The longevity of the Sandman franchise is remarkable. Two and a half decades after Neil Gaiman introduced the world of The Endless to comic book readers, this franchise is still inspiring spin-offs.
The most recent spin-off idea is Toby Litt and Mark Buckingham’s Dead Boy Detectives. This series is a haunted twist on The Hardy Boys. Two young boys murdered by prep school bullies, allowed by Death to roam the earth as ghosts. As a premise, the series is a wonderful take on the dark, fantastic horrors of Gaiman’s world told through the eyes of young boys. In execution, the series doesn’t live up to the promise in the first two issues.
To start on the positive side is Mark Buckingham’s art. Through his work on Peter Parker: Spider-Man and Fables, I’ve considered myself a huge fan of Buckingham’s art. The way he draws figures and faces is cartooning in the best possible sense of the term. That approach works terrifically in Dead Boy Detectives, marrying that tone of ghastly with an innocent point-of-view.
But while the art delivers on the book’s premise, the story struggles.
The storytelling thus far feels scattershot and unfocused. It seems like the writing team has too many ideas to juggle in the short page space allowed. The titular Dead Boy Detectives come across a young girl named Crystal, and feel it’s their responsibility to look out for her as she attends the same school where they died years ago.
The series is headed towards an inevitable meeting between the boys and girl, but in the meantime, the story has no clear direction. The tone of the book and motivations of the characters seem to switch on a whim. Scenes barely connect together. The book doesn’t even seem to have a clear grasp on who its main protagonists are.
There is a scene midway through the issue that adds a bit of depth to Crystal, flashing back to her first run-in with ghosts as a child. An encounter that came at the cost of her best friend. It’s a sweet, then haunting scene that shows where this book can go.
But it’s simply too much to ask for some readers to not even get to the set-up of the book by second issue’s end. The events of these first two issues could easily have been condensed into a prologue at the beginning of the first issue. This series still has great potential, which is apparent in a select few moments, it just needs to get past the set-up stage before it can get really get there.
Toby Litt and Mark Buckingham (W), Mark Buckingham (A) • DC Comics, $2.99, January 29, 2014