‘Dead Boy Detectives’ Review: Netflix’s YA Comic Adaptation Is an Overstuffed Delight

George Rexstrew and Jayden Revri anchor a supernatural mystery with great potential

George Rexstrew, Kassius Nelson and Jayden Revri as Charles Rowland in "Dead Boy Detectives." (Ed Araquel/Netflix)

You never quite know what you’re in for with a Netflix show. The streamer’s constant onslaught of original content has been extremely hit or miss over the past few years, to the point where it’s extra exciting when one of its flashy new offerings is actually good, or possibly great. “Dead Boy Detectives” is one of those exciting outliers, a comic adaptation that — despite having been originally developed for Max — feels like Netflix at its best. It’s like if “The Sandman” and “Heartstopper” joined forces. If “Supernatural’s” Winchester brothers were just two friends who are a lot more comfortable expressing their feelings.

There’s a certain young adult demographic that’s going to eat this show up, but that shouldn’t deter any other viewer who loves a good comic book or ghost story.

The original “Dead Boy Detectives” were created by Neil Gaiman and Matt Wagner for “The Sandman” comic series, and made their debut in 1991. They’re essentially two ghosts who stuck around on earth and now solve mysteries for other ghosts, while occasionally grappling with their own post-death trauma and avoiding the actual afterlife. The boys were briefly on Max’s “Doom Patrol” (played by Ty Tennant and Sebastian Croft) but here, they get their own chance to shine. Edwin Payne (George Rexstrew) was killed in 1916 by schoolmates in a sacrificial ritual and sent to Hell by mistake. After escaping, he met up with Charles Rowland (Jayden Revri) and helped usher him into ghostdom. Edwin is both bookish and by-the-book, while the charming Charles is always ready to pull a sword out of his Mary Poppins-esque bag of supplies. They’re inseparable, and there’s a sort of indecipherable spark between them from the moment we first see them on screen. Are they best friends or something more?

Soon into the first episode, their scrappy two-employee detective agency (and Edwin’s perfect little world) is disrupted by a case involving a teen psychic named Crystal Palace (Kassius Nelson), who was possessed by a demon ex-boyfriend and lost her memories in the process. She doesn’t know who she is, but she can see the ghostly boys and proves that her psychic abilities (and living human form) can help in their investigations.

While the Dead Boy Detectives’ operations are typically based in London, this first season takes them across the pond to an American town called Port Townsend, full of ghosts and ruled over by a nasty witch named Esther (Jenn Lyon) and a puzzlingly sexy cat in human form (Lukas Gage) known as the Cat King. Both Esther and that Cat King want a piece of these dead boys, and they’re also being hunted by the Night Nurse (Ruth Connell), a rule-obsessed employee of the afterlife’s lost and found department. She’s tasked with making sure all dead children find their way to their proper place in the afterlife, and Charles and Edwin have evaded their fates for too long.

On top of all that, there’s Niko (Yuyu Kitamura), an infectiously optimistic teen infected with foul-mouthed sprites, Jenny the goth landlord/butcher (Briana Cuoco), and Tragic Mick (Michael Beach), a magic shop owner who is a walrus trapped in the body of a human. Esther also has a pet crow who is sometimes a human named Monty (Joshua Colley), and if all of this sounds overwhelming, it’s because we’ve hit upon the show’s biggest drawback.

Lukas Gage in “Dead Boy Detectives.” (Netflix)

Episodes are long and feel longer, packed with so much information and accompanying visuals that it feels like you’ve watched three when you’ve barely finished one. There’s not quite enough time to fully build to every big moment, or to deal with any of the aftermath, but there is enough time to make us yearn for more.

Hopefully there will be opportunities in a second season to dig a little deeper and build out the world a little better. Surely, there’s more to the “Dead Boy” universe than London and Port Townsend.

All that said, co-showrunners Steve Yockey (“The Flight Attendant”) and Beth Schwartz (“Arrow”) did exactly what they could with the eight episodes they had, giving us something visually stunning, emotional and fun. The show is also executive produced by Greg Berlanti and Sarah Schechter, who oversaw all of the Arrowverse comic book shows on The CW, and Jeremy Carver, who was an EP on “Supernatural.” That’s a team that knows how to bring comic characters to life and how to tell a good supernatural mystery. Without the restrictions of broadcast TV, and even without the length of a broadcast TV season, they’re able to really show off.

“Dead Boy Detectives” isn’t perfect or prestige-level television, but it’s so much fun with the potential of getting much better from here.

“Dead Boy Detectives” premieres Thursday, April 25, on Netflix.


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