Locke & Key
Every year, there is a day marked on my calendar months in advance. The day where my frugal nature and love of comics comes to a perfect point. That day? Free Comic Book Day. One year I picked up the preview issue of Locke & Key, and it stood out as one of the stronger previews in the bunch. Of course, I had heard about the renowned comic series before, but it didn't catch my eye until then. A few months later, I saw someone selling the complete series in beautiful hardcovers for a steal, so I nabbed them and got much more than my money's worth.
The first thing that I should mention is that this comic is dark, and deceptively so. Joe Hill (aka the son of horror legend Stephen King) is not afraid to explore heavy themes in Locke & Key. The book hits the reader brutally, but doesn't just rely on violence and gore to do it. Instead, Hill pulls you in with strong relatable characters and steeps you sincerely in their tragedy. He places the reader with a family struggling to cope with grief and finding happiness where they can. In doing so, the shocking moments come with much more impact, since time is taken to flesh out the rich and unique cast.
The story itself is tight and expertly plotted. Hill approaches the story from both the protagonist and antagonist's point of view, showing the intricate back and forth of the characters. Hill then simultaneously walks the delicate line of unlocking the supernatural secrets of a mysterious house without leaving big obvious plot holes. This can be extremely difficult, and I credit Hill for managing an accessible but deep story with a lot of moving pieces.
Between the great characterization and careful plotting of the series, it's obvious that Hill was planning out this story for a very long time. Most comics on the market have rotating creators and tight deadlines to meet, but Locke & Key took another approach that lets it stand out. Joe Hill seemed to have approached Locke & Key like a novel, giving the book a richer and more satisfying feel than the issue by issue approach. It should be mentioned that I read this book back to back, which I think is important as waiting a few months between books would have been very frustrating.
Part of what made the book so deceptively dark is the art style. Now, don't get me wrong, Gabriel Rodriguez is a fantastic artist, and it's hard to imagine the book with any one else. That being said, the book tackles very mature themes, and Rodriguez's drawings tend to be a bit more cartoon-like than you would expect for that subject matter. I personally found that once I started reading the series, his art lined up well with the supernatural elements of the story. Rodriguez is a pretty cinematic artist, and turns pages that could have been boring talking head panels into dynamic interesting scenes. On top of that, Rodriguez's exciting action sequence from the Free Comic Book Day is what turned me onto the book in the first place.
Overall, Locke & Key went from a book I was easily going to pass up to one of the best plotted comics that I have on my shelf. I can easily see myself revisiting it, as starting the book almost demands I read through it in its entirety.
The series has garnered a lot of attention, and has spun off into its own board game. The series has also been considered for a television show, but was scrapped. As of last year, the series was announced to be adapted into a film trilogy from Universal Pictures.