Eternal teenagers Nancy Drew and the Hardy Boys owe a great deal of their longevity to their adaptability. Not simply in how relatively easily they’ve been able to slide from prose mystery novels for the youngsters of the 1920s and ’30s into each new popular medium as it arose (comics included, obviously), but also in their ability to glom on to emerging trends, fashions and thinking.
It seems like it’s been quite a while since either Nancy or the Boys really had a hold of the zeitgeist, but they’re still around, you know?
Whether this Archie-like immortality is due to an essential blandness in the characters or an admirable blankness allowing for projection is something fans could argue with haters (provided either franchise possesses either); for the moment, let’s concern ourselves with current publishers of the Nancy Drew and Hardy Boys graphic novels’ ability to successfully translate the teen sleuths into library-friendly kids graphic novels, and in their savvy if transparent attempts to capitalize on the current pop literary interest in certain breeds of undead.
Nancy Drew, The New Case Files: Vampire Slayer, Part One promises an en vogue mash-up, it’s cover featuring a crossbow-toting young girl and a cute boy vampire standing upside down, bat-like in the background.
The Hardy Boys, The New Case Files: Crawling With Zombies had the word “zombies” so much bigger than the words “Hardy Boys” on the covers that I almost missed the latter until I looked a little closer. It’s cover features a bunch of zombies, two of which are zombified versions of the graphic novel’s Boys.
Neither are actual mash-ups between the horror and mystery teen genres. Vampire Slayer starts walking back the cover almost immediately, when the first few pages reveal Nancy and her pals walking through a graveyard at night on their way to a Twilight-like vampire movie (“Dielite,” reads the marquee), dressed as various characters from the movie in order to get discounted tickets (Nancy dressed as a slayer character, naturally).
And Crawling With Zombies has the Boys investigating some strange goings-ons at zombie crawls (You know, where zombie fans dress up as zombies and pretend to be zombies).
Clever. The books get to be about sexy teen vampires and zombies without actually, literally being about sexy teen vampires and zombies.
Vampire Slayer, written by Stefan Petrucha and Sara Kinney, finds Nancy being courted by Gregor, a newcomer to town. The mysterious Gregor is a quite loner who has moved from town to town. He’s pale, dislikes sunlight and mostly only comes out at night. His fridge is full of jars of red liquid, and there’s a coffin in his house. Is he a vampire, as Nancy’s friends Bess, George and her increasingly jealous boyfriend Ned suspect, or are there other explanations for Gregor’s various vampire tells?
And as mysterious as he might be, he’s trying to get to know Nancy in order to have her solve a mystery for him. It’s actually a pretty fun story, although it’s difficult to judge this chunk of the story, as it is only part one, and it ends with a cliffhanger that could rather radically alter the nature of the story, depending on what happens next.
The artwork by Sho Murase—heavily tinkered with by Carlos Jose Guzman—features nicely stripped-down characters with pointy features, and it’s lushly colored, with many panels resembling animation cels.
If there are weaknesses to the artwork, it’s that the scenes are extremely underpopulated—the six characters mentioned, plus a mysterious stalker and Nancy’s rival Deirdre are just about the only people that appear, despite several scenes in public places. The backgrounds also tend to blur together, because of the subject matter, most of the pages are dark and murky.
Crawling With Zombies is a bit more action-packed, opening with the Boys on motorbikes, fleeing a heavily armed motorcross team before the boys catch the zombie crawl case.
This one’s written by Gerry Conway (yeah, that Gerry Conway), and while the premise is interesting, it’s also weird, with lots of hard to buy elements. For example, the Boys get their assignments from ATAC (American Teenagers Against Crime) via Mission: Impossible-style messages disguised as video games, but they and their computer whiz friend seem completely stymied by social networking sites.
The crawls are conflated with flash mobs, and rather than people doing their own meticulous zombie make-up, the participants find zombie make-up provided for them there…with a special additive that drugs the kids into actually acting like zombies.
Paulo Henrique handles the art, and it’s much more manga-influenced that that of the Nancy Drew book; speed lines, sweat drops, super-deformed exaggerated faces during comedic beats, the works, even though the pages are laid out and the paced like a traditional Western comics.
Both books are professionally made, and there’s certainly much to like about each, although I found myself admiring them more than enjoying them. But then, I’m hardly the target audience—I’m well past the age of the Nancy Drew or Hardy Boys audience. Those three may never really age, but their readers sure do.