By: Toby Litt (story), Mark Buckingham (pencils), Gary Eskine (inks), Lee Loughridge (colors)

The Story: The dead boys are about to become even deader.

The Review: You’d think that once a person dies, one of the great fears of life has been extinguished (and fulfilled), but if this series is trying to get anything across, it’s that with the existence of an afterlife, your fear can go on long after death.  That lends some danger in a story where the main characters can’t technically die anymore.  Actually, it soon becomes clear that Charles and Edwin have nearly as much to be afraid of as any of the living.

Our detectives, true to their ghostly nature, are caught in a kind of stasis, fearful of moving on completely, but terrified of spending eternity in a place like Hell.  Edwin, who once experienced that chilling prospect, describes it thus: “the years of loneliness and the years of despair.  The decades of terror…  I crave non-existence—eternal absence.”  That is the peril and horror of Saint Hilarion’s: not just that it can kill you, but that it can torment you for ages afterward.

It’s good reason for Edwin to refuse to come anywhere near his old school again, but it’s also good reason for him and Charles to return, now that Crystal is at risk for the same doom.  For Hana, it may already be too late.  In an unexpectedly quick turn of events, she is put to sleep and used in a disturbing ritual which results in the loss of her soul and its replacement by a creature of Hell (“I hope it fits,” the creature says).  Hana is not a random target; the fact that she’s chosen because of her father’s leadership at the World Bank reveals that the master plan at Hilarion’s is some kind of worldly takeover, though the motivation isn’t quite clear.

Indeed, the whole purpose of Hilarion’s remains rather mysterious, though its operations are compelling enough, what with the elite student body, possessed faculty, ghostly bullies, and advanced technology.  These are pretty great odds for our heroes to work against, now that they’re officially revealed to each other and in the same boat.  Litt succeeds in depicting Crystal, Charles, and Edwin as a formidable investigative unit, each able to dredge up information the others miss.  Crystal’s technological means are a touch cliché, but Charles and Edwin’s supernatural abilities make them unique among detectives.

While there are plenty of immediate perils to keep things entertaining, Litt balances those with developments of longer-term impact for our characters.  With new information about Charles’ family history coming to light, he at least starts to catch up to Crystal in depth of character and gains connections to be explored later on.  There’s definitely some strange circumstances going on here: a half-sister, Clementine, concerned enough to investigate her Charles’ death, yet whose existence is completely unknown to Charles and seemingly covered up by his own parents.  It’s the stuff good mysteries start on

With a mostly talky issue, Buckingham has less to do here than he did previously, but there are a few opportunities for him to show his strong composition skills, which he can only do in splash pages.  The two-page splash of Hana’s ritual sacrifice is striking, not because of the plain linework, but because of the arrangement of the characters and the action: Hana, comatose, dressed in bizarre clothing and stolen weapons; a scaly demon rising up from a pool of liquid fire beside the bed, its arms grasping for Hana’s body; and Hana’s spirit, gasped by bony arms reaching from a portal swirling above her.  It’s a lesson on how mastery of the fundamentals can achieve the same kind of drama as far bolder artists.

Conclusion: If nothing else, this issue is proof of Litt’s concept and that it can sustain a good amount of story for some time.

Grade: B+

– Minhquan Nguyen

Some Musings: – The very idea of re-inhabiting your own corpse gives me the instant willies.  Brrr.

– These are the classes Crystal is taking at Hilarion’s: French, double geography, meditation, theology, Latin, Greek, hockey.  Clearly, the academy has no use for STEM subjects.