’s how comics work, but that’s not the point. Male creators’ first notion when handed a female character shouldn’t be to use her as a crutch for male characters’ growth, even if she isn’t really dead. That still others female readers. What a waste of a beloved set of characters.
This book is awful and not just because it kills off a character it’s meant to celebrate. The writing is stodgy, the art is boring, and the story has been done to death. I thought The Death of Nancy Drew would be bad going in, but it’s actually managed to be worse.