Charles Rowland In ‘Dead Boy Detectives’ Explained: What Is Charles’ Relationship With Edwin Like?

In Vertigo DC’s ‘Dead Boy Detectives,’ Charles Rowland emerges as one of the compelling protagonists, joined by his ghostly companion, Edwin Paine. Together, they operate the Dead Boy Detective Agency, a venture dedicated to assisting lost souls in their transition to the afterlife. As the narrative unfolds, it delves into Charles’ personal struggles, unveiling the trauma he carries as a victim of physical and emotional abuse.


Charles’ story is an exploration of the lasting impact of mistreatment, even in the realm of the dead. While he dedicates himself to helping others find peace, the series dissects the layers of Charles’ own emotional turmoil, shedding light on his invisible scars. Furthermore, the friendship between Charles and Edwin takes center stage, highlighting the importance of their relationship and why it is crucial that we talk about it. 

Spoilers Ahead


How did Charles die?

Charles Rowland was a teenage student at St. Hilarion’s boarding school in 1989, where his life took a tragic turn. Coming from a background of abuse and being of a half-Indian heritage, Charles harbored a strong aversion to bullying. When he witnessed a group of his schoolmates tormenting a Pakistani boy, Charles intervened, drawing the ire of the bullies upon himself. In a cruel act of retaliation, the bullies forced Charles to stand in a freezing lake late at night. Escaping this ordeal, he sought shelter in the school’s attic, where he encountered Edwin Paine, a ghostly figure who offered him a warm lantern. 

The fact that Charles could see Edwin was a symptom of Charles’s approaching death, but Edwin remained silent. Instead, he offered comfort and companionship during the boy’s final moments as hypothermia claimed his life. Before Death arrived to take Charles’ ghost to the afterlife, Charles showed his unwillingness to leave the Earth thereby implying that he wanted to stay with Edwin. Initially reluctant, Edwin eventually agreed, and an unusual paranormal friendship blossomed between the two.


Why did Charles keep an eye on his parents?

During a conversation with Crystal, Charles shows her his parents through a mirror, explaining that he periodically checks on them to ensure they are doing well. He clarifies that while his father now manages to keep his mother happy, he was quite an abusive figure when Charles was alive. As the case of the Devlin family unfolds, Charles’s own trauma resurfaces when he witnesses the Devlin patriarch butchering his family over and over in a time loop. This trigger causes Charles to frequently lose control of his temper, hinting at deeper emotional scars. It is only later, when the Night Nurse compels Charles to relive his past, that the full extent of his suffering is revealed. Charles’s father was indeed an abusive man who would physically beat him with a belt and subject him to relentless emotional abuse, berating him for never being good enough. Despite being a mere child, Charles endured this inhumane treatment, leaving indelible marks on his psyche that followed him even into death.

The memories of his father’s cruel behavior not only fueled Charles’s rage but also became a driving force behind his determination to protect those who had been wronged, as he himself had been. Furthermore, his compulsion to check on his parents came from a deep-rooted need to ensure his mother’s safety from his father’s previous abusive tendencies.


What Is Charles’ Relationship With Edwin Like?

Charles and Edwin’s relationship spans decades longer than their own lives, and the entire series seems more like a depiction of their bond. While their friendship enjoyed a smooth dynamic for the most part, the arrival of Crystal stirred feelings of jealousy within Edwin. However, what truly sets their friendship apart is the revelation that Edwin harbored romantic feelings for Charles. We have previously seen depictions of queer-ally friendships on television, such as the notable example of Otis Milburn and Eric Effiong’s relationship in Sex Education. Typically, cis-gendered heterosexual men often find such situations ’emasculating’ and fear being sexualized by a fellow man. However, Charles Rowland defies these conventional notions.

During a daring rescue attempt to save Edwin from hell, weighed down by his feelings, Edwin confesses his love for Charles, a love he had harbored for a long time but feared expressing due to his conditioning. In a remarkable display of understanding and acceptance, Charles remains unfazed by Edwin’s confession. He sees Edwin as his best friend, someone he loves deeply, and even though he cannot reciprocate Edwin’s romantic feelings, Charles affirms that there is no one else for whom he would brave the depths of hell. When Edwin inquires whether his revelation has caused any discomfort, Charles reassures him that it has not.


Charles, despite being a dead teenager, embodies the kind of man the world truly needs—one who is not bound by trivial matters such as a male friend’s romantic affections for him. Charles embraces Edwin’s feelings with open arms; despite his own personal struggles and trauma, he remains unwavering in his loyalty to his best friend, even willing to journey to hell for Edwin’s sake. Charles’ portrayal goes beyond the traditional notions of masculinity and shows that a true friendship exists regardless of love and identity. Moreover, Charles himself has a budding romantic interest in Crystal Palace, which cannot be fulfilled since he’s a ghost.  

What can we expect from Charles in season 2?

In the upcoming season, Charles has a lot in store. With the Dead Boy Detective Agency becoming an official part of the Lost and Found Department of the afterlife, Charles would have even more responsibilities to shoulder with his friend. His relationship with Crystal might even blossom into something more. However, the unresolved trauma from his abuse would come between him and his friends once again. His raging anger issues might even stir up more problems for the group. Charles would also play a key role in finding Niko and possibly looking for a way to bring her back. 


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Shrey Ashley Philip
Shrey Ashley Philip
A teacher, photographer, linguist, and songwriter, Shrey started out as a Biotechnology graduate, but shifted to studying Japanese. Now he talks about movies, advocates for ADHD awareness, and embraces Albert Camus.

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