The Dead Boy Detectives Agency is comprised of teens Edwin Paine and Charles Rowland who are indeed quite dead and decided to become detectives as they had much time on their hands. They have several adventures on their own before being joined by Crystal Palace who is certainly neither dead nor a boy. Just how did they die and become detectives? Now there’s a story!
Aside from being dead, boys, and detectives the two lads have other commonalties: they were both students at St Hilarion’s School For Boys which was founded as a boarding school open to the sons of British Army officers. They were also both bullied by the same trio of students, Barrow, Cheeseman, and Skinner, which is initially a bit confounding since Edwin died in 1914 and Charles quite recently in comparison. The exact year of his death is better left vague because of time wimeyness in comics. These same bullies were able to terrorize both Edwin and Charles simply because they too died young in the Great War (World War I) and the recently deceased gits’ souls made their way out of Hell, after the nether realm was emptied of its captives thanks to events detailed in the A Season of Mists story in Sandman, and returned to the scene of the crime at St Hilarion’s. Scene of the crime? Well, you see, they murdered Edwin as a sacrifice in a Satanic ritual and then hid his body in an trunk in the attic. Poor Edwin was all of thirteen. Likewise for Charles, having turned the week before his demise.
Edwin too has returned to the school post Hell eviction after spending decades trapped in long corridor never ending corridors where he felt both isolated and stalked by something unseen in the after life. The two boys met as Charles laid dying in the school’s attic since Charles became the bullies first target. A strong bond between them already as Edwin tried to comfort Charles as best he could all things considered and when Death appears to escort Charles to his after life Charles quite emphatically refuses to go with her unless she takes Edwin also. Rather than press matters with a stubborn teen she simply says she’ll return for him one day and leaves.
And with that Charles is ready to commence his post life existence and persuades Edwin to leave the school grounds walking hand in hand and start adventuring together as they will by deciding to solve mysteries and forming the Rowland & Paine Detectave [sic – because Charles insisted in this spelling and wouldn’t listen to Edwin] Agency where “no case is too small” which occupied a room in an abandoned building in London. Their first case is the missing children from the village of Flaxdon which leads to a very different event throughout The Children’s Crusade crossover. A new facet of Charles’ personality appears in his fascination with detective and spy themes and tropes in media (eg: “It’s always the dame that hires you that did it.”)
Hints that Edwin is crushing on Charles are planted here and there throughout their various appearances. In the second half of The Chrildren’s Crusade Edwin is scared when Charles is possessed by a malevolent force; quite an understandable reaction whether it’s platonic or not though after returning to himself Charles remarks: “I was so scared, Edwin. I wasn’t brave at all. I thought I’d never come back to you.” Ed Brubaker, writer of the Dead Boy Detectives mini series, gives another hint when Edwin suggests Charles has fallen for a runaway teen girl named Marcia who’s got a problem to solve to which Charles exclaims: “Ridiculous! You know I’m not interested in girls”. Edwin appears jealous at times such as when he brings up Marcia after losing to Charles in a play fight. In the third issue Brubaker wrote a line of dialog for Edwin to say to Charles who’s presently in a trance: “Oh no, Edwin. I don’t like girls…How could you even think that of me? Right.” Indeed, the tension between the boys because of Marcia leads them to fight. By the story’s end Charles is a bit confused to discover that all this time Marcia has fancied an older boy named Randy.
The pair returned to St Hilarion’s in the 12 issue Dead Boy Detectives series as a result of Charles’ saving a girl a named Crystal Palace. Edwin is quick to state his reluctance to return to the scene of their deaths as well as his irritation at the possibility Charles has fallen for yet another girl, Crystal, after Marcia, Annika, and Maggy. Charles is a rather oblivious to Edwin’s complaint: “You’re just as bad as you ever were. You always choose girls over me.” While ensconsed at the school to watch over Crystal who’s a student at the now no longer all male boarding school where their killers remain still, the boys are inadvertently presented with two intertwined mysteries: Who is Charles’ sibling and how did his mother die? Fantastical forays happen along the way to solving the puzzles and the series concludes with Crystal added to the sleuthing enterprise.
They both shown a liking for cheap and ineffective disguises whether simple fake mustaches or dressing up as a musketeer or Sherlock Holmes. Both boys are able to squoosh, that is, travel from one place to the next by a ghostly teleportation of sorts. They can also fly, become invisible (though are usually unseen by most as it is), pass through solid objects, and astrally project.
Edwin and Charles first appeared in Sandman #25. They went on to appear in The Children’s Crusade, a four part Sandman Presents: Dead Boys Detective mini, a 12 issue series, a Vertigo special, and several appearances in Vertigo anthologies. The characters transitioned to television in episode three (titled Dead Patrol) of Doom Patrol’s third season. Ty Tennant played Edwin and Sebastian Croft played Charles with Madalyn Horcher as Crystal Palace. They are several years older in the episode. Larry Trainor (aka Negative Man) played by Matt Bomer, picks up on the fact that Edwin is attracted to Charles and encourages him to talk to Charles. Whether Edwin works up the courage and how Charles will react remains to be seen. A pilot for a Dead Boy Detectives series to air on HBOMax had been ordered before the Doom Patrol appearance.
Created by Neil Gaiman and Matt Wagner.
Art by Mark Buckingham, Ryan Kelly, and Lee Loughridge from Dead Boy Detectives #7.
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