ElCicco #CBR5 Review #47: Locke & Key Volumes 1-6 by Joe Hill, Art by Gabriel Rodriguez

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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Malin’s #CBR5 Review #102: Global Frequency by Warren Ellis and assorted artists

Global Frequency is an international, independent organisation founded by the mysterious and secretive Miranda Zero. It’s made up from 1001 agents all over the world and deals with occurrences and situations too big, strange or dangerous to be handled by conventional means, such as eco-terrorism, mass hysteria, or secret government cyborgs out of control. The agents range from law enforcement representatives, both active and retired, professors, scientists, tech savvy teenagers, intelligence operatives and just generally experts in some field or other. Every single member can be called on in a crisis, connected in a world wide nexus, controlled by the enigmatic Aleph, who sits at the centre of the organisation and co-ordinates everything.

More on my blog.

Fofo’s #CBR5 Review #15: Nextwave: Agents of H.A.T.E. by Warren Ellis and Stuart Immonen

NextwaveTarget: Warren Ellis’ Nextwave: Agents of H.A.T.E.  Art by Stuart Immonen. Collecting Issues 1-12

Profile: Comics, Action, Comedy

After Action Report:

Nextwave is a great comic.  It’s not deep.  It doesn’t challenge your expectations.  It doesn’t change the paradigm for what a comic book is supposed to be, but it’s still a good comic.  It’s also somewhat hard to access.  Nextwave is a parody/satire written for and by a certain cross-section of the geek population who enjoy a broad spectrum of geeky entertainment.  In the first issue alone, Nextwavereferences: Japanese monster movies, 90s television, pretty much every major team-up comic series ever, and itself for good measure. All of this means that if you aren’t conversant in these genres some of the comedy of Nextwave might go right over your head.  There is still a fair amount of generally accessible comic moments in the vein of slap-stick, crude language and the funny scenario.  And we are fortunate enough to live in a world where S.H.I.E.L.D., The Avengers and comics in general have become common conversation topics.

For all of its almost reverential nods to the geek community, Nextwave is definitely making fun of the comic book establishment.  Author Warren Ellis is well known for his distaste for the directions that mainstream comics have been moving since the late 80s.  Here, that distain is transmuted into irreverent comedy that still manages to twist the knife every so often, particularly if you’re more up-to-speed on the state of Marvel Comics circa 2006.  I am not, so I had to get most of this stuff off of TVTropes but that research really enhanced a re-reading of the book.

Read the rest of the review…

narfna’s #CBR5 Review #39: Gun Machine by Warren Ellis

14739231A naked old man holding a gun shoots and kills NYPD Detective John Tallow’s partner of five years, and that murder — aside from being devastating and emotionally traumatic for Tallow — leads to the discovery of an apartment full of nothing but guns. Two hundred plus guns, adorning the walls, the floors, all in some mysterious pattern, and each and every one is linked to an unsolved Manhattan murder within the last twenty years. John Tallow is stuck with this career ending case when he should be home grieving for his partner.

I really, really liked this book, even though it was a little bit more violent and bleak than my usual tastes. Also, I say it was bleak, which is technically true, but Ellis is such a good writer it doesn’t even matter. Plus, it’s funny as hell. Tallow himself is a bit of a killjoy, but Ellis’s narration, and his creation of inspired CSU characters Bat and Scarly (who become Tallow’s de facto partners in solving the case), is just fun. He also does something right by letting us inside the mind of the killer, who we meet really early on. Very early on this transforms the central question of the narrative from Who killed all these people? to Who is this man and why does he do what he does? Tallow figures it out as we do. The nice thing about Tallow is that the story frames this murder investigation as a wake-up call for Tallow’s psyche, which has been deep underwater for what seems like decades. As the case becomes more complicated, Tallow just gets smarter.

This is almost the perfect crime thriller. It’s super smart. Ellis’s prose is witty and unique, with just the right amount of gore and cynicism, balanced nicely with pure action adrenaline, cool surprises, and humorous banter. He also has a nifty way with thematic undertones. You could read this book as a straight thriller, but he’s also got some stuff to say about memory, history, and violence. He’s also friggin’ obsessed with maps. All the characters you would expect to be here are here, but they’re also a little bit twisted, with just the right amount of character flavor. The result hits all the crime thriller pleasure spots, but also makes you think you’re reading something really unique and sort of revolutionary.

I really had only two complaints about the book. First, Warren Ellis is British. He does a nice job with New York for the most part, but take that statement with a grain of salt. I’ve never been to New York and all I know about it I know from movies and television and super catchy hybrid soul/hip-hop songs. Where it really shows is in the dialogue. Mostly the dialogue was pretty normal, but every once in a while Britishisms would just slip in, particularly when he was writing for Bat and Scarly. My other complaint is that I felt the ending was a bit short-shrifted. It built and built and built with all this lovely tension, and then it just sort of . . . ended. I got the feeling there could be sequels from the way everything in the case was downplayed, like Tallow and Bat and Scarly haven’t seen the last of each other. If that’s the case, I certainly won’t complain.

Also, Warren Ellis kind of scared me before I read this, but I’m going to check his other junk out now because I liked this so much. (I don’t think I’ll ever be reading Crooked Little Vein, though; that just sounds like too somethin’ somethin’ for me.)