19 October 2016

Faster than a DC Bullet: The Sandman Spin-Offs, Part XXXIV: Dead Boy Detectives: Ghost Snow

Comic trade paperback, n.pag.
Published 2015 (contents: 2014-15)
Borrowed from the library
Read April 2016
Dead Boy Detectives, Volume 2: Ghost Snow

Writer – story: Toby Litt
Penciller – layouts – story: Mark Buckingham
Finishers: Ryan Kelly, Al Davison, Emma Vieceli, Victor Santos
Colorist: Lee Loughridge
Letterer: Todd Klein

The second (or fourth, depending on how you count) and final volume of Dead Boy Detectives pays off some plot threads left dangling from the previous volume. Dead boy Charles Rowland meets the half-sister he never knew he had, a Buddhist monk with a rationalist daughter. His sister tells him his father may have directly caused the dead of his mother, so it's up to the Dead Boy Detectives to investigate with the help of new friend Crystal Palace. At the same time, Crystal's comatose childhood friend Rosa is trapped in the dimension of the half-dead, the Neitherlands, along with another one of her friends, Hana, where a mysterious power is amassing to invade our reality. But Rosa's parents are read to pull the plug on her life support, which could doom both her and the universe.

There's a lot going on in this book, apparently.
from Dead Boy Detectives #8 (art by Mark Buckingham & Ryan Kelly)

I kind of like this set-up for the Dead Boy Detectives. Crystal Palace is great, as is Charles's skeptical rationalist niece, and the two cats that are each half a philosopher are fun. I'm less into the Buddhist sister, though at least Litt stops her from being a serene cliche. But I'd rather see the dead boys out in the world solving supernatural mysteries, not plunging the depths of their own backstories: I don't think we gain anything from Charles's family being anything other than an ordinary human family. Their deaths should have been an entry point into a weird world after banal yet horrifying lives, and involving Charles's family so much with ghosts and murder plots and mystical meditations undercuts that; it's like how Steven Moffat Doctor Who companions all have these complicated backstories where they're splintered across time or grow up near cracks in reality when Russell T Davies showed us all they really need is a life boring enough to want to leave it behind. This is a good set-up, but it's only being used to generate insular stories.

Blah, blah, blah, who cares? But Mark Buckingham always provides nice layouts.
from Dead Boy Detectives #9 (art by Mark Buckingham and Ryan Kelly & Al Davison)

That said, the story about the ghost snow and Hana frankly is not very interesting, and a little too similar to the plot from Schoolboy Terrors, with a specter threatening to crack through reality, only this one has an incredibly overcomplicated backstory that made my eyes glaze over. Smaller scale threats would be better, too. The way the story integrates this into the story about Charles's family is awkward, too; it often feels like the characters are rushing back and forth between the two plots just to grab a new revelation, and then switching again. Still, this is the most I've ever cared about the dead boys themselves since Gaiman's original story, and Crystal Palace is a great addition to the team, as Mark Buckingham makes her adorable. If the Dead Boy Detectives are revived for a fourth go, I hope she's there again.

Blah blah blah, still don't care.
from Dead Boy Detectives #8 (art by Mark Buckingham & Ryan Kelly)

After the five-issue story that comprises the bulk of the volume, there's a one-issue coda that ties up a couple remaining loose threads, pitting the dead boys against their demon headmaster while a monster threatens Crystal's MMORPG and Hana tries to break out of the Neitherlands. Cute but insubstantial, and the series hasn't quite earned the sappiness it's going for on the last two pages. Charles observes:
I would guess that this really is THE END! of the Dead Boy Detectives, but given I wouldn't have expected a revival of them in 2013 to begin with, I suppose one can't count them as dead no matter what.
from Dead Boy Detectives #12 (art by Mark Buckingham and Emma Vieceli & Victor Santos)

But as much as I like her, I'm not exactly sure how she improves the dynamic in such a way. Oh well.

Next Week: I'm all caught up on Sandman spin-offs, so I'm switching tracks once again to do some catching up on Birds of Prey!

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