Reviewed by Stephen
I’m pretty behind on Locke and Key as there are now four volumes out, but back when it first came out in single issues I read the first few issues and really enjoyed them. Somehow I lost track of the series but I’m now making up for lost time. Joe Hill is an accomplished author in his own right, stepping beyond the long shadow cast by his father, and this was his first ongoing comic book series. As you might expect given the genres and style of Hill’s novels, the comic does include horror elements but really the story is about the people.
The story begins with a tragedy and a family losing their father at the hands of two murderous and disturbed teenagers. The three children and their mother move away from the area and relocate to live with the uncle in Lovecraft, New England. The name of this fictional town set off alarm bells in my head and it was certainly with good reason. The house they move into, called the Keyhouse, is a very important character in the story as it is a place full of mysteries and secrets.
As the family try to cope with their loss we see in flashbacks the events that led up to the murder. We find out about the killers, one of who is still alive and in prison, and how the three children and their mother have been changed by recent events. Each has a very different coping mechanism and while the youngest, Bode, is upset he does what all small children do in a new place. He runs around the whole house, poking into corners, opening cupboards, trying to get antique swords down off the wall, and most importantly, opening all the doors. During his run around the Keyhouse he stumbles across a strange key with a skull on it. Eventually he finds the right door for the unusual key and when he steps through something very weird happens. If that’s not bad enough there’s someone stuck at the bottom of an old well on the property who talks to him and they claim they’ve been down there for a very long time.
As the level of creepy begins to rise, and Bode struggles to make any of the adults believe him, events outside the Keyhouse in Lovecraft are starting to get a little weird. One of the three children, Kinsey, is having some difficulties at school but it goes beyond being a local celebrity for all the wrong reasons. Their father grew up in the area and lived in the Keyhouse and a few other people seem to know that it’s not a normal house. To make matters worse the killer somehow manages to escape from jail and everyone fears the worst. They think he is coming to Lovecraft to finish the job, but of course it’s a lot more complicated than that. While the Keyhouse isn’t sentient, it does seem to have plans for everyone and this first volume only focuses on one of the many unusual doors.
Locke and Key is a brilliant mix of horror, drama and tragedy. Hill does a great job of fleshing out the characters while also moving the story forward and adding to the surrounding mystery of the Keyhouse and the family’s past. It’s not a spoiler, but the Keyhouse is not a new building, so they are not the first people to have encountered the strange doors and unusual keys. It’s difficult to say much more on this aspect but there are layers to the story and hints of other times, and we are given a few clues that will no doubt be explored in more detail at a later stage.
Overall I’m very glad I finally got around to reading this. Locke and Key is gripping, tense, weird, wonderful, exciting and very creepy. It’s full of remarkable ideas, great characterisation and the artwork is very fitting and in keeping with the style and setting for the story. If you’ve enjoyed Joe Hill’s novels and have not read this, then you’re missing out. Locke and Key was recently developed for TV, and a pilot was filmed, unfortunately it was not picked up for a full series which is a real shame. Locke and Key is also an Eisner winning series, the comic book equivalent of an Oscar, and with good reason because it’s an excellent read.