“Nancy Drew is dead!”, reads a Dynamite Comics press release announcing a new installment in Dynamite’s Nancy Drew/Hardy Boys crossover series. The cover of the first issue, revealed in the same release, shows the Hardy brothers standing over Nancy Drew’s grave, with her shadow looming in front of them.
Nancy Drew & the Hardy Boys: The Death of Nancy Drew is a followup to the noir-inspired Nancy Drew & The Hardy Boys: The Big Lie. That six-issue series followed Nancy Drew alongside Frank and Joe Hardy as they investigated the death of the Hardy Boys’ father and uncovered an organized crime operation in the process. This new installment, though, appears to find Nancy Drew herself as the victim of the mysterious syndicate.
Following the announcement, which framed the upcoming story around the iconic girl sleuth’s 90th anniversary, many fans were upset by the perception that the comic would celebrate Nancy Drew by removing her of agency and focusing entirely on the Hardy Boys. It seemed to be another example of a comic “fridging” a beloved female character. (The term is based on the concept of “Women in Refrigerators,” coined by writer Gail Simone, which describes the all-too-common trope of killing off a male hero’s love interest in order to further his own story development.)
Polygon caught up with Nancy Drew & the Hardy Boys writer Anthony Del Col, who shared his take on the initial criticism, explained his intention with the new series, reflected on noir tropes, and gushed about his affection for Nancy Drew.
Polygon: Let’s start with the online reactions to the announcement of The Death of Nancy Drew, specifically the accusation that the series is fridging a beloved character. As a longtime fan of Nancy Drew, I have to admit I was concerned. Were you expecting the backlash to that announcement or did it come as a surprise?
Anthony Del Col: It was a bit of a surprise. I did not expect it. I mean, having gone through the press release, I can understand why people have that reaction, but it’s not something that I was expecting because at no point are we fridging Nancy during the series or doing anything like that. As the creator of it, as the writer of it, I know that that’s not the case. And so to hear people surmise or predict that that’s what’s happening threw me for total loop.
Some of the criticism came from the press release being tied to Nancy Drew’s 90th anniversary. It began with the phrase “Nancy Drew is dead!”, which seems especially inflammatory. Were you involved with the framing of that press release or did you see it before it went out to the public?
I saw the press release, but I only took a quick look at it. I understand where people are coming from, especially when they go, “Hey, they’re celebrating — especially the use of the term ‘celebrating’ — the 90th anniversary by killing Nancy Drew.” I looked at that and thought, “Oh yes, now I can see why people are upset about this or distraught about it. That’s sort of an odd choice of words.” As a lifelong fan of Nancy Drew, I would also be concerned about that sort of thing. It just speaks to how important the character is when people see that and think, “Oh my God, what’s happening to Nancy Drew?” We all kind of feel a sense of ownership of her. So when we see something like that we’re like, “Wait a minute, if she really died and if this is being done in a callous, unthoughtful manner, well that’s not cool.” But as the writer of this story I want everyone to know that while I can’t reveal what happens in the story, nothing is being done in an unthoughtful manner.
In the previous Nancy Drew/Hardy Boys crossover series that you wrote, The Big Lie, the first chapter focuses on Frank and Joe Hardy, with Nancy coming in at the end of that chapter. The next chapter continues the story from her perspective. Does this book follow that same format, shifting perspectives between these three characters?
Yes, it does. Because The Death of Nancy Drew is a continuation of The Big Lie, it also follows in the same sort of back and forth — this is the perspective from Nancy, this is the perspective from Joe, this is perspective from Frank. Now with respect to Nancy, I can’t really say whether those are flashbacks or what the case is. It’s tough for me to talk about the series because I don’t want to give away spoilers or tell people what’s happening. The biggest thing — and this is what I’ve told people ever since the backlash to the announcement started to come out — is just read the first issue. If you read the first issue, I think any concerns that you might have will be allayed. I think people will understand and go, “Okay, wait a minute. I think I know what he’s going for here.”
