Yesterday I picked up a copy of Dead Boy Detectives at my local comics shop. I had looked for the first issue when it came out last week but, alas, sold out. This week I overpaid ($8) for a variant cover I found in a special short box they keep at the front of the store to entice suckers like me.
On the drive home it occurred to me that there was a lot of buzz before the book came out, but since then… crickets. I wondered if it sucked. Now, having read it, I know. It doesn’t suck. It’s also not going to change your life.
Edwin (d. 1916) and Charles (d. 1990) are two young and deceased boys who pal around and solve mysteries. Much of this issue is spent introducing us to Crystal Palace a teenage girl whose parents are performance artists who periodically involve their daughter in their “works.” In this issue, during one such performance, Crystal is nearly killed. She’s saved by the Dead Boy Detectives. During her near-death experience, however, Crystal has a vision of St. Hilarion’s the all-boy’s school where Edwin and Charles were both murdered.
As a consequence of this vision Crystal feels compelled to attend the school, which is not a problem since her wealthy Mom and Dad come from the “Do-whatever-you-like” school of parenting. Edwin and Charles feel compelled to protect Crystal, and so have to return to the site of their childhood torment.
The premise is really what drives the book. Neil Gaiman’s kooky, creepy adaptation of the Hardy Boys works, even in someone else’s hands. The dialogue (Toby Litt, Mark Buckingham) and the art (Buckingham and Gary Erskine) are good, not great. A book like this one may suffer by comparison to some of the more striking stylized art that we’ve seen in other supernatural stories like Ten Grand and even other Vertigo titles like The Wake.
The comic emphasizes a bullying dimension in Edwin’s and Charles’ pasts that feels intentionally topical: a minor fault. However, the book does a nice job of introducing suspense by setting us up for an appearance by Gaiman’s Death somewhere down the road. Nothing too overt, just an indication that we might see her “soon.”
Overall the book is worth a read. I wasn’t blown away by it. But the first issue was creepy and sweet and intriguing.