From A Library – The Dead Boy Detectives: The Secret of Immortality

The Dead Boy Detectives #1–4 by Ed Brubaker, Bryan Talbot & Steve Leialoha

I’ve been reading a lot of books from the library over the Christmas period, so expect me to share my thoughts with you on a range of different collections. This first trade paperback is something I didn’t know about, even though I’m a fan of Brubaker. This trade only came out in 2008 but was originally published in comic book form in 2001. The Dead Boy Detectives sprung out of The Sandman (specifically issue 25, in The Season of Mists storyline) back in 1991, although the characters were used again in the Children’s Crusade crossover in the Vertigo titles of 1993/94. Still, it seems a long time before giving them a shot at their own story.

Our heroes are Charles Rowland and Edwin Paine, two boys who refused Death’s gift and now exist as ghosts who want to have adventures and set themselves up as detectives in a tree house. Children are going missing and are turning up dead, looking like they’ve aged a thousand years. Our heroes end up on the case when someone almost hires them to locate a missing street kid; they can search because nobody notices them wherever they go because of the whole ghost thing. They meet Mad Hettie (another Sandman character) and an odd chap who can see them, who tells them of Gille de Rais, a knight who fought with Joan of Arc in 1429, who uncovered a spell to conquer time’s effects but only by sacrificing a child each time. Then they meet another Sandman character, Robert ‘Hob’ Gadling, who happens to be immortal …

This is a detective story, of sorts, with a supernatural twist; it is competently told tale, with a beginning, a middle and an end, but it doesn’t have any voice – this is strange when you consider it is by Brubaker. He had already entered my consciousness with Scene of the Crime in 1999, and he’d be starting Catwoman the same year, but before Sleeper and Gotham Central. Brubaker has a clear voice but he seems to be channelling Neil Gaiman (the omniscient captions, which sound very out of place, just ring of imitation) and it’s not the same assured and authoritative tone of the man who writes Criminal or Daredevil or Captain America. It is rather strange but he would have seemed like a good choice at the time, being the detective guy who was working at Vertigo at the time.

The other unusual quality of the book is the art by Bryan Talbot – it seems stiff and mannered and old-school Vertigo. I don’t know if it’s Leialoha’s inks that don’t mix well, but I’ve never been a great fan of Talbot’s style, despite his excellent storytelling ability (see Alice In Sunderland [my review]). Perhaps I’m in a non-art-liking frame of mind about the book – I didn’t even like Dave McKean’s covers, so there’s no helping me. A very unusual little package, which I’m amazed to see collected.

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