‘Dead Boy Detectives’ Comic Book Differences, Explained

Some of DC’s best live-action small-screen adaptations were produced on the now-defunct streaming service DC Universe, where some of the renowned showrunners of network showbiz collaborated with the prolific creative minds of comic-book literature to create faithful adaptations of some of the most beloved DC comic series. As some of the fans might surely remember, Doom Patrol turned out to be arguably the best adaptation, and along with a myriad of zany, outlandish characters, the series first introduced the trio lead of Dead Boy Detectives outside the funny pages. The introduction was supposed to be a precursor to the spin-off series of the same name, and the actors portraying their roles in the Doom Patrol cameo were finalized to reprise their roles in the new series back then. This was exciting news for fans, as seeing how well Doom Patrol was adapted on a small screen, the possibility of another of DC’s wonderful oddities getting proper media representation was pretty high. 


However, things fell apart with the shakeup in WB leadership, mass layoffs, and DC Universe’s farewell—and with all the original DC Universe series coming to a close, Dead Boy Detectives was given a breather by being shifted to Netflix’s Sandman universe domain. In doing so, the series was revamped to suit a different approach, with actors being recast and everything. Whereas being closer to the source (Sandman) and creator Neil Gaiman might have allowed for more authenticity, as we binged all eight episodes of the first season, the series has turned out to be far removed from its source material, and not for the better. While the aspect of creative freedom might have made a case for such a departure, it could have been convincing if the changes were actually beneficial for the end product, which unfortunately didn’t happen, making readers like us wish to see the DC Universe adaptation that never came to be. 

It is understandable to make an adaptation its own thing to reach a wider audience, but not if it misses the core theme or tone of the source material altogether. While discussing the ways the Dead Boy Detectives TV series differentiates itself from the source material, we will focus on this aspect. 


Drastic Change in Lead Characteristics and Treatment/Tone of the Narrative

From the looks of promotional material and trailers, it was pretty apparent that Netflix’s adaptation of Dead Boy Detectives was aiming for a young adult viewership, which was further confirmed by the characterization of the leads as well. Whereas the lore created by Neil Gaiman was focused on a dark retelling of adolescent detective fiction through lead teenage ghosts, the Netflix adaptation lacks the charm by making the leads, Edwin and Charles, appear like generic protagonists of the streaming channel’s average rom-com adaptations. The juvenile immaturity and boisterousness of the leads in the source material is totally absent, as in the TV series Charles, Edwin, and Crystal have been aged up in the typical Netflix method and in no way seem convincing as teenagers with their romantic preoccupation taking center stage of the storyline. Also, unlike the TV series where the duo keeps fleeing from Death, in comics Charles and Edwin met with Death and straight up refused to go to Afterlife with her, which was an important aspect that emphasized the bond of their friendship.

Unlike the TV series version, which portrayed a practically irresponsible and low-key problematic (past-life) version of Crystal Palace who depends on her ancestral powers to find a place for herself in a world full of anomalies, the comics version of Crystal is a benevolent person who uses her wits and inquisitive nature more than her psychic powers to get things done. Niko Sasaki in the TV series was also a bland replacement for Hana Watanabe, Crystal’s courageous friend in comics. In comics, all three leads—Edwin, Charles, and Crystal—share a common ground as victims of some diabolical, hideous menace on the premises of St. Hilarion’s School, which the TV series barely touches upon and changes badly. 


In the comic series, one-shot stories and crossovers where Dead Boy Detectives have made appearance, the blend of light humor with heavy, morbid themes like child trafficking, abuse, and child killings contributed to a unique juxtaposition that worked as a commentary on the theme of the exploitative nature of humankind preying on innocence. This, once again, is found missing in the TV series, where the only connecting factor among characters seems to be unnecessary, cringe-worthy romantic tension, making the series just another forgettable Netflix YA cashgrab. 

Esther the Witch Is Just A Poor Man’s Giles de Rais

In the TV series, Esther the Witch takes on the role of central antagonist in the first season of Dead Boy Detectives, and while her sassy, sardonic demeanor might click well with some of the viewers, she is simply not a good replacement for the villainous character from Ed Brubaker’s four-issue miniseries of the comic series she is based upon. Similar to how Esther used to abduct kids to maintain her youth (albeit in a child fantasy kind of way by feeding them to her captive giant snake), in the original series, a historical villain named Gilles de Rais tried to attain immortality by using occult sorcery to drain life essence from kids. This version of the story induces some nightmarish horror, further elevated when you learn that the character is based on a real-life person of the same name who was responsible for similar actions. 


Sandman Universe Hardly Plays Much Of A Role In TV Series 

Despite being a part of Netflix’s established Sandman universe, except for a couple of token cameos appearing in Death and Despair of the Endless, there is hardly any mention of the sprawling landscape, which encompasses different realms and dimensions (except from Hell). Budget constraints might have been the reason, but mere mentions of the larger picture would have sufficed. Being a Netflix production, licensing issues with DC also prevented appearances by other characters from the comic franchise in the series. 

A year ago or so, Netflix released Lockwood and Co. based on Jonathan Stroud’s novel series of the same name, and the nature of the treatment, tone, and characterization in that adaptation matched a lot with the Dead Boy Detectives comics. Which somewhat explains the extreme changes in this adaptation, but not as to why this adaptation turned out to be so generic as it is. 


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Siddhartha Das
Siddhartha Das
An avid fan and voracious reader of comic book literature, Siddhartha thinks the ideals accentuated in the superhero genre should be taken as lessons in real life also. A sucker for everything horror and different art styles, Siddhartha likes to spend his time reading subjects. He's always eager to learn more about world fauna, history, geography, crime fiction, sports, and cultures. He also wishes to abolish human egocentrism, which can make the world a better place.

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