Review: Locke & Key: Welcome to Lovecraft (Volume 1)

Locke & Key: Welcome to Lovecraft (Volume 1)
Written by Joe Hill
Art by Gabriel Rodriguez

IDW (2010)
158 pages
Comics / Dark Fantasy

Buy it from Amazon here

Upon finishing Volume 1 of Locke & Key, I turned to Fernando and said, “I need the next one.   Get me the next one.”  Too bad we were on an airplane at the time, which makes obtaining a graphic novel slightly more difficult.  At least it was an airplane on the way to Comic Con, so I think I’ll be able to find the second volume fairly easily.

This is a great dark fantasy.  Not Sandman: The Doll’s House dark, but more like the original version of Grimm’s’ faerie tales dark.  There’s magic and strange supernatural presences that might have once been real life human beings and a kid who has gone completely nutso.  Within the first few pages, the father of the Locke family, Rendell, a high school guidance counselor, is brutally murdered by a student.  This sets into motion the rest of the family’s move across country from San Francisco to Lovecraft, MA, a quaint town off the coast of Massachusetts where the father grew up in a giant house called Keyhouse.  Upon arrival, the youngest Locke, Bode, finds an interesting old key that, when put in a door, causes whoever walks through it to leave their bodies and become ghosts.

And that’s where the story really starts to get going.  I’ve never read any of Joe Hill’s fiction, though I’ve recently obtained a copy of 20th Century Ghosts, but he seems to be a master at pacing.  He manages to tell a story that is slow going and quiet when it needs to be and then suddenly full blast speed when events need it.  The dialogue flows well and each character has their own voice.  Somehow in a matter of pages, all three Locke children are their own person through dialogue alone.

Many references made early on make absolutely no sense.  This is a prime example of being dropped in a story in medias res.  There’s a whole other story to be told of events that led up to this brutal murder that is eventually told.  As a character late in the book says, “[Y]ou can’t understand because you’re reading the last chapter of something without having read the first chapters.  Kids always think they’re coming into a story at the beginning, when usually they’re coming in at the end.”  Eventually you will learn of the first chapters, the catalyst for the trauma, but not at the beginning.

None of the kids are annoying either, which is surprising.  The eldest, Tyler, feels responsible for his father’s death and spends his time at Keyhouse working away his pain.  He’s the broody one.  Kinsey, the middle child, no longer recognizes her life or herself when she looks in the mirror and just wants to stay in the background of her new school.  She’s the damaged one.  And then there’s Bode, curious, precocious and adventuresome.  It doesn’t take long for him to find trouble, and being the youngest, he’s most susceptible to the “charms” of Keyhouse.

Our main antagonist, Sam, a high school senior, can only be described as Rorschach light.  This is what Rorschach from Watchman must have been like in high school: ruthless, barbaric, and completely lost, thinking he always knows what comes next until he ultimately finds out he’s wrong.  Sam becomes obsessed with the keys when a strange picture in Rendell’s office sends him messages. 

Hill utilizes the occasional flashback to fill in Sam’s motivations and to show that, at one point, he was a smart teenager, just a bit mentally disturbed.  Blanks are filled in for those who are patient and even with the jumps in time, Hill manages to keep his pacing nice and steady as the story requires.  That’s difficult to do.  Jumps in time can be jarring to a read, but here, it’s all one long story being told, just in a slightly jumbled order.

And then there are the keys.  The wonderful, peculiar keys!  Each key makes the same door doing something else.  One will turn it into a portal for ghosts.  Another will allow it to open to any location you can imagine.  And in the end, a new key is uncovered, which is partially why I’m so eager to get my hands on the second volume.  The other is the sudden and unforeseen twist at the end of the book.  No spoilers from over here.

Gabriel Rodriguez’s art is some of the best I’ve seen recently.  His character drawings are consistent through the 148 pages, making the three children not only look related with subtle changes to their basis face structure.  This might not sound like much.  Artists on comics should always make their characters look the same from panel to panel, you might think, but as movement and “camera” angles change, so does the characters face.  Somehow Rodriguez manages to capture his characters as though he uses a camera instead of a pencil to capture them. 

There were a few sequences where details so minute became important, so I had a hard time following and had to go back to study each panel in order to understand the sequence of events.  Though that’s an issue with me as the reader, not one of execution.  I’m not used to having to notice tiny details in the imagery.  Most comics the important things are bright and loud and right in front of you.  Hill and Rodriguez fully utilize the comic book medium to put in “Easter eggs” in panels that you might miss if you’re not paying attention.

I loved this book.  I loved that I was given a span of uninterrupted time where I didn’t have to put it down.  To me, there are no natural breaks in the story telling and I can’t imagine trying to read Locke & Key as a monthly comic.  Everything fits so well and flows as it should as one overall story.  I highly recommend this read for seasoned comic readers and newbies.

 

A

Dark fantasy of a gothic nature; perfect execution in art and storytelling; one of the most gorgeous comic covers I’ve seen in awhile