Locke and Key is a difficult beast to describe. It’s fantasy, with elements like magic and creepy mansions, but set in the modern world, with 'real' people. It’s horror, with murderous students and sinister villains, but it’s not like a Hack/Slash or 30 Days of Night-type horror. In fact, it's a perfect blend of both genres. It’s The Chronicles of Narnia meets H.P. Lovecraft. It’s Dark Fantasy done right. OK, so that wasn’t so difficult after all…
Written by Joe Hill, son of legendary author Stephen King, Locke and Key is set in the fictional town of Lovecraft, Massachusetts (named after the aforementioned H.P. Lovecraft). The story follows the Locke family as they move back to their family home in Lovecraft in an attempt to deal with a tragic event in their life. The home, Keyhouse Mansion, is like something out of an old Scooby Doo episode, albeit far more real and chilling. When the three children (brooding Tyler, angsty Kinsey and innocent Bode) discover magic keys, craziness ensues. The book’s main antagonist – a creepy, sinister character, is after one key in particular – the Omega key - and will stop at nothing to get it.
The dark fantasy of Locke and Key is as compelling as it is chilling. As the story sweeps along, Hill introduces us to some great characters, and just you’re getting comfortable with the story WHAM!- you turn the page and you're hit with a shocking reveal that feels like a frozen icepick to the heart. The keys do some pretty crazy things too – one turns you into a ghost, one mends things, and another can be used to open your head and add or remove things at will. As the story unfolds, more and more keys are discovered, and are used for both good and not-so-good. It’s not until the latest volume, volume 5, that you actually discover the origin of the keys, and Joe Hill’s timing in his reveals is spot on. Each page, each issue and each volume are paced in a way that builds up the tension, hits you with a shocker and then has you craving for more. Locke & Key is more addictive than Caffeine infused crack.
One of the major factors of this book’s success is the seamless integration of story and art. Hill’s story is such an intricate, detailed story it requires an artist who can capture all the nuances of the characters and the world they inhabit. Few could do it as well as artist Gabriel Rodriguez. Possibly more than any other book I’ve read, Hill and Rodriguez complement each other so well it’s hard to tell when one stops and the other begins. They’re like Spaghetti and meatballs.
Hill’s characters are lovingly realized by Rodriguez, in all their flawed perfection. The amount of care and detail he puts into every panel, the way his characters emote and have their own little quirks is nothing short of superb. His characters are stylized enough to make them unique and comic-booky, but realistic enough to make them real people. You really can’t help but be emotionally attached to the characters – wanting things to work out for the good guys, being infuriated when it doesn’t. That, in this writer’s humble opinion, is the mark of a good story – emotional involvement. When you want to throw the book across the room because something hasn’t gone the way you wanted it to, you know you’re onto a winner. And it’s not only the characters that are the fruit of the Hill/Rodriguez loins. The fantasy elements, the dark tone of the book, the beautiful backdrops – all are seamless creations from writer and artist.
The over-arching story is rich and compelling, and the single issues are perfectly paced. Vol 3 #5 contains 12 enormous splash pages of an epic giant vs giant battle. Vol 5 #2 was nominated for an Eisner award. Locke & Key is a modern classic. I doubt it will be very long until it will be thrown around with names like Sandman and Watchmen. It’s just that good. This is the kind of book you give to your non-comic reading friends to get them instantly hooked. 4 ¾ stars.