If I tell you Locke and Key is a graphic novel some of you are going to judge. If I tell you it’s about a family named Locke who live in a spooky mansion called Key House, even more of you are going to judge. Finally, if I tell you Key House is located in Lovecraft, Maine, then that’s going to be the final nail in the coffin and a lot of you will decide you don’t want to read it. That would be sad though. Because Locke and Key (written by Joe Hill and illustrated by Gabriel Rodriguez) is a truly great read if you enjoy the supernatural genre.
Let’s get one thing out of the way up front, it’s a bit gruesome. The art doesn’t show the really violent parts, but seeing the after effects in color on the page is a lot more cringe inducing than reading a detailed description painted solely with words. The opening pages involve some disturbed teenage boys, murder, and a serious beatdown administered with a brick.
Now that I’ve sold you on the gruesomeness, lets pull back from the brink a little and discuss plot and characters. The Locke family are at their summer home and the adults are having some grown-up time while the kids are off exploring the countryside. A couple of troubled former students of Mr. Locke show up and talk their way inside. Turns out that the boys are up to no good and when the smoke clears, dad is dead, mom is seriously hurt, and the bad guys are vanquished thanks to the teen-age son, Tyler, and the aforementioned brick. All this action occurs to set the scene for the long term. Mrs. Locke, Tyler, and his two younger siblings have to move to their dad’s childhood home, a spooky looking estate called Key House in a little town called Lovecraft, Maine.
I’ll be honest, by this point in my reading I was starting to have second thoughts about continuing. A family named Locke that lives in the Key House? Lovecraft, Maine? Not exactly subtle writing, even for a comic book. Fortunately I decided to stick around and at least finish out the first graphic novel. Once the background was in place, things got a lot more mysterious. There’s still plenty of action, but it doesn’t reach the depths of the first attack on the Locke family. Most importantly, the Locke kids, and their mother, have what seems to be a fairly realistic reaction to the horrible ordeal they have been through. Mom becomes an alcoholic, teenage Tyler is angry at everything and everyone, tween daughter Kinsey cries at the drop of a hat, and the youngest sibling, Bode, becomes a loner dedicated to exploring the Key House and saying things to creep out the kids at school.
The kids quickly start to realize there is some supernatural entity attached to the house and the Locke family. They start uncovering clues to their dad’s involvement with this entity in the form along with some strange looking antique keys. After a certain point the supernatural entity itself becomes a point of view character and we learn it’s looking for an Omega Key that the kids’ dad hid away at some point in the past.
The story is being published as an ongoing monthly comic book, but I caught up by way of the four graphic novel collections. There’s an overarching plot with ongoing mysteries, but each collection has some varying amount of closure. I’m pretty invested in the ongoing story at this point, but the mysterious keys are what really makes me think about a monthly stop at the comic shop. Each separate story arc introduces new keys that have some unusual power and were apparently manufactured by a Locke ancester. At one point the kids come across a key that enables the user to open up the top of his skull. Fortunately, cranial contents are shown symbolically rather than as basic grey matter. I’m not going to go into detail, but suffice to say their were lots of fun visuals to look at in the kids heads. Kinsey even decides to remove her ability to cry (depicted as a tiny weepy version of herself) and her ability to feel fear (depicted as a tiny little dark lady). I’ve found it worth coming back to just to see what new keys they come up with. (There’s one to change the users race, and another for gender.)
The art style is a bit cartoonish. I found this off putting at first, but it quickly grew on me. I’ve never been a fan of the minimalist black and white style of The Walking Dead, and the technicolor scenery combined with the dark plot make for an easier read and lulled me just enough to provide an extra jolt of adrenaline every time some new dark event happened.
If you’re interested in the horror genre, then I definitely recommend Locke and Key. It’s tightly plotted with realistic (for a comic book) characters and has visually appealing art with a great attention to detail. You can get the first four collected volumes at stores (or the library). If you’re really impatient you can also catch up to the ongoing story in the monthly comic book published by IDW. If you’re a book snob who can’t bring yourself to read comics…. why you gotta be that way? (And if it helps, writer Joe Hill is the son of genre defining author Stephen King.)
Bonus feature: The story was optioned by the Fox Network and a pilot was made for an ongoing TV series. Sadly Fox didn’t pick up the pilot. There were rumors that MTV might produce the show, but so far it has only been shown to fans at Comicon last year, but you can see the trailer.