By: Toby Litt (story), Mark Buckingham (layouts), Ryan Kelly (finishes), Lee Loughridge (colors)
The Story: It’s hard to tell the difference between the living and the dead in a nursing home.
The Review: In my line of work, I see firsthand how often kids take their parents’ mistakes to heart, which is probably one of the saddest things you’ll ever see besides an invalid alone in the hospital or the mentally ill talking to themselves at a bus stop in the rain. So it’s not surprising to me that Charles would internalize his dad’s problems so much, to the point that his dad’s litany of horrible qualities results in his own self-loathing and a desire for a second death.
It takes a bit of adjustment to handle this sudden emotional weight that’s been thrust on the previously quirky Dead Boy Detectives, but it works. If nothing else, it provides a springboard for the Charles-Crystal relationship, as his melancholy spurs her to show the sweetest parts of her personality. “Charles, you say that ever since I met you, you’ve done nothing but put me in danger. But it’s all been so exciting—even the terrifying parts! …If it wasn’t for me, you wouldn’t know about Clementine. If it wasn’t for you, I wouldn’t know about the Neitherlands. We need each other, Charles. …I wish I could give you a proper hug.”
That doesn’t stop her from trying, however, leading Charles to reflect, “It may not have been proper, but it was still the best hug I’d ever had.” Talk about your warm and fuzzy moments.
Actually, Crystal rises a great deal in your esteem this issue. Her role in the series was a bit limited up to this point, but now you can see her as the sensible, relatively normal contrast to the eccentrics around her. Even Miranda’s scientific acumen doesn’t hide the fact that she is a bit of a caricature, self-absorbed, demanding, and high-strung at best (“I always get whatever I want. You can tell my mother to bring me up some tea and two slices of toast with butter and marmalade.”) and cruel at worst (to a resident at a nursing home,* “Hello, Mr. Drooly.”).
While Charles and Co. are focused on their latest case, Litt hasn’t put the brake on Hana and Rosa’s story in the Neitherlands, which finally gets some flesh to its skeletal frame here. Most of the information is worth learning, even if delivered mostly through recap. Turns out the reaper who spirited Rosa and Hana’s souls to the Neitherlands is merely a “poppet” for the real villain, a young, furry circus freak whose powerlessness in the real world has manifested into tyranny for limbo. Along the way, he turns Rosa into an instrument for his plans, and not by chance either; when the alarm rings on her comatose body, her parents show no surprise. Her dad pitches the idea of contacting Crystal’s parents, who’ve “kept our secret for so long,” while her mom exclaims somewhat callously, “Finally.”
With so much going on, you hardly have time to pay any attention to Edwin’s encounter with the ghost of a young girl who appears, mysteriously enough, in the nursing home where Clementine’s mother lives. Litt doesn’t go into it now, and Edwin wisely decides to save his discovery for another day’s case, but it shows that Litt’s definitely thinking long-term for this series.
If possible, Buckingham should consider continuing his collaboration with Kelly because the two of them together is a real winner. Kelly’s finishes yields far more fine detail and expression than Buckingham usually delivers on his own, and at the same time, Kelly never gets in the way of Buckingham’s clear, evenhanded storytelling. It’d be nice if Loughridge could brighten up his color choices a little; all these pale, neutral hues are a rather drab on the eyes.
Conclusion: This endearingly oddball title stays strong, though not an exemplar of Vertigo material.
– Minhquan Nguyen
Some Musings: * Which Edwin calls an “old people’s home.” Is that what you call them in the UK, or is that just part of his antiquated vocabulary?
– One of the cats comments, “[Miranda’s] horrible in an interesting way, that’s much better than being nice in a boring way.” In fiction, yes. In real life, no; being horrible is the worst, no matter which way it is.