At first blush, Nancy Drew and Submerged seem like an odd pairing. One is a young adult mystery series about a wisecracking teen investigating several murders in her hometown, and the other a retelling of the Orpheus myth set in the storm-drenched subways of New York. But they line up more than you think. Each takes an old, trope-laden tale and refreshes it with diversity and new perspectives. On a deeper level, both examine what it means to live a life you didn’t intend due to circumstances beyond your control, and the lengths we’ll go to protect the people we care about. Plus, both are awesome stories that aren’t getting nearly as much attention as they deserve, and who doesn’t love chatting about underdog comics?
In this contemporary update, Nancy is dragged back to Bayport to investigate a cold case. She left town seven years before after tragedy struck her family, and going home again isn’t something she’s looking forward to. At least she gets to reconnect with her old buddies, cousins George and Bess and the Hardy boys. With the help of new (and very cute!) pal Pete, Nancy delves into a years’ long murder mystery that may be the work of a serial killer. Teen romance, thrilling adventure, and risky business await.
Kelly Thompson is a gem of a comic book writer. She’s written Hawkeye, Ghostbusters: Answer the Call, Jem and the Holograms, Rogue & Gambit, Captain Phasma, the brand new and super good Jessica Jones, and so much more, and I’ve yet to read something of hers I didn’t absolutely adore. At this point, Thompson is an auto-buy author; if she’s involved in it I am guaranteed to order it. I’m happy to report that trend continues with Nancy Drew. This series is tailor-made for me. It has everything I love about young adult comics and nothing I don’t. Like the rest of her work, it is defined by feisty fun, sugary charm, darker undertones, quirky storytelling, and realistic and diverse characters.
Jenn St-Onge is a delightful artist. Her work is bubbly and friendly, with a splash of late 90s/early 00s cartoon style. With nuanced expressions, unique character designs, and detailed backgrounds, St-Onge takes a good story and makes it great, and Triona Farrell’s coloring makes it even better. Everything is sheer perfection, from the bright and summery tones to the palatte shifts between flashbacks and eerie locations to the subtle touches like Nancy’s ombre. Tying it all together is Ariana Maher’s lovely lettering. In particular, the use of handwritten journal entries for Nancy’s internal monologue is such a nice touch.
Fans of the books will find a lot to love in the comics adaptation, and Drew newbies will have an easy time jumping into the fandom. If you haven’t gotten over the end of Goldie Vance, this should tide you over. Nancy Drew has never looked this good.
Writer: Kelly Thompson; art: Jenn St-Onge; colors: Triona Farrell; letters: Ariana Maher. The first issue of this monthly ongoing series was published in June 2018 by Dynamite.
Just before the storm of the century hits New York City, Elysia Puente’s brother Angel disappears. A childhood suffocated by strict gender roles imposed upon them by others lead to their strained relationship as adults. Nevertheless, Elysia rushes into the rain to find him. His trail leads to a boarded up subway station inhabited by mysterious and frightening creatures who lure her further and further below.
Vita Ayala stitches together pieces from several myths and legends, Shakespeare, and Latinx culture into a appealing if imperfect quilt. Where Nancy Drew is split pretty evenly between Nancy’s internal monologue, external dialogue, and descriptive text, Submerged is more concerned with what is actually happening on screen. As a result, it’s light on text. Some narration would have helped work through the awkwardness of Ellie’s situation. By that I mean she is clearly distressed by the fantastical things she encounters, but she also doesn’t seem all that surprised by their existence. If her world has magic in it, we need to see that. And if she’s discovering magic for the first time, then we have to see her grapple with that massive shift in her world view. But credit where credit is due. Ayala took one of the most overdone stories and updated it with queer brown flair.
Although the story suffers somewhat without knowing what’s going on in Elysia’s head, Lisa Sterle’s beautiful art smooths out the clunkier bits. She does a solid job conveying emotions and setting tone, not just through facial expressions but with uncomfortable camera angles, creepy backgrounds, and moments of earnest realism. I think my favorite panel is the one where Ellie is laying on her couch with her cellphone propped up on her chest. It’s almost a throwaway shot, but one that a lot of people will immediately relate to. It’s a small moment but a humanizing one that conveys a host of character development.
I also can’t say enough about Stelladia’s colors. The color palette is bold and vivid and gets darker the deeper Ellie ventures. Rachel Deering doesn’t get as much to do as letterer, but what is there is spot on. It’s clear Sterle thought about text placement ahead of time; Deering has the space to place speech bubbles in just the right spot to give just the right emotional punch.
Adding this to your pull list is a no-brainer. It’s unusual, visually arresting, and has a killer of a cliffhanger. Honestly, the only thing truly disappointing about Submerged is the lack of a publication date for the second issue. Help a sister out here, Vault. My $3.99 is ready and waiting.
Writer: Vita Ayala; illustration: Lisa Sterle; colors: Stelladia; letters: Rachel Deering. The first issue of this semi-regular miniseries was published in July 2018 by Vault Comics.
Alex Brown is a YA librarian by day, local historian by night, pop culture critic/reviewer by passion, and an ace/aro Black woman all the time. Keep up with her every move on Twitter, check out her endless barrage of cute rat pics on Instagram, or follow along with her reading adventures on her blog.