Christmas has come and gone, and I hope in the spirit of the season, dear reader, you came away with a few new funny books to enjoy. My family has never been huge on giving gifts, but this year, my wife gave me a couple of books that I look forward to sharing with you in the coming weeks. The first of which I want to talk about today: Locke and Key: Welcome to Lovecraft.
I was first exposed to writer Joe Hill about seven years ago with his fantastic debut novel, Heart-Shaped Box. Like most readers, I had more than a little experience with his famous father, Stephen King, but I was pleasantly surprised to find that Hill brought to the table a voice altogether unique from his father’s, and I enjoyed the novel immensely.
So, when I first heard about Locke and Key, a comic written by Hill, I was intrigued to say the least. On the other hand, though, I was trepidatious as well. It isn’t that I thought Hill would do me wrong, by any means. The man knows how to spin a great yarn, and I have faith in his ability. It’s that writing a novel and writing a comic book are two very different things. While there are definitely some similarities – a story is a story is a story – the ability to write one does not automatically gift you the ability to write the other. Still, I followed Hill on Twitter. I knew he at least understood the medium, so I knew he would at least bring some solidity to the project.
When I finally sat down to read Locke and Key, though, I was very pleased. Not only was the book “solid,” but it felt fresh compared to other horror comics I had read, in terms of pacing, characters, and perspective. While I’ve always thought Hill was a fantastic writer, Locke and Key convinced me that he is more than that. He is, dare I say it, a master storyteller.
The story follows the Locke family, mother and three kids, in the wake of the brutal murder of the patriarch, Rendell, at the hands of teenage serial killer, Sam Lesser. Nina Locke moves her and her three kids, Tyler, Kinsey, and Bode, across the country and into the Keyhouse with Rendell’s brother, Duncan. It’s a large house, with plenty of secrets hidden, which are slowly uncovered by the kids, who are each struggling with the death of their father in their own way. Tyler, the oldest, is angry and feels guilty for his father’s murder, Kinsey attempts to hide from the world, and Bode explores the house, finding a door that turns him into a ghost and a girl trapped at the bottom of a well.
While all of this is happening, Sam Lesser is in a juvenile detention center awaiting trial for multiple murders, when he makes contact with his “Master,” a spiritual entity that pushed him to commit the murders. The entity, which turns out to be the girl at the bottom of the well ensures him that she will help him escape, so that he may continue that which he was tasked to do: find a very special key somewhere in the Keyhouse.
As one would expect, all of these things come to a head at the end of the volume, as some questions are answered and even more are asked.
This comic works for a number of reasons, one of which is the idea of the house itself. Throughout the story, Hill takes great care to release little tidbits regarding the power and history of the house, and these tidbits are easily enough to whet my appetite for more information. I want to know what the deal is with the different doors. I want to know why the girl was trapped in the well. Above all else, I want to know what sort of history Rendell and Duncan had in the Keyhouse as kids, because from what I know, some major crap hit some fans at one point. In this sense, the house almost becomes a character in itself, no less important to the story than any of the Locke’s.
Where Hill nails it aside from the setting, though, is really in the pacing of the comic. The first volume collects six issues, each of which work together to detail the lives of the characters at a point of time in their lives. The first and last issue serve as omniscient narratives of the beginning and end of the story, respectively, while the middle four chapters are each from the perspective of one of the children in the story, Tyler, Kinsey, Bode, and Sam. These individual issues bounce between the time leading up to the murders and what happens to the characters afterward. It’s a very unique pacing style that serves the story well, as we get pieces of the puzzle in each one, revealing more and more about the characters and their experiences. What we end up with is a small slice of a much larger story, but a slice that feels self-contained. When I finished the final page, I certainly wanted to read more, but I didn’t have to. In these six issues, Hill tells a great story that works on its own, but still leaves plenty of mysteries to solve in later issues.
Overall, if you are a horror/fantasy fan, you can do a heck of a lot worse than Locke and Key: Welcome to Lovecraft. Heck, come to think of it, I’m not sure you could do much better.