Locke & Key: Keys to the Kingdom #1-2

Written by Joe Hill
Art by Gabriel Rodriguez
32 pages, color
Published by IDW

I feel slightly late to the party with Locke & Key, now in its fourth 6-issue mini-series from IDW. I’ve been hearing great things about Joe Hill’s novels and short stories for a while now, and the praise didn’t stop when it came to his comics. But with so many comics, and already being way behind, I figured it wasn’t worth trying to dive in at the halfway point in a series scheduled to run 36 issues in all. A friend kept assuring me that I’d have no problem giving the new mini-series a try, though, and what I found was a book full of some truly creepy images.

Thanks to the inside front cover of the first two issues of Locke & Key: Keys to the Kingdom, there’s enough immediate back story given so that you’re not entirely lost. The basics are spelled out there—three siblings, the bad guy posing as their friend who was really their father’s killer, a mysterious house with keys that have powers—and the rest is easy to pick up based on context. I like the simple idea of a series of keys that each grant a different power, because the possibilities are near-endless. At the same time, based on just these two issues, Hill doesn’t go berserk with a zillion different keys all showing up at once. The first issue of Keys to the Kingdom deals with the Animal Key, allowing characters to become an animal that best shows their true nature; the second issue uses the Mirror Key to change your appearance, and the Head Key to enter someone’s mind. Each key shows up for a specific reason or purpose, and most importantly they never feel like a deus ex machina, which is an obvious and easy trap that Hill could have fallen into.

With each key in these two issues, they’re also there for part of a larger purpose. So while Dodge becoming a savage wolf and hunting the protagonists while Bode has to figure out how a sparrow can be useful is entertaining in an action movie sort of way, it also allows Hill to use this as a chance to show how the small can still defeat the large and powerful, and it gives us a glimpse into Bode’s character in general. Likewise, in the second issue, the Mirror Key pushes Bode and Kinsey into seeing the other side of the race card, and while some parts come across a little too earnest (like Kinsey wondering about the empty seat on the train), on the whole it fits into part of the larger story, a subtle reminder about appearance being deceiving even as she continues to unknowingly date her father’s killer.

Hill gives Gabriel Rodriguez a lot of great visuals to tackle, and Rodriguez is definitely up to the task. The first issue of Keys to the Kingdom will probably catch people’s eyes because of how every couple of pages Rodriguez shifts between his own style and that of Bill Watterson’s from Calvin and Hobbes (depending on the point of view being Dodge or Bode), but there’s more to it than just that. It’s a lot of the little things in Rodriguez’s art that caught my attention, like how Dodge almost skulks back through the door to transform into a human again, or the tears welling up in Tyler’s eyes when he’s talking about his father, even as he squints his eyes shut. And in the second issue, when Kinsey is running out of the hospital and dragging Bode behind her, you can feel their frantic nature as they run and trip through the snow. Likewise, Erin Voss’s struggle to talk to the Locke siblings is almost painful to look at; you can see in her eyes the desperation and need to articulate what she knows, even as she’s unable to do so. Rodriguez’s expressive characters help seal the deal with Locke & Key, and even if I wasn’t into the story I’d want to stick around for his art. My only complaint with his work is that sometimes characters seem slightly shrunken, but even then it feels more stylistic than any fault with his character designs.

Locke & Key: Keys to the Kingdom hooked me, pure and simple. Fortunately the three previous mini-series are all collected, so sooner or later I’m going to have to sit down and buy them to see exactly what happened before. I’m glad that until that happens, though, Keys to the Kingdom is doing a good enough job on its own of keeping me entertained. And while I’m at it, I suppose it’s time to finally read some of Hill’s prose. Since the same people who have talked about his comics are also fans of them, well, I should take the hint, right? Between American Vampire and Locke & Key, it’s nice to have some new horror comics to keep me properly creeped out.

Purchase Links (Vol. 1): Amazon.com | Powell’s Books
Purchase Links (Vol. 2): Amazon.com | Powell’s Books
Purchase Links (Vol. 3): Amazon.com | Powell’s Books

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