Dead Boy Detectives

Dead Boy Detectives
The Dead Boy Detectives
Children's Crusade 1.jpg
The Children's Crusade #1 (December 1993), featuring the Dead Boy Detectives. Art by John Totleben.
Publication information
Publisher DC Comics (Vertigo)
First appearance The Sandman #25 (April, 1991).
Created by Neil Gaiman
Matt Wagner
In-story information
Alter ego Charles Rowland and Edwin Paine
Abilities incorporality, intangibility

The Dead Boy Detectives are fictional characters that have appeared in comic books published by DC Comics' Vertigo imprint. They were created by writer Neil Gaiman and artists Matt Wagner and Malcolm Jones III in The Sandman #25 (April, 1991).

The characters are the ghosts of two dead children, Charles Rowland and Edwin Paine, who rather than enter the afterlife stay on Earth to become detectives investigating crimes which involve the supernatural.

Concept history

The characters were created by Gaiman and Wagner during the "Season of Mists" storyline in Sandman #25. In this story their origin is given as the two characters meet for the first time.

The story and characters are clearly a macabre spin on two genres of British children's fiction - boarding school literature and teenage detective stories.

Gaiman revived the characters in the Children's Crusade Vertigo's first and only crossover event which ran through all that year's Vertigo annuals that were published between December 1993 and January 1994. Gaiman wrote the two Children's Crusade bookend annuals which prominently featured both characters and first gave them the official title the "Dead Boy Detectives". The characters also appeared in a The Books of Magic short story in Winter's Edge #3, written by the then current writer Peter Gross.[1]

In 2001 they received their own four-issue mini-series Sandman Presents: Dead Boy Detectives by writer Ed Brubaker and penciller Bryan Talbot. They have also made appearances in the Books of Magic ongoing series, which was also based on a Neil Gaiman work.

Jill Thompson briefly depicted the characters in her Death: At Death's Door (2003) graphic novel which retold the events of "Season of Mists" from Death's perspective. The writer/artist later produced a manga-style graphic novel starring the characters, titled The Dead Boy Detectives (2005, ISBN 1-4012-0313-2).

Although the characters are children and their stories often involve other children and child-related themes, the The Dead Boy Detectives carry the "suggested for mature readers" label.

Fictional history

Edwin Paine was murdered at his boarding school in 1916, after which he went to Hell, where he was stalked by an unseen menace through a long corridor for several decades. During the Seasons of Mist storyline, published in December 1990, Hell was emptied of its residents. As a result of this, the boarding school was overrun by the souls of its past teachers and pupils who have escaped Hell. Charles Rowland was the sole living student at the school during these events, as all the other students had gone home for the holidays. A few of the teachers who stayed behind were supervising him, but one by one they fell victim to various horrors. Paine aided Rowland in avoiding most of the dangers, such as a murderous gang of students. Ultimately, however, Rowland did not survive. He next appeared as a ghost and decided to forego going to the afterlife with Death in preference for prospective future adventures with Paine.

The two ghosts next appear during the Children's Crusade crossover. In this story it is revealed that they have been studying the school's library books and films (mostly children's adventure fiction) in the hopes of learning how to become detectives. In their first case, they are hired by a young girl to discover what happened to the children of a small British town ("Flaxdown") who have all disappeared. This storyline connects to various other Vertigo titles, such as Swamp Thing, Animal Man, Doom Patrol, and Black Orchid. They were briefly seen tracking down the magician Tim Hunter whilst he was hiding out at one of the Inns Between the Worlds, but were captured and supposedly returned to Death's domain by a coachman - although the coachman actually promised to allow them to escape as he didn't force any spirit to return to death against its will.

In the 2001 limited series Sandman Presents: Dead Boy Detectives the two ghosts investigate the mystery of why and how numerous corpses of homeless children had begun washing up on the shores of the Thames.

During the 2005 graphic novel The Dead Boy Detectives the pair travel to the United States to investigate the disappearance of a student at an all girls boarding school. In order to properly go undercover at the school the two ghosts go in drag.


  1. ^ Winter's Edge #3, DC / Vertigo, January 2000,, retrieved 2008-11-27 

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