Review: Locke & Key Volume 3: Crown of Shadows

Locke & Key Volume 3: Crown of Shadows
Joe Hill & Gabriel Rodriguez

IDW (2010)
152 pages
Comics / Dark Fantasy / AWESOME

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Sam Lesser may be dead and gone, but Dodge still has uses for him, and in the first chill days of October, will make contact with him again. The dead know things the living may not, and Sam's restless spirit has had time to discover the thing Dodge wants to know most of all... where to find the key to the black door.

A few weeks ago, I posted a mini-review of volume 3 of the absolutely brilliant Locke & Key series by Joe Hill and Gabriel Rodriguez. At that point I was so shell shocked by how gorgeous Gabriel Rodriguez that I couldn't put my thoughts into words. Now that I have regained my senses, here goes a real review.

Locke & Key quickly became one of my favorite comic series of all time within a couple of issues. The combination of Joe Hill's black humor, creepy horror and charm combined with the astounding art from Gabriel Rodriguez makes it one of the most expressive and detailed series out there. With this third volume, the characters become more defined, stakes get higher (which I didn't think was even possible) and new keys are introduced to interesting results.

The story focuses equally on each of the three kids. Oldest brother --- is the designated protector of his two younger siblings though he does it seemingly against his will until someone is really threatened. Middle sister --- is still running away from her former self and getting herself into tight situations due to her lack of fear. And of course Bodie is just roaming around the house, having keys more or less fall into his lap everywhere he turns.

What I love most about Hill's characterization of the three kids is the believability of it all. They act like kids. The protective older brother acts as if he doesn't care until someone is threatened. The teenage girl makes bad choices in order to impress her friends and potentially garner the attention of boys. And Bodie is just precocious, getting into everything because no one is looking and finding himself in troublesome situations without intending to get into danger. These realistic portrayals of kids are then covered in a layer of bizarre and creepy, all at the hands of the teenager-yet-really-old Dodge and his shadow monsters.

I really hope somewhere down the line Dodge gets an origin story. While it's been shown that he was friends with the Locke's father when he was a teenager, there's not a clear explanation of if he were human at that time or some sort of demon thing like he seems to be now. The mystery of his real identity adds intrigue and creepiness (that whole not knowing what we're dealing with thing), but I don't think I'll be completely satisfied if, upon finishing the series, I don't have a clear picture of what Dodge is, where he came from and what his endgame is. Yes, he wants the power of the keys, but to what end?

Hill then picks up the quick downhill slide of the Locke matriarch into alcoholism and despair, featuring it at key moments. She's mostly kept in the background to allow for more guilt when she comes home from an alcohol-fueled bender to find that her kids were once again put into mortal danger while she wasn't around to protect them. The final chapter of this volume, however, features only --- and is the most harrowing comic story I've read in a while. Yet another key is found, this time to a cabinet that seemingly repairs anything broken looked inside of it. Where this eventually leads her is devastating.

But while Joe Hill is a fantastic writer, filling his stories with intrigue, realistic characters and a heavy dose of creepy, it's Gabriel Rodriguez that truly makes the story. His art is so clean, so intricate and so well thought out that it's impossible to see every detail he's added to the story if you read through this volume at the speed of a normal comic. There are several single panel pages in a row that have absolutely no words from Hill, and it's some of the best, most physical story telling I have ever seen. Somehow Rodriguez imbues his artwork with so much movement that it feels like I'm watching a movie instead of looking from one still picture to the next. It's brilliant and he completely blows my mind and makes me ridiculously jealous at his insane amount of talent.

Locke & Key is best described as a dark faerie tale. While there are realistic elements, a lot of fantastical plot aspects are added in to create something both believable and beyond this realm. Its brilliant story telling both from Hill as the story's writer and from Rodriguez as the artist. If you are not reading this series, I do not know what's wrong with you. Pick up volume 1 and be amazed.