Locke and Key
Locke and Key is a dark fantasy comic series expertly penned by Joe Hill and beautifully illustrated by Gabriel Rodriguez. With gorgeous artwork and a strong narrative, this is superb storytelling through sequential art. Be warned though – here be dragons. Horror, bloodshed and brutality are present from the very start, as well as naughty words.
The story centres around the Locke family, who move away from San Francisco after a horrific murder changes their lives forever. Oldest son Tyler, middle daughter Kinsey, and youngest son Bode each have their own journey to go on and emerge at the end different to how they began. The comic borrows heavily from the work of gothic horror writer HP Lovecraft, using elements from the mythos he created to wonderfully hideous effect. The family even moved to a town in Massachusetts named after him. Lovecraft’s work is a source that has been mined by many creative types for decades, but this collaboration is, for my money, the best example of it in comic form. The work also takes many cues from 1980s era fantasy films and coming of age stories, also to good effect.
Hill’s influences include Neil Gaiman, Alan Moore, and Grant Morrison, and his writing is of that calibre. He has written various other books and short stories with a horror-fantasy theme, and his skill is being able to conjure a sense of the real about the fantastical, making you believe that the supernatural might just exist.
The magic keys are a delight. One opens a door to anywhere. Another is used to control all the shadows in the house. Another operates a strange music box, while yet another can be used to open someone’s head and peer inside; even add or remove things to alter their memories or personality.
Rodriguez’s strengths are in expressions, emotions, and an eye for detail, especially detailed eyes. The characters are in a comic style but with an edge to them, candlelight capturing a theme of childlike wonder mixed with a hint of menace. It’s Oz, Narnia or Wonderland, mixed together with the grisly spectacle of roadkill. Despite how dark it is, Locke and Key is a pleasure to read and has plenty of surprises in store. It rewards the careful reader who notices background details and provides tense suspense that will keep you hooked right to the end. The plot is relentlessly tense and readable, drawing you right into the actors and the action.
As well as the Locke family you’ll be introduced to a full cast of supporting characters, and you’ll care about what happens to them. It should probably go without saying that many of them will have to endure a series of horrible things, and it won’t surprise you to learn that not all of them are left standing at the end.
At the heart of Locke and Key is a tale of pain, loss, innocence and the emergence of adulthood and responsibility, or the choice to reject responsibility and embrace selfishness and greed. For children or those with a sense of child-like wonder, fun and play is something for its own sake. For adults, or those with a sense that things are only worth doing if there is something to be gained, play is a means to an end. There are plenty of tantalising mysteries to keep you guessing and intrigued as you read. The enigma of the echo in the well house that talks back to you. The secret of why Tyler, Kinsey and Bode’s dad’s name is written in the half-flooded caves along with many of his old friends. The riddle of where he hid the key to the Black Door.
Key House is virtually a character in itself, with its own personality and mood. Dark, gothic and quirky, this crooked house has a way of showing those in the Locke family what they need to see, and of helping them when they need it most. But the keys are merely tools and can be used for both good or ill. The house contains a whole mythology, as there are many other keys waiting to be found in the house, besides the ones we see. It sparks your brain, without ever being self-indulgent. Over the course of the story, you’ll visit the present, the 1980s, and even a few glimpses of the American War of Independence. This gives the story an epic feeling, hinting at something older and more primal that powers the magic of the various keys and doors.
Locke and Key is a portal to another dimension, one where childhood dreams of flight or becoming a giant can be realised, but also where Lovecraftian horrors can possess the souls of humans that gaze into the abyss. These vile things corrupt people absolutely, turning a loyal friend into a repellent remorseless monster, latching on to the spirit so they can travel into our realm.
One truth about good fiction is that it can even make you care about the villains, and at the end, it turns out that instigator of all the strife the Locke’s and their friends go through is operated like a puppet by a being of pure and calm malevolence. You’ll see that Sam Lesser, the pitiable and terrifying murderer, is also both villain and victim. Evil is represented by the Omega Key, which opens up the black door to a world of darkness, teeth, and nightmares. The creatures which reside there can’t come into the human world without a host, however. True evil corrupts, it doesn’t create.
All the characters have an arc, especially the three Locke children. Bode, the little boy whose curiosity and imagination ensure that its usually him that finds the keys, grows up a little. Tyler, wrestling with survivor’s guilt and directionless anger, begins to come to terms with who he is and make his peace. Kinsey, who could not bear to feel afraid or mistrustful anymore, and removes those aspects of herself, realises that feelings are there for a reason and becomes more comfortable in her own skin. Another satisfying thread is the hidden importance of the forgotten and the dismissed. Locke and Key reminds us that those who are overlooked are not as powerless and insignificant as they might appear, or that even they themselves believe.
Despite itself, Locke and Key ends on an upbeat note. Life goes on. Family, love, and life endure, no matter what fresh horrors are thrown at them. It will wrench your heart but offers just as much hope as horror. I can’t recommend Locke and Key enough. It’s a treat for the brain and a palate cleansing inspiration of delicious dark fantasy. The door is open. All you have to do is walk through.