Review by Frank Plowright
The Dead Boy Detectives were introduced by Neil Gaiman in Sandman as a macabre pastiche of the boys adventure stories that populated both the comics and library shelves of his youth. Ghostly manifestations of the age they died, they chose to remain as spirits rather than move on.
There’s a certain charm to their naivety, bumbling through the netherworld and puzzlement at 21st century technology, but there’s an inherent problem with Edwin and Charles, and it’s one Toby Litt hasn’t solved. All attempts to transform them from engaging supporting characters to headliners have foundered due to their limiting qualities. Their whimsical concept isn’t strong enough to carry a series, so their solo appearances depend on who they encounter rather than the boys themselves. This method of storytelling works elsewhere, and did to a great extent in Sandman. The introduced Crystal Palace, whose name makes sense in context, is capable and intriguing, as was Maggie before her, here all-but discarded. She’s not, however, strong enough to compensate for the limitations of the leads.
The major plus of Dead Boy Detectives is the art of Mark Buckingham, sympathetically inked by Gary Erskine. Is there’s anything Buckingham can’t draw convincingly? From a Kirbyesque merger of technology with hell to manga style cosplay worlds of the imagination his accomplished panache is wonderful throughout, elevating otherwise ordinary material.
Crystal is the grounded offspring of attention-seeking celebrity parents, dispatched to the same boarding school at which Charles was murdered years previously. Saint Hilarion’s is still a centre for rum occurrences, and the main story delves in while delivering a surprise for Charles. Did no-one think to say, however, that two consecutive tales of pernicious schools might be one too many. It is an improvement on the opening sequence, which has the saving grace of a skin-crawlingly sadistic headmaster as Buckingham channels Steadman. The final two chapters show more promise as ghostly detection is required to free a ghost lodged halfway out of a mirror for a century.
A commendable element Litt delivers is nailing exactly what Charles and Edwin can do as ghosts, which has stretched to suit the plots of previous appearances. A second volume titled Ghost Snow follows.