Dead Boy Detectives Vol. 1 – Schoolboy Terrors
Toby Litt, writer - story; Mark Buckingham, penciller - layouts - story; Gary Erskine & Andrew Pepoy, inkers; Russ Braun & Victor Santos, finishers
Neil Gaiman and Matt Wagner created the Dead Boy Detectives during the "Season of Mists" storyline in Sandman #25. They were two murdered boys at a British boarding school which Death left behind due to Lucifer’s abdication from Hell. Things were complicated, but she did promise to return for them, so that fact lurks behind many of their stories, including this most recent series. They looked like incidental figures when they first appeared, but they've had a surprisingly long publishing history since then.
This collection opens with the series of short episodes called “Run Ragged” that preceded the series in the Vertigo anthologies Time Warp 1, The Witching Hour 1, and Ghosts 1. The boys run afoul of another ghostly school (and its scary schoolmaster) while seeking a ghost cat on behalf of its ghost owners. But the title arc takes us right back to Saint Hilarion’s, the boarding school where the boys died.
This gives the story plenty of opportunity to revisit their origins. Not a bad thing when the original story dates from 1991! They've returned to help a living girl named Crystal Palace (her parents are conceptual artists). She returns the favor by uncovering new things about their childhoods--as well as giving them the chance to confront the ghost bullies that they've tried to avoid for all these years. It turns out the school has been a front for demonic possession all along, an interesting addition to the Sandman lore. Things come to a head in the fourth and final part, which brings the whole history of the boys to a climax and a definitive conclusion.
Despite a creator list that looks like a law firm, the comic actually looks and feels quite consistent. Buckingham’s hand is clearly evident in the art. Readers will be reminded of his work on Fables. But he has a long history with the Sandman world as well, having worked on several Sandman issues, as well as both Death miniseries.