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Some friendships last a lifetime, some last even longer. Charles Rowland and Edwin Paine have just such a friendship. Both died when they were just kids at St. Hilarion’s Boarding School, admittedly a century apart. And both ran from death. Now they spend their time sneaking into theaters and searching for cases to solve. From the creative mind of Neil Gaiman and set in the Sandman universe, get lost in the adventures of The Dead Boy Detectives with the comics omnibus I’m reviewing today.

[Warning: My review of The Dead Boy Detectives Omnibus contains some spoilers.]

A date with Death for Charles and Edwin in The Sandman

When Charles and Edwin first meet up in The Sandman (#25: Season of Mists Chapter 4) things aren’t looking good for Charles. The only child left behind at St. Hilarion’s Boarding School for the holidays, Charles finds out he’s not as alone as he thought he was. The school is filled with ghosts of past students and staff, and most of them are not very nice. Three ghosts in particular have taken issue with Charles, and they torture him to within a inch of his life. Edwin finds him barely alive and hides him in the attic, but there’s little a ghost can actually do, and eventually Charles dies.

Then Death shows up to take Charles, and things get interesting. Charles wants Edwin to come with him, but Death says she already took him, and he’s still dead, so he can’t come again. Charles digs in and refuses to go, so Death leaves them both. Edwin is shocked that Charles defied Death for him, and their friendship is sealed forever. The two boys decide to leave the school and see if death can offer them more than life did.

Edwin and Charles start The Dead Boy Detectives agency

Turns out that both Charles and Edwin are obsessed with detective stories. They decide that they really want to be detectives, so they put up fliers and look for cases. Looking a little less than professional, their main clientele is children that have problems. Usually supernatural problems, even if the kids don’t realize it.

Dead Boy Detectives comics omnibus

This makes the boys uniquely suited to solving certain cases. And they have an excellent clear rate. Unfortunately, they rarely actually get paid for their work. Still, they save the day, and they’re ghosts, they don’t actually need money. So it all works out.

Later artwork in The Dead Boy Detectives comics takes a much lighter tone

The comics in The Dead Boy Detectives Omnibus span over a decade. Started by Gaiman, the series was taken over by various writers and artists as time went by. The early comics have a very dark look to them, with creepy artwork and dark coloring. The stories are also very dark with torture, abuse, and murder of children taking center stage. 

Then comes the black and white work of Jill Thompson. Thompson takes The Dead Boy Detectives and completely turns them on their heads. Not only is the art style drastically different from the previous comics, going from grim to kawaii, but the entire tone of the story takes that same turn. It reads like a teenage girl’s fever dream and was rather jarring after the other stories.

I’m sure there are some that love the style, and the overall lighter elements (a runaway rich girl instead of child murder and mutilation) were appealing, but I just couldn’t quite handle the high-energy level myself.

Comic Book Review: The Sandman by Neil Gaiman

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Neil Gaiman’s style and The Dead Boy Detectives comics

Some of my favorite parts of having “universes” is actually seeing characters from different series interact. And I may be weird, but I actually prefer when the characters that tie everything together aren’t main characters. Anyone can write a story and throw big names together for an adventure. But when supporting characters have recurring roles across a series, it makes it all seem more real to me. Neil Gaiman is always very good at doing this, and it’s part of what I like about his comics. I also love how his characters draw from other sources, but he twists them to fit his story.

I actually had to go and look up the name “Aiken Drum” from the children’s crusade because it was driving me nuts. I knew that I knew the name, but I couldn’t quite place it. But as soon as Google gave me the lyrics for his song, I could sing right along! Now is Aiken Drum in charge of a sort of Neverland in his song? No, but Gaiman used him that way, and his familiar name connected with me better than a new, random name would have. 

That’s the genius of Neil Gaiman. He doesn’t try to build everything from scratch, he uses everything around him in new and unexpected ways. Which allows us to attach our own feelings and associations to his characters. And that gives everything so much more depth.

I definitely recommend the early The Dead Boy Detective stories to anyone who enjoys Neil Gaiman’s work or likes a dramatic, intense style. The later series might not appeal to Gaiman fans as much, but they’re great for those who want a fun mystery without so much dread.

I am interested to see what way the Dead Boy Detectives series coming to Netflix later this month will take the stories. Will it be closer to the tone set by Gaiman, or will it be more like the more recent work? I guess I’ll just have to watch it and see.

Rating: 7/10

The Dead Boy Detectives omnibus is available many places books are sold. Are you planning to pick this up or watch the new live-action series? Let us know on social media @mycosmiccircus or in The Cosmic Circus Discord!

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Luna Gauthier

I've always been a bookworm and fantasy is my favortie genre. I never imagined (okay, I imagined but I didn't think) that I could get those books sent to me for just my opinion. Now I am a very happy bookworm! @Lunagauthier19 on Twitter

Luna Gauthier has 220 posts and counting. See all posts by Luna Gauthier