The second issue of “Dead Boy Detectives” represents an encouraging shift in point-of-view and priorities. While the first issue was enjoyable, it spent most of its time on an art heist that wasn’t going to have any implications going forward. That sequence didn’t give me much assurance that Charles and Edwin could hold a simple procedural series on their own, so I’m glad that Toby Litt and Mark Buckingham have dropped them back into the horror of St. Hilarion’s. The boys are charming, but they’re not particularly interesting; combining them with a complicated world solves this problem and gives the audience a loveable lens into the action.
However, Crystal is actually the primary focus in this issue, as the audience gets to know her better and watch her adjust to her new school. She’s a wholly imagined character with so many elements to her backstory — performing artist parents, a love of MMORPG, a past with the supernatural — and that is both a boon and a burden when the series is only two issues in. It is a lot to absorb.
The structure compounds this problem. Since the first issue concentrated so strongly on that heist, Issue #2 has to introduce most of the important moving pieces. New friends for Crystal, new mysteries about Charles’ past, and the unfolding role of the infirmary in the headmaster’s schemes are all fleshed out for the first time. It’s got me interested in the next installments, but it isn’t necessarily satisfying at this juncture. Part of that is the nature of serial storytelling, but the setup’s late start does make me worry about the speed with which they’ll need to be resolved. (This is listed as part two of a four-issue arc, and I’m not sure which elements they’re hoping to tie up at arc’s end.)
Todd Klein deserves a medal for his work on letters, which is just as demanding as in the first issue. Litt continues to utilize a variety of texts: messages, journal entries, voiceovers, in-world RPG conversations, and standard dialogue. Almost every panel features at least two of these in tandem. In less skilled hands, this approach could be a confusing disaster, but it works because of Klein’s careful styling.
Loughridge also carries heavy creative weight. The colors are sharply varied, signaling what the reader should expect with a foreboding, warm, or Technicolor color scheme depending on the scene. When there are this many pieces at play, these visual cues keep the story clear and help to provide a framework for where everything fits. The differences also don’t feel aggressive or disconcerting. They’re pleasantly subtle.
Alongside Buckingham’s pencils and the inkers, these colors also work very well with the supernatural elements. The ageless bullies are horrifying in a disturbingly pedestrian way, gross and ugly with dead white eyes. The ghost in the flashback, with its dusty pincer arms, is also superbly creepy.
(Side note: those of you who were excited to hear that Death would appear in this issue will be considerably less excited when you see the actual cameo. This is a critique of the PR campaign built around this series rather than of the series itself, but it was still irritating.)
My only concern going forward is the structure. I like so much of what they’ve introduced so far, and I hope that there isn’t too much editorial pressure to resolve it quickly. It’s very much a wait-and-see scenario. If they’re forced to rush, I’ll regret that slow first issue, but if things are allowed to progress calmly, I’ll probably come to appreciate it.