The end of The Big Lie reveals an organized crime component — the Syndicate — which is an allusion to the Stratemeyer Syndicate, the company that developed Nancy Drew and the Hardy Boys as well as other children’s series. Does The Syndicate come back as a larger force in The Death of Nancy Drew?
Absolutely. Like I said, The Death of Nancy Drew is a continuation of that series. So the Syndicate does play a major role. Again, I don’t wanna say too much, but it’s not a spoiler because it’s in the press release. On page two we learn that Nancy’s dead, and we find out some of the things that led to her death and how the syndicate may or may not be behind all of this.
And you’re correct, it is inspired by the Stratemeyer Syndicate, the creators of Nancy Drew, the Hardy Boys, the Bobbsey Twins, Tom Swift, the Rover Boys. All of those characters played roles in The Big Lie. Edward Stratemeyer was the original outsourcer, I guess you could say. He hired all of these ghost writers. So I thought it’d be very fitting when I started to work on The Big Lie and came up with this concept of putting all these characters into a noir story that not only would it be cool to put Nancy, Frank and Joe together, which has been done before, but to include the Bobbseys and all these other characters that some people may have heard of, but some people may not have.
Given the stable of characters to choose from, how did you decide on Nancy Drew as the character whose death you wanted to explore in this way?
Well, the first series revolved around the death of Fenton Hardy — Frank and Joe’s father — who’s a former police detective and was murdered in The Big Lie. That series begins with Frank and Joe being interrogated in separate rooms by the police. And that story is set in Bayport, so it’s very Hardy Boys-centric, I guess you could say. For the sequel I wanted to bring them back to Nancy’s hometown of River Heights. It will deal with not only Nancy’s death at the beginning of the series, but also the fallout with respect to Carson Drew, her father, and with Bess and George, her best friends. Frank and Joe come to River Heights to investigate. What I can say is that Nancy died in a car accident. Joe Hardy, especially, is the one at the very beginning who doesn’t think it’s really a car accident. He thinks that there’s something else involved and he’s the one that starts to get the ball rolling so we can find out more about what actually happened.
I think you just answered my next question, which is whether more Nancy Drew characters like Bess and George would be appearing in this series.
Oh, absolutely. When the first series came out, a lot of people were like, “Hey, wait a minute. Where’s Bess? Where’s George? Where’s [Nancy’s boyfriend] Ned? If it’s a Nancy Drew series I want to see some of them.” And I was like, “Yes, I want to see them too!” Originally, the entire arc was two series. There were going to be 12 issues in total. The first six were The Big Lie, which was set in Bayport. The final six are in River Heights. So yes, Beth and George are involved in this series, Nancy’s father Carson is in it, and Ned’s in it. Without giving anything away, Ned is actually the mayor of River Heights. He’s come back home and is now trying to fix the town’s problems: The economy is not great, there have been layoffs — it feels like that typical Midwest town. So he’s dealing with the ramifications of that and trying to help the city out, meanwhile, having to deal with the grief that ensues from the death of Nancy.
I don’t want to make people feel like this is all grief and doom and gloom because at the end of the day, it’s a noir story. It’s investigation, it’s solving this mystery of what exactly happened to Nancy. “Who killed Nancy Drew?” — that’s really what this series is all about. Frank and Joe are the two people we first meet, but along the way we’re going to meet everybody else. Carson especially, as well as Catherine Drew, Nancy’s mother. Although she doesn’t play a role in it, she is a sort of looming presence because Nancy never really was able to get over the death of her mother in this series.
That teen noir style is very popular right now. What draw you to that style and what do you think it allows you to accomplish?
