As I mentioned in my original TBR for the Indie Challenge, I have been watching a lot of Veronica Mars recently, and it made me wish that there was such a thing as grown-up, dark Nancy Drew. It turns out that there is such a thing – Anthony Del Col of Kill Shakespeare fame is the latest in almost a century of writers to offer his take on the teen detective, with art by Werther Dell’Edera. The comics that resulted, gathered in the graphic novel Nancy Drew and the Hardy Boys: The Big Lie, are a noir update of the characters we know and love. In this story, Fenton Hardy has been killed, and Frank and Joe are suspected by the police of his murder. To clear their names and avenge their father, they must work with their old friend Nancy Drew to find the real killer.
Firstly, I always like Nancy best when she’s paired with the Hardy Boys, because then I don’t have to put up with Ned Nickerson whining about how much danger Nancy puts herself in and how he wishes they were just a normal couple. Ned, if you want a boring girlfriend, go and get one somewhere else. I was very glad, therefore, that this story featured the Hardys in a key role. Also present are Chief Collig and Carson Drew, plus a few characters from other Stratemeyer Syndicate series with which I’m not especially familiar. However, with the exception of Nancy (who I think is a pretty bang-on noir version of herself), all these characters are very different in The Big Lie. I wasn’t convinced by Del Col’s decision to portray Joe as contemplative and brooding, and Frank as punchy and angry. In so far as they have consistent characters in the Casefiles and Supermysteries, you would expect it to be the other way around after a trauma – Frank is the thinker of the two. We do get occasional allusions to how much the experience has changed everyone, but I’m not sure it’s enough to justify this abrupt switch of personalities.
That said, I loved Nancy in this book, and it was her adventures I followed so closely as a preteen, so I’m glad she is the one who’s depicted accurately. Nancy is dealing with troubles of her own that make her sympathetic to the Hardys’ problems, and she acts as the brains of the operation. Del Col inserts an unnecessary rivalry between Frank and Joe, who are both trying to win her affections, but I suspect that of being a nod to the noir elements and it doesn’t overwhelm the rest of the plot. Despite her depiction as a femme fatale on the (gorgeous) cover, Nancy is mostly drawn in jeans and hoodies and never becomes an object. She uses her brains rather than her looks to make progress in the case, just as she did in the original books. I missed Bess and George, who are absent from this book, but otherwise I couldn’t have wished for more from a gritty grown-up Nancy Drew. Serious question, though: why is she blonde here? Redheads the world over demand justice.
The action takes place in Bayport, and the story opens with Frank reflecting on the picture postcard nature of the town he grew up in. He grimly acknowledges that all that time, as he and Joe had wholesome mystery adventures and kissed girls in milkshake bars, the town he thought he knew had a seedy underbelly. It’s a nice opening – a wry gesture to its source material. Normally, I struggle to read graphic novels in this style, because I didn’t read a lot of comics as a teenager and that presentation of dialogue and pacing therefore seems a bit disjointed to me. It can feel a bit like I’m not reading in my native language. However, I found this to be a really effective opening, and it grabbed me quickly. Overall, I found that I could follow the story well and, while the art is not going to set the world on fire, I did like the close-ups of people’s faces, and the detail in some of the scenes towards the end. Similarly, I sometimes struggle with noir – I’ve seen too much noir parody to take it seriously – but I loved this, and I felt that it stayed just the right side of melodrama. It helps, of course, that the original novels end every chapter with someone dangling over a cliff, and three exclamation points!!! – so it would be hard to be more ridiculous.
In case you can’t tell, I really loved this and I’m glad I read it – I could feel that it was a reimagining done by someone who genuinely cares about the characters and wants them to have a new lease of life. I don’t think comics and graphic novels will ever be my main choice of format, but it served this particular story well. The sequel, The Death of Nancy Drew, recently hit headlines because people were up in arms about the fact that Nancy was seemingly being killed off on her 90th birthday – but having read The Big Lie and seen the extent to which she was the brains of the outfit, I’m sure there’s more to that plot than meets the eye. I can’t wait to read it as soon as it comes out.
I didn’t realize these new Nancy Drew books were graphic novels. My nieces might like them. They just got into The Baby-Sitters Club graphic novels. Is this Nancy book still set in the 1930s?
No, it’s set in the present day – at one point someone’s emails are hacked – but there is very limited reliance on technology for plot.
Depending on how old your nieces are, you might want to be aware that there are a couple of murders depicted in this graphic novel including a close-up on the dead bodies afterwards, and some drug dealing. It’s great, but it is a real step change from the fairly bloodless original novels.
Hmmm. Taylor will be 11 this year, but she’s also a lovely dark weirdo.
I had no idea this existed! I never read the Hardy Boys but loved Nancy Drew. And “Redheads the world over demand justice” is hilarious. That was kind of a weird editorial change, although gorgeous cover!
It is a strange editorial change – though I think Nancy is blonde in some other adaptations. I assumed she would be redheaded here though, because of the whole “flame-haired femme fatale” thing!