Nancy Drew #1
Written by Kelly Thompson
Art by Jenn St-Onge and Triona Farrell
Lettered by Ariana Maher
Published by Dynamite Entertainment
‘Rama Rating: 7 out of 10
When Kelly Thompson’s Hawkeye released at the tail end of 2016, it warranted a number of connections to Veronica Mars. From the determined, snarky protagonist to both of them being in the private eye business to the mystery surrounding their mothers. In reading this first issue of the reimagined Nancy Drew, connections of a similar nature can be made once again, though while Kate Bishop’s series was more in line with the Veronica Mars TV show, Nancy Drew feels more akin to Veronica’s crowdfunded movie, with its central question asking if you ever can go home again.
Of course, Nancy Drew is a character which has obviously existed for far longer than Kate Bishop and Veronica Mars, and has managed to remain contemporary by changing with the times. In this particular instance –– produced by an all-female creative team –– the supporting cast is more diverse. Though this story begins in medias res with Nancy rescuing a sports team’s mascot before halftime. There’s a confident sense of character that comes across in her narration — Thompson always seems to have a solid handle on her protagonist’s interiority, and her approach to narration fits well within the detective story archetype.
As Nancy gets the first act of the issue to herself and Thompson is able to properly establish her, Thompson’s real strength is how well she integrates character introductions with plot in the following two acts. Returning the mascot establishes what Nancy’s capable of doing, but what sets the plot in motion is when she receives a blackmail letter, comprised of cut-out letters, referring to something Nancy did and questioning what her mother would think were she alive. Twelve hours later, Nancy’s back in Bayport and on the case. Along the way Thompson has to introduce the lead’s supporting cast: Noah Jessup, Mia Hudson, Bess Marvin, George Fayne, Danica and the Hardy Boys. From that rundown, it seems like a lot of characters, but it never seems as if Thompson’s storytelling becomes overwhelmed by how many she needs to involve.
Equally, Jenn St-Onge’s character design helps to define these characters. If there’s one aspect in particular that she excels in, it’s their hair. She crafts styles which aren’t just a mass atop someone’s head, each character’s sits differently in accordance with their dress sense and body type. Case in point: both Nancy and Mia have long hair which runs down to their shoulders, but there’s a difference to how they wear it and let it rest. Triona Farrell compliments her art nicely, picking a palette that works well in various types of light, from the moon to stadium floodlights to a sunnier day. Their collaboration has a maturity to it, all of these characters are older –– the Hardy Boys came back to Bayport themselves a few years prior –– but none of the creative team has tried to imbue the book with a grittiness that would be a step too far, one that would reek of falseness, of trying to make these characters too adult.
Yet there is a disparity in the book’s design and what the effect that the story is striving for. Take a look at the main cover. This disparity does not concern Tula Lolay’s work, but rather the typeface used for the book’s title. This design carries over to the credits page, where the series leans into the idea of these being constructed out of cut-out letters, much like a ransom letter. Compared to St-Onge’s work on the following page, the first of the issue’s story, there’s a stark difference. Her style seems more in line with the approach of an all-ages book. She has a clean sense of storytelling; the characters are wide-eyed, and one actually gets literal hearts in their eyes when they see someone else for the first time in a while. It doesn’t quite jive with the cover, title page and the fact this book is teen-rated, which leaves this book stuck in an awkward position between thinking this is something appropriate for everyone –– perhaps younger readers who have devoured the books and are curious about getting into comics –– and being unsure if, or when, the book will delve into darker material that would be inappropriate for certain ages.
This is disappointing, because from a storytelling perspective, the issue is highly enjoyable, though dealing with ground that Thompson has already covered. Her dialogue pops on the page, she constructs conversation with such a deft touch despite having so many participants to wrangle. In addition to this, it should also be said that Ariana Maher’s lettering is stupendous. Nancy’s inner monologue is self-reflexive –– there are points where narration has its own accompanying narration –– but Maher constructs a flow of her own in order to translate it to the page. The dialogue already works from a writing perspective, but Maher’s efforts ensure it clicks well with St-Onge and Farrell’s art. In that early sequence, where Nancy’s rescue of the mascot goes askew, Maher tracks how the lead character falls down, taking sound effects, narration and speech, turning them into something with a decisive arc of motion across the page.
The emphasis on this rescue means that the issue is lighter on plot than had Thompson opted to kick proceedings off with Nancy’s return to Bayport on page one, though she manages to set some things up through this without directly relating the two. St-Onge and Farrell put the work in early on that first sequence, so the final sequence achieves the desired effect through visual rhyming, without having to strain to reach its cliffhanger, instead accomplishing it in a page turn.
Based on all this evidence, Nancy Drew appears to be a book where the creative team have clicked very early on in the process, which was true of Hawkeye as well. What prevents this from being as successful of a debut is in how it trades in similar ideas, structure and mysteries. Thompson handled them well previously, but seeing them crop up so soon after prompts a degree of hesitation that she’s returning to the same well so soon. Though the narration of this series is already self-reflexive, so she’s likely aware of this and knows not to go down the same avenue of investigation once more. Returning home to confront the past is already a difficult enough thing to do in and of itself.