Returning from the dead is an every day occurrence in comics. Unless you’re Gwen Stacy, just because you’re dead doesn’t mean you aren’t going to come back. In 2010 alone we’ve seen the return of Batman, Captain America, Kraven the Hunter, Aquaman, The Martian Manhunter, Hawkwoman, Firestorm, Maxwell Lord and more characters then is necessary to name. Unfortunately, what seemed to go unnoticed in 2010 was the return of Jean and Louise Dana, aka The Dana Girls, in the pages of Papercutz’s Nancy Drew: Girl Detective #20.
Well….nobody ever actually “killed” the Dana Girls in the first place, but they might have well been dead. A long discarded and highly neglected “juvenile detective” franchise, The Dana Girls were sort of a spin off from Nancy Drew and The Hardy Boys, sporadically published under the name Carolyn Keene between 1934 to 1979. However, unlike Nancy, Frank and Joe, the Danas never really caught the imagination of readers and were cancelled and revived again and again until they were finally laid to rest at the end of the seventies, only to be found amongst dusty old books in flea market, antique barns and library basements. Yet, without any sort of public clamoring for their return, The Dana Girls have been reborn again as if they never ever really left at all, but just as nobody noticed they were gone, it seems that nobody really noticed that they came back either. Yet, as a Nancy Drew fan and collector, the return of The Dana Girls is personally both the most surprising, and welcomed, return of 2010!
While Nancy Drew is considered a pop culture phenomena, The Dana Girls are perhaps better categorized as pop culture oddities. In reality the Dana Girls were created by Harriet S. Addams, the closest thing to the living embodiment of Carolyn Keene that ever existed. Daughter of publishing baron Edward Stratemeyer, creator of legendary franchises such as The Hardy Boys, Nancy Drew, The Bobbsey Twins and Tom Swift, Harriet Adams penned the majority of the modern Nancy Drew books, defining the character into the icon that she became. The Dana Girls was Harriet Adam’s attempt to create her own book franchise by amalgamating elements of The Hardy Boys and Nancy Drew together, and using the recognized name of Carolyn Keene as the selling point. As a result The Dana Girls were heavily advertised within Nancy Drew books. However, for some reason, the series didn’t have the same appeal as Nancy Drew. Part of that possibly had to do with the lack of enthusiasm for the series from the Dana Girls’ original writers. The first four books were written by Leslie McFarlane who primarily worked on Hardy Boys books. However, McFarlane was not comfortable writing female characters and was incredibly unhappy with the assignment, only finishing the fourth book after he was promised a large bonus. The fifth through sixteenth book was assigned to Nancy Drew writer Mildred A. Wirt Benson but she too was unhappy with the series, stating that she felt little kinship with the Danas. Eventually Harriet Adams, having faith in her creation, took the helm once and for all and wrote volume seventeen through thirty, and then an additional four volumes at the end of the 1970s. The series itself was discontinued time and time again over the decades. The first run of Dana Girls Mysteries ran from 1934 to 1944. Harriet Adams brought the Dana Girls back in 1949 and the series ran until 1968. Finally, in 1972 The Dana Girls were brought back with mixed up numbering and missing volumes along with four additional books, which has confused collectors. The highlight of these later books was beautiful gothic covers, following the trend of the “gothic romance” novels that were popular throughout the 1970’s that made them look distinctly different from the Nancy Drew and Hardy Boy books on the shelves. Yet, once again the Dana Girls proved to be a mediocre commodity for the publishers and after 1979 the Danas were laid to rest and never seen again…..until now.
So just who were the Dana Girls anyways? Dark haired scholarly Louise and her younger sister, blonde hair adventurous Jean, were two orphaned teenage sisters who were under the guardianship of their uncle, sea captain Ned Dana. However, since Captain Dana spent much time on the high seas, the Dana Sisters lived at an upscale boarding school, The Penhurt School for Girls, in the village of Penfield, not far from their home in the fictional Oak Falls. At the school the Dana Girls are under the rule of stern, but fair, Mrs. Crandall and her eccentric husband Professor Crandall. They prove to be popular, except for the tormenting of their snobby rival Lettie Briggs and her sidekick Ina Mason. Of course, the Dana Girls have no trouble sniffing out mysteries and use their brains and charms to solve crimes around the school and surrounding towns.
When Papercutz revived the Dana Girls and their world this fall in their popular series of Nancy Drew quarterly graphic novels, they were brought back with little fanfare. Despite this, another monumental moment in juvenile detective fiction took place. While Nancy Drew and The Hardy Boys have teamed up in scores of publications over the decades, this marked the first time that both of “Carolyn Keene’s” creations had been brought together. Never before had the worlds of Nancy Drew and the Dana Girls merged. Cleverly, the writers of Papercutz’s Nancy Drew series made it out that none of the characters had met before, as the girls participate in a contest to prove who is the better sleuths as set up by Nancy’s sidekicks Bess and George, and the Dana Girl’s friends Teri and Gale. Of course Lettie and Ina get into the action, as does Nancy’s arch nemesis, Deirdre Shannon, from the current run of Nancy Drew novels being published by Grosset and Dunlap. However, in the end the “faux” mystery turns into a real crime, which will be continued in the next volume of Nancy Drew: Girl Detective to be published in early 2011, ensuring the Dana Girls a second appearance in the current century.
Even at the best of times, The Dana Girls have been nothing more then a mediocre franchise that has never gained any sort of mass attention. Even with the long overdue rebirth of the franchise for the 21st Century, nobody has bothered to take notice. The Dana Girls own wikipedia page doesn’t even bother to mention their appearance in the latest Nancy Drew TPB. However, as a Nancy Drew collector with a soft spot for The Dana Girls, I only hope that Papercutz has bigger plans for Jean and Louise Dana, even if it is nothing more then another limited run of Dana Girls TPBs. History may prove that The Danas Girls have only a limited popularity with only a small cult following of Carolyn Keene die hards, but as it has been said time and time again, every character can become “cool” when under the right writer. With the proper guidance, care and sense of creativity, perhaps the time is finally right for The Dana Girls. Make sure to pick up Nancy Drew: Girl Detective #20 – High School Musical Mystery, as well as the upcoming Nancy Drew: Girl Detective #21 – High School Musical Mystery Part 2 and support the return of The Dana Girls. Its time that Jean and Louise Dana leave the dusty forgotten bookshelves and finally have their day.