The Dead Boy Detectives
DC Comics / Vertigo Comics
Writer: Jill Thompson
Art: Jill Thompson
BW, 144 pgs w/ ads
$9.99 US / Higher in Canada
The two dead boy detectives that headline this graphic novel are Charles Rowland and Edwin Paine, two British school boys from different eras who are now ghosts and crime solvers to boot. They first appeared in The Sandman: The Seasons of Mist, in which they died but escaped Death’s grasp. Since then, they’ve been solving crimes, first in London and now in Chicago.
Edwin and Charles are contacted through traditional means by young Annika Abernathy, a student at the upper class International Academy in Chicago. She doesn’t know these two are in fact deceased. She believes she is contacting two young boys known for their sleuthing skills and their dedication to helping children when no one else will. Annika’s best friend has vanished, but none of the teachers at the school seem to care. They, in fact, outright refuse to acknowledge anything about the missing girl. In order for Edwin and Charles to investigate this case properly they will need access to the school. The catch is that the school is an all-girls school, meaning the boys have to disguise themselves as female students.
Jill Thompson is no stranger to The Sandman universe. She made a name for herself in the industry as an artist on the original series. She moved a way from the macabre side of Sandman to a softer, cuter vein of storytelling with her Little Endless Storybook and Death at Death’s Door, the latter of which was a graphic novel created using a style of art most often associated with manga. She uses a similar style here in The Dead Boy Detectives. It worked very well for Death at Death’s Door and does so again for The Dead Boy Detectives. The big eyes and cute designs of all of the characters soften the Sandman world by giving the story a look that is witty and fun. There are a lot of laughs in The Dead Boy Detectives because of both the art and story, but that doesn’t mean Thompson’s tale is frivolous. There is a serious mystery at the core of this tale. The answers come through investigative work on behalf of both the Charles and Edwin, and Annika and her friends. The girls, in fact, play almost as much of a role in this story as do the dead little boys. They are a likeable and infectious group of female characters. Thompson seems to have felt the same way about them, giving them more and more to do as the story progresses, as if she too grew fond of these young ladies during the course of the story.
Where The Dead Boy Detectives start to show cracks in its seams is during the finale when all the answers to the mystery are revealed. It occurs through a series of revelations, the answers being explained to the characters and to the readers by the mystery’s perpetrators. It feels and reads a lot like the end of a Scooby-Doo mystery, which is a bit disappointing considering all the fun we had throughout the first three quarters of the book. I did, however, enjoy the fact the dead boys, Annika and her friends had all come to wrong conclusions concerning the disappearance of Annika’s friend. That was a clever twist and in keeping with the story’s comedic theme.
The Dead Boy Detectives is the second story featuring Edwin and Charles as ghostly investigators. The first was a four issue miniseries written by Ed Brubaker and illustrated by Bryan Talbot and Steve Leialoha. Like Thompson’s story, this miniseries wisely avoided trying to create the Gothic and brooding style of the original Sandman. Brubaker and his crew created a fun boys’ adventure infused with magic. Thompson gave us a complex mystery surrounded by fun and laughs, told in a manga influenced art style. Both work within the realms of The Sandman universe, but stand alone well on their own as separate tales, easily enjoyed by people simply looking for entertaining comics. (Chad Boudreau)