From time to time in this column we'll look back at classic comics or ongoing
popular series. Today we'll be looking at the first six issues of Locke & Key, aka Volume 1
in the series.
Branded as a horror story in the Lovecraftian vein Locke & Key is set primarily in the
fictional town of Lovecraft, Massachusetts and details the struggles of the Locke family
after their father, Rendell, is murdered by a young friend of the family named Sam Lesser.
The story focuses on the mysterious Keyhouse, the mansion in which they live, as well as
a set of strange supernatural keys that are connected to both Keyhouse and Sam's murder
Locke & Key is written by Joe Hill, son of Stephen King, and it shows. While the
book incorporates many elements from H.P. Lovecraft's works the writing is still very
reminiscent of a King novel. Nowhere is this more obvious than in character portrayal and
development. There is a grounded realness to every single person in the story, even
seemingly insignificant characters like a prison guard and a small boat owner who are both
only in the story for about a page or two each. Even sympathetic characters like the Locke
kids and their mother Nina feel gritty in a way that vaguely reminds you one second of
Jack Torrance from The Shining, rabid and manic (although more so for Sam), and the
next of Paul Edgecombe from the Green Mile, well meaning, but confused and afraid. It
may be unfair to compare Joe Hill's work to that of his father's but the comparison is there
to be made, and it is definitely a positive one.
Character interaction is definitely the star of this comic. Ty and Bode, the oldest and
youngest kids of the Locke family stand out in particular. There's always a sense that they
love each other like siblings do without falling into the overly sappy trap that so often
engulfs fictional relationships. Ty tries his best to be there for Bode by “telling him the
important stuff, like knock knock jokes”, and not letting on how shaken and emotionally
destroyed he feels after the loss of his father. Bode, being only six, doesn't necessarily
make a conscious decision to try and help his brother, but his existence alone helps Ty
keep perspective of what's important in life.
Their sister, Kinsey, is used more than any other character in the story as a vessel
for the audience to connect with. Her grief seems like the most relatable out of all the
family members, and it is engaging to see all the things she does in her own life, the small
steps she takes, to cope or deal with that grief. Her fear of Sam returning to cause more
harm to the family also resonates particularly well with the reader.
The themes of sadness and coping are very prevalent, and the earthy realistic
dialogue helps bring that across in a very poignant and satisfying manner. It's nice to see
too characters talk about their pain without the tired clichés of “holding it all in” or “braking
down and crying in your arms” swamping everything like a tired B grade Hollywood movie.
Gabriel Rodriguez provides the art, and his backdrops and landscapes are
absolutely stunning. He gives the Keyhouse a mysterious and old feel that makes the
building feel more like a character than a setting, and his ability to create a morose east
coast fall lets you almost feel the heavy clouds or the light rain on the Massachusetts coast
line. His ability to draw vivid interactions also allow the supernatural and darker elements
of the book to shine. Dodge, a spirit trapped in a well, Sam's attack on his prison guard,
and Bode's transformation into a ghost are all highlights and great examples of this.
The mystery of the Keyhouse, the Keys themselves (and their powers), and what
they all have to do with Dodge and the Locke family is both frustratingly vague and
titillatingly captivating. Small clues are dropped off slowly as the story moves on creating
the perfect sense of suspense for a story that does such a good job of keeping one foot in
horror and the other in the magical mystery genre.
While Locke & Key is supposed to be a horror story there are very few scenes in the
first volume that are actually scary. The exception to this is the panel in which Dodge
crawls up from the well to grab Bode, and perhaps a couple of panels from when Sam was
stalking Ty through the basement of their summer home, and later when he returns and
locks Nina and Duncan in the whine cellar. This isn't necessarily a problem because the
story is still captivating and suspenseful, but for true horror fans this might be
disappointing. Additionally, despite all my praise for how emotions and character growth is
handled in the book there is an aspect of guilt for Ty concerning his father's death that still
feels all to cliché and overdone to me. It revolves around a conversation Ty had with Sam
while they were both in school together that lead to some dark humour about their parents,
and while Sam uses this conversation to justify some of his actions it still seems a little
weird how much Ty blames himself.
Art wise, while the background art is phenomenal, the character art by Rodriguez
might take some getting used to by readers who are not familiar with his particular style.
The lines are clean and the colours are sharp, but it's pretty heavily stylized and cartoony,
and might not be for everyone.
Locke & Key is considered by many to be one of the greatest comics written in
recent years, and with good reason. If the art puts you off at first I would definitely suggest
sticking with it, the story is fantastic, and you come to care pretty passionately about the
people in it. On top of that the supernatural mystery aspect is both thrilling and fresh, and
does a fantastic job of hiding miles of subtext beneath the simple premise of magical keys.
The entire series of Locke & Key is currently out and available for purchase.