Book Review: The Dead Boy Detectives

Vertigo’s adventurous adolescent apparitions are an appealing throwback to the junior sleuths of the past

The Dead Boy Detectives

Most of the time, ghosts are a mystery; on occasion, however, they help solve a mystery. That's certainly the case with Edwin Paine and Charles Rowland, a pair of resourceful young murder victims who survive in ectoplasmic form and have teamed up to do the junior sleuthing thing, rather like the Hardy Boys if they'd gone to Eton ... and were dead. Created by Neil Gaiman and Matt Wagner in the original Sandman comics series in 1991, the Dead Boy Detectives have been floating around the Vertigo universe ever since, seeking cases to investigate and having such notable talents as Jill Thompson and Ed Brubaker take the odd crack at penning adventures for the ghostly gumshoes.

The most extensive showcase for the characters, though, was a 12-issue series published in 2014 in which the creative team of Toby Litt and Mark Buckingham sent our expired heroes back to St. Hilarions School – the site where both boys met their ends, albeit 74 years apart – to learn more about their own murders and to keep some of the living from joining them in the afterlife. The series, which has been collected in two softcover editions, does a lovely job of honoring the spirit of those early 20th century boys' books that inspired the characters, allowing Edwin and Charles to keep a sense of innocence and the story overall to sustain a tone of adventure and whimsy. And the introduction of a young miss into the mix – the tech-savvy, ghost-mad Crystal – makes room for some adolescent yearning and divided loyalties to add spice to the relationships and take us further back to the world of youthful adventuring. With weird spirit realms, cool treehouses, Dickensian schoolmasters, and mischievous ghost cats, these Dead Boy Detectives tales will make an aging phantom nostalgic for the days of being young and deceased.


Dead Boy Detectives

Vol. 1: Schoolboy Terrors
Vol. 2: Ghost Snow
by Mark Buckingham & Toby Litt
Vertigo, $14.99 ea.
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KEYWORDS FOR THIS STORY

Ghost Stories, Graphic Novels, Gift Guide 2016, Vertigo, Neil Gaiman, Sandman, Matt Wagner

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