Review: Locke & Key, Vol. 1

Most of the graphic novels I review are for kids. Some for kids and teens. The following series is for older teens and adults, due to graphic violence, explicit language, and sexual situations. That warning being given, I would like to introduce you to one of the great horror comics of our time: Locke & Key, created by Joe Hill and Gabriel Rodriguz. I also want to give a shout-out to colorist Jay Fotos, who gives the art a brooding, autumnal quality that truly lends to the mood of this series.

Look at what the authors do on this spread, which occurs right at the beginning of the book. This is the left side of the page, where you are SUPPOSED to look first.

This is the first part of the spread you’re supposed to look at in Locke & Key, by Joe Hill and Gabriel Rodriguez, but …

But the authors know full well the first thing you’re going to look at is the art on the RIGHT side of the spread — of the gruesome dead bodies in the back of the truck, and the silhouette of the teens at door in the background.

… but this is the first thing that catches your eye!

Then and ONLY THEN are you going to go up to the top left where the two teens are knocking on a door. Absolutely chilling…

As you read the left page (with the right page in mind, of course), in the second panel we get a look at the two teens at the door — and they look completely crazy. In the third panel, you can just barely see the ax being held behind back of one of the teens, as well as a pistol in the pocket of the other one. Talk about building suspense!

Hill and Rodriguez pull this kind of visual taunting all the way through this story. Often these little details are transitions between scenes. At other times, they will pull a part of a quote from the scene before or the scene to follow as another way of transitioning. It gives the book a film-like quality, like dissolves between scenes, rather than a bunch of hard cuts.

So far I’ve just talked about the art, which is amazing, but the story is also truly brilliant, if you like horror. Actually, I don’t normally enjoy horror stories, but this one is so well written and engaging that it’s difficult to resist. The inclusion of the fantastic — ghosts, magic keys, doors to other dimensions, and the like, help to make the story a little less gruesome for me, as well as adding a mysterious quality.

The brutality gets going quickly in Locke & Key as the two teens formerly mentioned go on a killing spree, murdering the guidance counselor at their school and attempting to take out the rest of the family — including his three children, the protagonists of the story. The oldest son, Tyler stops one of the perpetrators with a brick, while Tyler’s mom dispatches the other with an ax buried in the back of the teen’s head.

Oh, but Tyler doesn’t actually kill Sam Lesser, the teen who, when he’s recovered form his facial injuries, gets put in a detention center for youth who need psychiatric help. Sam escapes, thanks to help from a … being … living in the well of, guess where? Keyhouse on Lovecraft Island, in Massachusetts, where the family moves after the father’s funeral. Keyhouse is the strange, seemingly haunted house where the murdered man grew up, and is presently being kept up by his brother, the children’s uncle.

If you don’t recognize the Lovecraft reference, you’re on your own. Google it.

As the children try to rebuild their lives after the murder of their father, we see Sam Lesser slowly make his way across the country from the detention center in California. Along the way, when he believes someone recognizes him from news stories, he simply kills them and moves on. When Sam shows up at Keyhouse, the suspense builds to a surprising climax that truly will chill you — and make you want to get the next volume!

Like I said, Locke & Key is for older teens and adults. But the series is a master work and a great example of the story telling possibilities of the graphic novel form. I liked the series so much I bought the hardcover Master Edition, which is beautifully bound and designed as a keepsake.