Leftist Polygon interviewed Anthony Del Col, the writer working on Dynamite’s Hardy Boys and Nancy Drew adaptations, and along the way, as they discuss the anguish from fans over how they chose to “celebrate” the teen girl sleuth’s 90th year, there’s some pretty eyebrow raising details they bring up. For example, here’s what they tell about a prior story called The Big Lie:
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.
Let me get this straight. The very company that created all these famous literary characters is put in the role of the criminals?!? Just how does that honor the memory of the guy who’d developed the properties in the first place? IMO, it sounds insulting as can be. And, even if Nancy isn’t being terminated, is the following for real, from the comic series’ canon?
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.
Just what the world needs. Now, if this is correct, the HB’s father Fenton was sent to the grave not by natural causes, but by that notorious old cliche – murder. Though it’s hardly new if anybody who ever read the HB Case Files spinoff series that ran from 1987-98 recalls that Iola Morton, cast member from the mainstay series, was put to death at the beginning, even as she remained more or less alive in the mainstay books. Maybe killing off parental figures isn’t as horrid as it is with those representing younger generations, but after being so familiar with the cliches in the past decades, that’s why the above plot that saw Fenton wiped off the slate is dismaying and tiresome.
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.
Am I getting the vibe the stars of the show are grown up in this rendition, not unlike how some of the recent Archie iterations went the same route? What good is that? And why does something sound additionally idiotic if Nancy couldn’t get over her mother’s demise? As does the direction Del Col’s going in:
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.
Here we go again with a serious problem from a modern perspective – everything must be dark and “edgy”, while brightness by contrast is unrelatable and unsellable. This is exactly what’s brought down Superman, which remains in the hands of unqualified cynics, no matter the current angle. And if Del Col really wants anybody to appreciate the light more, I’m afraid going the dark route and only said path will not bring back the light. It’s only if you actually want to write a story to that effect and push to do it, that you’ll make a difference. And stop acting like “realism” is the only thing that sells. Maybe it’d do some good to complain how educational systems today are making it difficult to find anyone who appreciates the light to boot. Because that likelihood never seems to be brought up. But now, look what comes up in the next paragraph:
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.
This is certainly telling of where they’re going, besides some of the “woke” elements that were already seen in the prior stories. I can’t claim to fully understand “femme fatale”, but I’ve often assumed it alludes primarily to criminals (like members of mafia), and besides, the original books rarely dealt with murder plots or saw characters slain. I assume that’s what Del Col means when he talks about modern audiences viewing these children’s literature products as relics. Would he view The A-Team TV show the same way, as but a relic of the mid-80s because of its quasi-surreal approach? Interesting the interviewer even saw fit to imply the noir genre’s got non-PC elements she doesn’t consider acceptable by her standards. Yet she doesn’t criticize the dark-and-edgy direction either, so they’re getting nowhere in particular.
If femme fatale mainly means criminal elements, I don’t see why anyone would think that requires agency, or why they can’t just say something like “brave leading lady” when they’re talking about good girls. Wonder Woman isn’t usually referred to as a femme fatale, so why should Nancy Drew be described that way? It’d be better if Poison Ivy were instead.
All we’ve really learned is that the comics in question still appear to have some very PC elements involved, and Del Col’s done nothing to alleviate the assumption this is where they’re going. So in the end, I’m sure we’re not missing anything, and there’s little point in checking out another superfluous mystery.
Originally published here.