Comic Review: Locke & Key vol.1: Welcome to Lovecraft by Joe Hill and Gabriel Rodriguez
Locke and Key, Vol. 1: Welcome to Lovecraft by Joe Hill I grabbed the hardcover copies of these books the moment I saw them and warned the librarian that they would look lovely on my bookshelf. She politely reminded me that she has my address on file. I’ve heard good things about this series from friends, but I had no idea how good. In fact, I intended to wait until I’d finished all five volumes before completing a proper review, but after finishing volume one last night, all I could think was “ffffuuuuuuuuuuhhh…”
Fortunately, I’m of sounder mind today and can explain why I’m giving this entire series five stars before I am even finished with it. Volume one introduces the Locke family, with particular focus on the kids, Ty, Kinsey and little Bode. Their lives are destroyed by the brutal murder of their father and rape of their mother by two extremely troubled youths. In the aftermath, they move to the old Locke homestead, Keyhouse, in hopes of recovering some vague semblance of normality.
First of all, I have to speak about the art. This is a violent, brutal, frightening story that could easily have been depicted with much darker imagery typically attributed to the genre. However, Rodriguez’s more cartoony characters and bright colours make everything all the creepier once things really get going. Similar to Japanese manga, the large eyes of the characters can express a lot of emotion within a still image and intense emotional facial expressions and body language (or lack there of) are very important to all of the scenes.
There is also a great sense of stillness. Some of the panels repeat themselves, sometimes with minute changes, but always with a sense of time passing by slowly while the character contemplates the situation. I love that more than two entire pages were spent with Ty at the funeral home following his father’s death. A complaint I have with a lot of comics I’ve read lately is that they jump through the story. There seems to be so much more story they should be telling between each panel, but because of page constraints, they have to skip panels to get to the point. Locke & Key gets to the point without ever losing a panel along the way. I give credit to both artist and writer for this, as presumably Rodriguez is working under Hill’s instructions and clearly, Hill understands the show-don’t-just-tell power of the medium.
So the story goes, Keyhouse is an unusual place. Early in 6yo Bode’s exploration, he discovers a strange key and, when inserted into the back door, it causes him to die when he steps outside, becoming a ghost that’s able to move around the house at will, then return to his body with no harm done. As the story progresses, we learn that there are several other keys (beautifully front and centre on the covers of each volume) and that their father knew about the house’s secrets, but hid the keys for a reason. It is also implied that grown ups tend to forget the importance of such things, so its up to Bode to discover the secrets – especially if he wants to help the mysterious echo at the bottom of the well…
The story focuses mainly on the children, often times with their individual point of views encompassing an entire issue. Each copes differently with the loss of their father and their actions during the assault. Hill and Rodriguez delve deep into the exploration of their emotions, demanding that you feel for them and worry about their well being. The weight of Ty’s guilt is almost palpable and Kinsey’s angst is far more than just whiny, selfish teen mourning. And Bode’s innocent exploration leads to some of the creepiest and intense moments of all.
By the end of volume one, with the mystery box wide open and my compassion for the Locke children firmly established, it was only my responsible adultness that prevented me from staying up all night to read the other volumes in a single, spine-tingling go.