For those who are already fans this review is old news. But, for the people who are blinded by the light of Marvel and DC you may have missed this incredible comic book. Fortunately, not only is the entire run available in six collections, but Audible created an audio version with a star cast led by Haley Joel Osment and Kate Mulgrew.
If you have not read Locke and Key, then just ignore this review and go out and buy the collections right now. The first issue, published in 2008, was sold out within 24 hours. Same for the first collection.
Created by award winning Fantasy and Horror writer Joe Hill, Locke and Key is a different type of horror comic from what readers are used to seeing. I grew up on such DC staples such as House of Mystery and House of Secrets.
In 1968, DC had decided to challenge the fascists at the Comics Code Authority, and hired EC Comics great Joe Orlando. Back in the 1950’s M.C. Gaines’ EC Comics was the undisputed king of the disturbing horror comic genre. Modern readers can get a taste of this by watching HBO’s EC-inspired Tales from the Crypt or Stephen King’s horror movie Creep Show.
Unfortunately for the comics industry in 1950 a publicity hound, psychiatrist Fredric Wetham, published Seduction of the Innocent an absolutely absurd piece of dreck dressed up as science. In this book Wetham “proved” that comics caused juvenile delinquency. Naturally, this created a public outcry and a congressional hearing. In the end, EC Comics and most of the super heroes were gone as were many of the comic book companies. To protect themselves, the survivors founded a self-censoring private regulatory company, the Comics Code Authority.
The Orlando inspired comics were pure EC. A narrator would introduce the scene, six pages later the character’s flaws would result in a particularly heinous outcome. Then the narrator would make some wholly inappropriate pun and the curtain would close.
Locke and Key is inspired more by Stephen King and Charles De Lint than EC. Hill understands that the essence of horror comes first from the non-supernatural world. This is not too surprising as Hill is the son of Stephen King.
The book opens with an unconventional horror. Two disturbed high school students kill their guidance counselor. The oldest son, Tyler and his mother stop them, with mom killing one and Tyler beating the other senseless with a brick. Meanwhile, teenaged daughter Kinsey hides on the roof, desperately clutching elementary schooler, Bode.
In the aftermath the family relocates to the house of the paternal uncle, the Key House. The story moves in two tracks, the one where the individual family members walk in a haze in the aftermath of the tragedy and the De Lintesque mysterious house narrative featuring Bode.
Hill and artist Gabriel Rodriguez are a powerful team. Rarely have I seen a writer and artist work with such unity of purpose. Hill knows when to shut up and leave the story telling to Rodriguez. The funeral scenes are dramatic in their understatement. Rodriguez captures the emotional turmoil of Tyler with such perfection, that we know what he is thinking without the need of thought balloons.
Likewise, Kinsey is aptly drawn as a wounded creature. Prior to the murder, she sported dreads and like any sixteen year old, worked to get attention. But, after her father’s murder, she is stuck in the moment on the roof holding Bode.
And then there’s Bode. The child who discovers the first mystery.
The full story is told in six arcs, “Welcome to Lovecraft”, “Head Games”, “Crown of Shadows”, “Keys to the Kingdom”, “Clockworks” and “Alpha & Omega.” There are three stand alone books, “Open the Moon”, “Grindhouse” and “Small World.”
This incredible comic underscores the importance of smaller houses and independent presses. So, if you’re looking for a change of pace from the endless super hero battles and mandatory cross-overs, check out IDW’s Locke and Key.