I was inspired by noir style going all the way back to 2014 or 2015. So this is before Riverdale or The Chilling Adventures of Sabrina, and before the CW Nancy Drew series came out. I had read Afterlife with Archie, Roberto Aguirre-Sacasa’s series. It’s basically Riverdale meets The Walking Dead. And I just loved the concept of taking these characters that we all know, Archie, Betty, Veronica, etc., and putting them into a completely different genre. And in doing so, you sort of shine a different spotlight on the characters and you get to explore them in different ways. I’d read Archie comics and loved them when I was kid. So I went back into my memory banks — the old bookshelf, I guess you could say — of characters that I loved when I was a child. Nancy Drew and the Hardy Boys were some of them. I thought, “Well, what kind of genre would I want to put them into? I don’t want to use zombies because that’s been done.” I’ve kind of played around with different genres and noir came up.
I originally came up with two images: The first one was of Frank and Joe in separate interrogation rooms — sort of a prisoner’s dilemma type of scenario— where they’re being accused of murdering their father. And the next one was what would happen if Nancy Drew died. Sort of in the vein of Sunset Boulevard or Laura, those classic noirs. We start off with this murder and kind of go back to figure out what exactly happened. I loved the concept of playing in noir, playing in a different genre. Noir to me is really interesting because it’s darker and edgier than what we’re used to with these characters. Before Riverdale and The CW’s Nancy Drew series, people looked back at Nancy Drew novels as this relic of the past, like 1950s “Golly gee, let’s solve this crime!” But I wanted to make Nancy and Frank and Joe relevant to today’s audiences. To do that, I think you have to bring a little bit of darkness and a little more edginess. And by doing so you make people appreciate the light a little bit more.
Noir also has some tropes that would be, I guess you could say “un-woke” by today’s standards. Did you reckon with modernizing that style, with an eye to how the genre portrays some of those more dated stereotypes?
Yes, definitely. The first example is Nancy. When I first conceived The Big Lie, I thought of Nancy’s as a femme fatale, and it only took me about a minute or two to realize, “No, wait a minute. I can’t have her as a femme fatale. She’s too smart for that.” Yes, femme fatales are smart, and often technically control the action. But they don’t always have the most agency. And so that’s why I thought, “Well, no, Nancy has to have full agency. She has to have full control of her story.” When you first meet Nancy Drew at the end of the first issue of The Big Lie — and it’s not a spoiler because the book’s been out for like two and a half years now — she’s sort of in that typical femme fatale pose. But you realize very quickly that she’s the one who’s actually in charge, unlike the femme fatale who you think is driving the story, but we know it’s always the male character. And then in The Death of Nancy Drew, again I don’t want to spoil too much, but Nancy is the one that’s really driving the story. I can’t really tell you much more about that, but Nancy is front and center.
In The Big Lie it’s hinted that the Hardy boys are both kind of crushing on Nancy. Does that romantic aspect comes into play while they’re investigating her death?
Absolutely, yes. Without giving it away, Joe will voice his feelings for Nancy to the reader in the very first issue. And there will be more declarations of feelings Nancy. At the end of the day, I mean, who wouldn’t fall for Nancy? Whether you’re male or female, how could you not?
I know you don’t want to reveal any spoilers, but is there anything else you’d like to share with fans who may have been turned off by the initial announcement to convince them to read this book?
There are three things that I would caution. First of all, much like yourself, I am a huge fan of Nancy Drew. I discovered Nancy when I was about six years old visiting my grandparents place in rural, farm-town Canada. My mom’s old books were on their bookshelf. She pulled them out and said, “Oh, I used to read these when I was a kid.” It was a bonding experience between myself and my younger sister. So I’ve been a fan of Nancy Drew and The Hardy Boys since then. I would never do anything that would sully Nancy Drew’s reputation or take away her agency. Secondly, read The Big Lie. You’ll see how much I love Nancy as a character, as well as Frank and Joe. The tone in The Big Lie is exactly what will be recaptured in The Death of Nancy Drew. The third is just give the issue a chance. I can’t give away any spoilers. I really wish I could say what happens. But I think if you read the first issue, all 22 pages, you’ll be onboard and want to know what happens next. And if at the end of the first issue you’re like, “No, this is still what I think it’s going to be,” that’s fine. But I think that people will be convinced.