Dead Boy Detectives Is A Spooky, Sweet Addition To The Sandman Universe

The new spinoff is anything but dead on arrival.

Inverse Reviews

The protagonists of the new series Dead Boy Detectives are long overdue for a TV show. The ghost teens have been haunting the pages of DC Comics for over 30 years, beginning with their first appearance in a one-off issue of The Sandman in 1991. Since then, undead detectives Charles Rowland and Edwin Payne have been featured in crossover events, mangas, limited run comics, unfinished ongoing series, and, in 2021, one episode of Max’s Doom Patrol. It’s that last appearance that led to their current iteration — an enjoyable, teen-friendly Netflix series that was originally pitched as a Doom Patrol spinoff with an almost entirely different cast.

The Dead Boy Detectives we’ve got may not look like the one fans initially expected, but it’s still an undeniably good time. The series follows Charles (Jayden Revri) and Edwin (George Rextrew) — two boarding school boys who were murdered by bullies decades apart, but found each other in the afterlife — as they investigate paranormal cases in the sleepy small town of Port Townsend, Washington. Along for the ride are psychic Crystal Palace (Kassius Nelson, playing one of the only characters translated from the comic books), her manga-loving housemate Niko (Yuyu Kitamura, a series highlight), and Jenny (Briana Cuoco), the delightfully bitchy butcher who owns the shop they call home.

At first glance, it’s easy to categorize Dead Boy Detectives as one of Netflix’s many near-indistinguishable fantasy-horror series’ geared toward teens, but the show actually has more in common with the recently ended ghost-hunting drama Supernatural (it was developed by Steve Yockey, who wrote and produced for that series) than it does with something like Wednesday or The Chilling Adventures of Sabrina. There’s teen angst aplenty, but there are also black-eyed demons, kid-eating witches, gnarly visions of hell, and villains who are designed to be as seductive as they are scary. The adventure saga is also undeniably Gaimanesque (the author executive produces), peppered with mixed-media interludes, culturally-rooted folktales, thorny queer representation, and quirky characters like Tragic Mick (Michael Beach), who is, naturally, a walrus trapped in the body of a man.

Altogether, these elements make Dead Boy Detectives an enjoyable watch, even if it takes a while to come together. The show’s first few episodes get bogged down by exhausting young adult trappings and a grating, chaotic edit. The characters also initially feel one-note; Edwin, who perished in the 1910s, is relentlessly uptight and jealous of his partner, while ‘90s kid Charles is more laid back and tuned in to modern culture. By the end of the eight-episode first season, they’ve both grown considerably, together and apart. Individually, the cast members aren’t particularly strong on their own, but as a found family ensemble, they work well and eventually end up in sync.

They’re dead boys! And they’re detectives! And they have help.


Comic book purists may have some qualms with the show’s many lore upgrades and relationship changes, but the only page-to-screen element of the story that’s really worth missing is its theme of adult neglect and misunderstanding. Dead Boy Detectives comic runs by Gaiman, Ed Brubaker, and others all hammer home bitter truths about the ways in which grown-ups underestimate, alienate, and abuse kids. On the page, the Dead Boys and their allies are strong specifically because of their naive compassion and childlike approach to crime-solving. That’s not exactly the case in Netflix’s version, but the show does hit home with its own resonant themes — most of them about a lack of control. Characters are possessed, trapped, manipulated, and otherwise distanced from their loved ones, creating an undercurrent of mature melancholy that springs up in quieter moments.

Dead Boy Detectives doesn’t have many quiet moments, though. It combines a solid case-of-the-week structure with overarching plots about crushes, sexual identity, and overcoming your toxic ex, among other things. The show’s best episode is its penultimate one, an ambitious outing directed by Supernatural alum Richard Speight Jr. that illuminates Edwin and Charles’ backstory while also sending them careening into an imaginatively dark other world. The show sometimes leans into the inherent campiness of comic book-inspired horror (its theme song features two dancing skeletons), but it tones down its cornier elements here to deliver an impressively thrilling and heartfelt climax.

In some ways, Dead Boy Detectives is decidedly average, but it manages to rise above the teen-oriented genre competition thanks to its strong sense of imagination, style, and fun. Importantly, the show’s writers also understand that stories like this should actually have stakes. There’s no magical fix for the dead boys’ problems, and a genuine sense of danger permeates this show’s version of the afterlife. Unlike most restless spirits, Charles and Edwin are constantly growing to meet the demands of the complicated world around them, and as a series, Dead Boy Detectives grows with them. Let’s hope Netflix doesn’t drag this fun show to hell before its time.

Dead Boy Detectives is streaming now on Netflix.

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