Death Becomes Them: Andy Burns On The Dead Boy Detectives


The Sandman is on of those comic book series that even on-comic lovers have at least heard about, even if they haven’t picked up an issue. I remember when I finally got sucked into the Neil Gaiman created world – it happened when I attended my first Hobby Star Fan Expo roughly ten years ago. It was an amazing experience; row upon row of comic books and trade paperbacks, many of them offered at reduced prices. I wound up buying the entire run of The Sandman in trade paperback format that weekend and finally discovered what so many people had been talking about for years. Over the past three Christmas’, I’ve had my collection upgraded to the Absolute Sandman collections, all of which currently sit on my shelf waiting to be cracked open (and joined by Absolute Death to any inlaws contemplating what to get me for the holidays this years, nudge nudge, wink wink).

Why the trip down memory lane? Well, as it turns out yesterday I picked up a trade paperback featuring characters that first appeared in Sandman so many years ago. The Dead Boy Detectives is a mini-series that was originally published in 2001 and features two young boys, Charles Rowland and Edwin Paine, who first appeared in The Sandman storyline “Seasons Of Mist”. Charles and Edwin are dead boarding school students who elected to not follow Death to the afterlife and instead become detectives. Their mini-series, which was collected just last year, finds the duo investigating the deaths of various homeless children while also learning about their own abilities as ghosts.


It took me a few minutes to recall the characters (its been awhile), but I quickly did and enjoyed the mini-series immensely. Of course, it helps that the story was written by Ed Brubaker, the writer of the excellent Gotham Central and The Death Of Captain America (the success of which likely got DC of their butts to republish The Dead Boy Detectives). Though taking place in contemporary London, the tone of Brubaker’s story, feels like a fairy tale but with what I can only call as a British Hardy Boys tone (though slightly gayer). We get to know Charles and Edwin and are given a quick summary of their backstory, even though the story doesn’t lack anything even if you don’t know the character’s backgrounds.

Along with a great story that moves briskly throughout four issues, the artwork if Bryan Talbot and Steve Leialoha is solid work and once again adds to the whole contemporary fairy tale vibe that I keep equating with the story. It all fits in nicely with the Sandman mythology that Neil Gaiman created all those years ago. Even though Gaiman didn’t contribute to this story, I’d guess he was quite pleased with the reappearance of The Dead Boy Detectives.

If you read and loved Sandman, you’ll probably enjoy revisiting two of the characters in their own unique story. Charles and Edwin are strong enough to carry their own mini-series, and I was actually left eager to read more of their adventures (of which there is a second graphic novel from 2005 that may be worth tracking down). Even if you haven’t read the Sandman, but dig a bit of humour with your ghost stories (a la Buffy The Vampire Slayer or Supernatural), The Dead Boy Detectives is an entertaining read and worth your time.  

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