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Dead Boy Detectives: Ghost Snow by Toby Litt
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Dead Boy Detectives: Ghost Snow

by Toby Litt, Mark Buckingham (Illustrator), Ryan Kelly (Illustrator)

Other authors: Al Davison (Illustrator), Lee Loughridge (Colorist), Victor Santos (Illustrator), Emma Vieceli (Illustrator)

Series: Dead Boy Detectives (7-12)

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Access a version of the below that includes illustrations on my blog.

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.

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.

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.

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, "There she was, the MISSING PIECE of the puzzle," but as much as I like her, I'm not exactly sure how she improves the dynamic in such a way. Oh well.

Neil Gaiman's The Sandman Spin-Offs: « Previous in sequence
  Stevil2001 | Oct 21, 2016 |
The 'Ghost Snow' story arc killed me.

Charles (d. 1990), Edwin (d. 1916), and Crystal Palace (living: somewhere between the ages of 13 and 20 depending on the panel and issue, usually sexualized) stumble into a secret hospital ward down the street from Crystal's parents' house hidden behind or underneath an old folks' home. This depressing home contains a) Charles' secret half-sister's mother who, we just discovered, murdered Charles' mom long before, and b) a gaggle of ghosts who by existing break Sandman lore re: Death established only a couple issues earlier.

[N.B. This review includes images, and was formatted for my site, dendrobibliography -- located here.]

It should be noted that Charles' half-sister is a walking Buddhist stereotype -- bald head, orange robes, one-liner wisdom -- who lives in a windmill with her steampunk daughter, who exists for no other reason than to poke fun of science and scientists for not believing in supernatural junk.

The secret hospital happens to contain Crystal's supposedly-dead childhood friend, who's been in a secret coma for the last 5 or 7 years (depending on the issue). The comatose friend's spirit, it turns out, has been trapped in what's known as the Neitherworld with, coincidentally, Crystal's new best friend's spirit -- her body's been hijacked: long story --, a meditating Buddhist who lives next door to the aforementioned windmill, and, occasionally, Tragic Mick, a proprietor of a ghost store Charles and Edwin frequent.

The coincidences are building.

Unfortunately, as soon as our heroes learn of the comatose friend, she's only minutes away from death. (As is the guilt-ridden mother in the old folks' home.)

Of course they save the friend. Of course. And not only does she bounce awake, totally fine, she's mentally just as old as Crystal Palace and her gang of ghosts. Because being in a coma since the age of 6 (or 8) wouldn't have any consequences.

I can't imagine how the above scenario was storyboarded. It makes no sense.

It only gets worse when the series concludes on a one-shot ('Yonda') that takes place in a fictional video game as imagined by a clueless, middle-aged parent stuck in 1993. Excuses for ignorant story-telling like this ran out after Y2K. ( )
  alaskayo | Jun 19, 2016 |
Charles seeks information about his father and his mother's death
  ritaer | Jul 1, 2015 |
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» Add other authors (1 possible)

Author nameRoleType of authorWork?Status
Toby Littprimary authorall editionscalculated
Buckingham, MarkIllustratormain authorall editionsconfirmed
Kelly, RyanIllustratormain authorall editionsconfirmed
Davison, AlIllustratorsecondary authorall editionsconfirmed
Loughridge, LeeColoristsecondary authorall editionsconfirmed
Santos, VictorIllustratorsecondary authorall editionsconfirmed
Vieceli, EmmaIllustratorsecondary authorall editionsconfirmed
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"From the pages of THE SANDMAN, Neil Gaiman's intrepid dead schoolboys head back to the horror that is St. Hilarions School--the place where they both were murdered. Written by Toby Litt and illustrated by Mark Buckingham (FABLES) DEAD BOY DETECTIVES VOL. 2 features the second mysterious arc from the new hit series from Vertigo. Collects DEAD BOY DETECTIVES #7-12"--… (more)

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