Spoilers for The Sandman Universe: Dead Boy Detectives below
More than 30 years ago, The Sandman solidified the comic book medium as one fully capable of featuring mature, thoughtful storytelling beyond the superhero genre, despite its DCU connections. Neil Gaiman, Sam Kieth, and Mike Dringenberg crafted a modern fairytale that alternated between sheer fantasy and supernatural horror, all while wearing their literary influences on their sleeves, drawing from Shakespeare and Chaucer to Ancient Greek and African mythology.
Though the original Sandman comic book series concluded in 1996, the fantasy horror story has garnered a robust multimedia presence that has gained a lot of traction recently. A second season for The Sandman Netflix series is in development after the live-action series’ successful launch in 2022, while a spinoff series focused on the Dead Boy Detectives wrapped principal photography in 2023. A faithful Audible original audio drama, adapted directly from Gaiman’s original comic scripts, directed by Dirk Maggs with Gaiman narrating and executive producing, has released three seasons, with a fourth in production.
With the first season of Dead Boy Detectives is currently in development at Netflix, DC has recently continued the adventures of the Dead Boy Detectives in comic book form in the acclaimed miniseries The Sandman Universe: Dead Boy Detectives, which will be published in a collected edition this November.
Helmed by Pornsak Pichetshote and Jeff Stokely, Dead Boy Detectives sets the spectral sleuths on a case that examines the cultural differences and rules governing ghosts from varying societies around the globe. More than just another supernatural puzzle for the ghostly Charles Rowland and Edwin Paine to resolve, the miniseries has wider consequences for this particular pocket of the DC Universe.
Here’s how Dead Boy Detectives builds upon the foundation set by Gaiman, how it ties into James Tynion IV and Lisandro Estherren’s own expansion of the Sandman Universe, and how Sandman continues to thrive long after its initial comic book run.
The Dead Boy Detectives return
Originally created by Gaiman, Matt Wagner, and Malcolm Jones III, The Dead Boy Detectives are Charles and Edwin, two English schoolboys who died decades ago and decided to solve paranormal mysteries together rather than accompany Death to the afterlife.
In this new storyline, the ominous death of a Thai American child in America leads to a ghost that reflects Thai traits surfacing in the United States. Charles and Edwin are perplexed by this development, previously assuming ghosts’ nature are determined by the geography of their death, not cultural heritage. This leads the two ghostly detectives to meet the ancient witch Thessaly, who informs them that the rules governing ghosts have descended into chaos but that she can fix them if they entrust her with their souls to fuel a dark ritual.
Though suspicious of Thessaly’s true motives, Charles and Edwin comply, seemingly fixing the spectral upheaval and monsters unleashed by it, however, this is revealed to be all part of Thessaly’s grand plan. The witch, who had been imprisoned at the start of the miniseries, is now free again and upgraded thanks to Charles and Edwin’s willingness to grant her their souls. As Thessaly manipulates the Dead Boy Detectives, she gains greater access to the realm of the dead for her own nefarious purposes.
In a way, The Sandman Universe: Dead Boy Detectives feels like a spiritual – if you’ll pardon the pun – extension of Pichetshote’s previous work (co-created in 2018 with Aaron Campbell) acclaimed Image Comics miniseries Infidel, which centers on a haunted house populated by ghosts that feed off xenophobia. Dead Boy Detectives too features an undercurrent of xenophobia facing the Thai American community. However, in contrast to Infidel, which focuses on a family, Dead Boy Detectives remains very much from the perspective of its child protagonists, with their eternal innocence juxtaposed against a much more mature evil. Stokely’s art seamlessly blends these sensibilities, bringing a raw energy that alternates between visceral body horror and the freewheeling fun the Dead Boy Detectives are known for.
Connecting with Nightmare Country
This new Dead Boy Detectives series comes as part of a resurgence of Sandman titles, published under the banner The Sandman Universe through DC’s mature reader-oriented imprint DC Black Label. Pichetshote and Stokely’s story is preceded by the miniseries The Sandman Universe: Nightmare Country by James Tynion IV, Lisandro Estherren, and Maria Llovet. The 2022 comic book follows the reborn Corinthian, a nightmare remade by Morpheus in the final issues of the main Sandman series without quite the villainous bent his original form assumed.
Over the course of the Corinthian’s second lease on life, he hunts another rogue nightmare on Earth and crosses paths with a young woman named Madison Flynn. Madison reappears in the Sandman Universe storyline when Dead Boy Detectives concludes with Thessaly undergoing a ritual to track down Madison’s soul for herself (thanks to Thessaly's boosted powers and freedom following her adventure with Edwin and Charles). This sets up both Tynion and Estherren’s current miniseries The Sandman Universe: Nightmare Country - The Glass House and Tynion and Llovet’s July one-shot The Sandman Universe Special: Thessaly #1. The miniseries follows the Corinthian’s ongoing adventures and continued flirtation with his dark side while the special has Thessaly position herself as the screenwriter of Madison’s biopic for her own calculated machinations.
The Sandman beyond Gaiman
While the main Sandman comic book series concluded in 1996, the story continued on in comics with different iterations and directions, some helmed directly by Gaiman and a growing number by other creative teams. These continuations became more sporadic, with The Sandman in its own isolated corner of the DCU, barring the occasional reference or cameo, like Death’s appearance during Paul Cornell’s run on Action Comics in 2010. The final major revisiting on The Sandman during this period occured in 2013, with Gaiman teaming up with J.H. Williams III for the direct prequel miniseries The Sandman: Overture.
Starting in 2018, the world of Sandman was completely revitalized with the launch of the publishing banner The Sandman Universe, overseen by Gaiman, who also personally curated the initial wave of creative teams involved. In addition to continuing the story of the Dreaming, the ethereal realm ruled by Daniel, Morpheus’ successor, other titles follow Lucifer, John Constantine, and the young magician Tim Hunter in Books of Magic.
Nightmare Country and Dead Boy Detectives are the latest in this reinvigorated wave of Sandman titles, continuing to expand the fantasy horror epic with even more Sandman Universe comics soon to come.
The Sandman Universe: Dead Boy Detectives is written by Pornsak Pichetshote, penciled by Jeff Stokely, inked by Craig Taillefer and Jeff Stokely, colored by Miquel Muerto, and lettered by Hassan Otsmane-Elhaou. The miniseries receives a collection edition Nov. 7 from DC Comics.
The story continues in The Sandman Universe: Nightmare Country - The Glass House by James Tynion IV, Lisandro Estherren, and Patricio Delpeche, and lettered by Simon Bowland. The Glass House #3 goes on sale June 13 from DC Comics.