Locke & Key is a six volume graphic novel that is scary, smart, and humorous. The first five volumes [Welcome to Lovecraft, Head Games, Crown of Shadows, Keys to the Kingdom, Clockworks] have already been published. Volume 6 [Alpha & Omega] will be published in February 2014, but you can pick up the single issues now, except for the final chapter. That will be published Nov. 27 and I can’t wait to get my hands on it. Locke & Key involves quite a bit of murder and horror, which is familiar territory for author Joe Hill and his father Stephen King. I usually shy away from creepy stuff, but the story line is so good, it sucked me in, and the artwork is a stunning complement to the writing.
The series focuses on the Locke family and their ancestral home Keyhouse, which sits on the edge of a small Massachusetts island town called Lovecraft. When mom Nina, teen son Tyler, teen daughter Kinsey and first grader Bode arrive at Keyhouse, which has been maintained by cool, artsy Uncle Duncan, their dad Rendell has just been brutally murdered by a mentally unstable high school student named Sam Lesser. Tyler feels responsible, Kinsey is overcome by fear and tears, Bode feels lost and alone, and Nina hides inside a wine bottle. The local police keep a watch on the family when Sam Lesser escapes Juvenile Detention in California. Sam is on the road to find the family, drawn forward by a voice that comes to him and promises him everything he desires in return for his service in locating some keys.
Throughout the volumes, Bode, Kinsey and Tyler find unusual keys around Keyhouse, keys that unlock magical/supernatural powers. Meanwhile the malevolent force that sucks in Sam also tries to work on the members of the Locke family. The story itself is fascinating because it’s more than a traditional quest story or “forces-of-good-versus-forces-of-evil” story. It is truly a psychological thriller. Many of the keys have the power to transform the person him or herself — to change form or look or even to get literally inside someone’s head. In the wrong hands, they could wreak havoc not just on one person or the town of Lovecraft, but the whole world.
I enjoy graphic novels, but for me, it’s only worthwhile if the plot and writing are any good. That’s the hook for me, while my husband gets pulled in by art first. We both loved Locke & Key. Hill’s creative plot and sympathetic characters made me keep reading even when I was terrified about what was going to happen next (which I hate; I generally avoid horror in all forms). He goes back in time to provide an unusual family history for the Lockes, and his tale of the creation of the keys demonstrates an inventive mix of historical and supernatural imagination. The modern day Lockes are dealing with the usual teen angst and high school drama, which is also the source for the humor in the story. I especially enjoyed the prom scene that gives a hilarious nod to “Carrie.” Hill has written a “sins-of-the-father/sins-of-the-son” storyline that unfolds with tragic consequences but the possibility of redemption.
My husband recommended Locke & Key and we discussed the merits of the graphic novel form over traditional fiction for this story. Certainly, Locke & Key could have been told as a novel, but given the incredibly imaginative creatures and scenarios Hill envisioned, the graphic novel form was the perfect form for the story. Rodriguez’ ghosts and demons, the keys, the settings (Rodriguez is trained as an architect and it shows in his blueprints for Keyhouse) and characters are better than anything my poor imagination could have come up with. I also loved his homage to Bill Watterson and Calvin and Hobbes at the opening of Vol. 4.
I both look forward to and dread the last installment of Locke & Key. Hill has no compunction about killing characters in brutal ways, and children are not exempt from that. I’m worried about losing some of them (I love Rufus and Erin — two characters who know the truth and suffer horribly because of it), and I hate to see the story end because it’s so good. The series has been nominated for The Eisner and other awards, and fellow writers such as Warren Ellis and Robert Crais have praised the writing and art. As they say, this is a graphic novel for those who don’t really like graphic novels.