Wednesday, March 27, 2019

Book Review - Joe Hill's Locke and Key

Locke and Key by Joe Hill and Gabriel Rodriguez
Published by: IDW Publishing
Publication Date: February 20th, 2008 - December 18th, 2013
Format: Paperback, 984 Pages
Rating: ★★★★★
To Buy

Rendell Locke always told his wife Nina that if anything were to happen to him she should take the kids and leave San Francisco, pack up and go back to Lovecraft, Massachusetts, to the family home, to Keyhouse. When Rendell is killed by a disgruntled student Rendell's eldest son, Tyler, can't help but wonder if his father always knew that something like this would happen. That there would come a time when he would no longer be able to protect them and Keyhouse would. That a Sam Lesser would enter their lives and ruin everything. Now a world away from the lives they led, Tyler, Kinsey, and Bode, have to decide who they'll be. This is a new start and going to the high school their father attended Tyler and Kinsey don't want to have the label of victim hanging around their necks. But when Sam Lesser breaks out of juvenile detention hellbent on finishing what he started with their father the Locke siblings realize their lives will forever be entwined with tragedy. Though they will choose if they are the victims or the victors, and the house will help. Because Keyhouse isn't just the family ancestral seat that prosperous locksmiths built... it's so much more as Bode soon discovers.

Bode has been finding keys about the house. These aren't just skeleton keys to open any door in the house, they are keys with specific and unique abilities. One key allows you to walk through a door and become a ghost, another will open a door to anywhere in the world so long as you can picture it in your mind. At first these keys seem a gift, but Sam knows about the keys too. How could a disturbed youth who's lived his whole life on the other side of the country know about the secrets of Keyhouse that even the Locke kids didn't know about? Echoes through time... When Rendell was Tyler's age he used the keys with his friends. He used them for fun. Then one day he decided to use them for personal gain. Everything changed. A dangerous creature was unleashed and Rendell knew one day there would be a reckoning. He didn't send his children to safety, he set them to a warzone and they were oblivious to their danger. Though surviving Sam Lesser's attack has made the Locke kids oddly ready for this otherworldly battle. They can wield the keys for good. With the help of their friends they will set right what their father set in motion all those years ago.

Who hasn't dreamt of living in a big Gothic mansion with magical keys that open doors? There's a magic to childhood where big houses are full of secrets to be uncovered and old keys could open a door to adventure. The Locke and Key series taps into these memories and fantasies of youth and revitalized in me my love of reading. I was having all these feels. I was flashing back to reading Judy Blume's Fudge-a-Mania and the Hatcher family's vacation to Maine where the house had the separate taps in the bathroom, just like in my house. Because the quirks and personalities of houses are something I've always reveled in when reading books. All these callbacks to my childhood and how Keyhouse only lets the young, those who will do no harm with it's powers, uncover it's magic just made me want to pack a bag and move to Lovecraft, no matter it's H.P. overtones. But there's also a darker magic, an adult nature to Locke and Key that is taking what we love and remember from our childhood and subverting it, making it for adult readers. This is the perfect tale of terror in my mind, the nostalgia of youth combined with the horrors of the real world and I wouldn't have it any other way.

What makes this series so unique is that all these fantastical and Cthulhu originated elements are secondary to the journey of the characters and one family's struggle to survive. You care so much about the characters that the fantastical elements are almost a side note, yet one that you readily accept without qualms because if one aspect of your story is so rooted in reality you can't help but accept the fantastical as real as well. Re-reading this series over the last week while getting ready to write this review I was struck by something I didn't notice while reading the series over the course of a month last summer and I really should have because I think it's why the series speaks so strongly to me. This series taps into the same storytelling elements of one of my favorite television series ever, Buffy the Vampire Slayer. Buffy had a way of making the fantastical monsters of the week be about the daily struggles of being a teen in high school. Here we have the magic of Keyhouse shining a light on the humanity and struggles of the Locke family. They are two sides of the same coin. This was really brought home to me in the epic final battle, which occurs after Prom, a more Buffy plot device I couldn't think of. Plus, Joe Hill's wiliness to indiscriminately kill characters we've come to know and love? What's more Buffy than that?

Though there is one aspect of the narrative I question and that's this somewhat blanket forgiveness of the baddies. Sam Lesser not only murdered Rendell Locke but indiscriminately murdered his own parents and anyone that helped him in his journey across the United States to finish off the Locke family and because he helps to warn of the ultimate evil that tricked him he's kind of given a free pass. Excuse me? One act of kindness doesn't make up for all the horrors wrought! What's more that "act of kindness" was more an act of revenge. He felt tricked and cheated and would do anything to bring down the person who destroyed him. So how can vengeance be kindness? It's self-serving and therefore not an act of benevolence and therefore Sam Lesser should burn in hell. Forever. And as for that ultimate evil? The fact that a very human person was corrupted by an elder god from H.P. Lovecraft's plain of Leng from the Cthulhu Mythos gives this other human a free pass? As said human, and can I say how hard this is to write without spoilers, lays dying they say that the evil was within them all along, the Lovecraftian creature just flipped a switch to make bad feel oh so good. But the evil was there all along! How does that warrant forgiveness? Yes, it's nice to think we, as humans, can be magnanimous in our ability to forgive, but someone responsible for killing forty-five teenagers in one night isn't worthy of any understanding OR forgiveness. It just sits wrong with me.

While I usually spend most reviews dissecting every aspect of the story the truth is with Locke and Key, more than any other series I've read, the art perfectly balances the narrative so that one without the other wouldn't be Locke and Key. Therefore I have to discuss Gabriel Rodriguez. He has a very detail oriented style, at first I was strongly reminded of this series my grade school library had. In it all the great classics were lovingly drawn out as comics in exacting detail to ensnare reluctant readers like myself. In fact, thanks to these comics I am far more knowledgeable with regards to the plays of Shakespeare and the great classics of literature than I should be. The thing is that while that art style captured my imagination as a child my personal aesthetics have changed over time, so while I admire those capable of that level of detail, the watercolors of Tyler Crook in Harrow County, or Sean Phillips's work from Fatale to Criminal, have mood-oriented styles I can't help but adore. Rodriguez therefore had to overcome my own artistic prejudices and it literally only took a few pages. What makes Rodriguez stand out is his ability to not only draw amazing and lifelike detail but he is able to capture familial resemblances. So much of this comic is the dynamic relationships of the Locke family, and by God, you can tell they are related. Not just siblings, but ancestors, and parents. This is a feat that I don't think enough people applaud. Rodriguez's abilities are what make these characters real people and makes me pity the casting directors at Netflix as they work on the upcoming adaptation.

After leaving a book or television show behind they linger in your imagination but there is rarely something tangible that you can hold onto in the real world. As shows like Game of Thrones and Doctor Who and the fandoms that surround them have become bigger and more and more popular this isn't really the case anymore. There are prop replicas and tie-ins aplenty. Yes, I do personally have an Orb of Thesulah and it does make a rather nice paperweight, but there's a part of me that longs for books to have this same rabid fandom that television shows do. There are certain authors that have inspired merchandise, such as Terry Pratchett, where you can get everything from currency to postage for Discworld, and believe me, I have both. So I was more than a little excited to discover that the world that Joe Hill and Gabriel Rodriguez have created with Locke and Key has developed such a rabid following that we have our own name, and yes, I consider myself one based on the number of Facebook groups I belong to to be a Keyhead. But what's more, thanks to the Skelton Crew Studio the keys are real. THE KEYS ARE REAL PEOPLE! So while I haven't found out how to properly work my Anywhere Key, just being able to hold it in my hand makes me so happy and makes this series that much more real.


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