I have been trying to read more comic books and graphic novels. Locke & Key is a name that I keep hear coming up – it was included in a number of best of’s last year and is generally received with high acclaim. I have been fairly limited in my previous forays into the comic medium – sticking mostly to Vertigo titles, with the odd Dark Horse series (but only as tie-ins to Buffy, Firefly, and The Guild). So I was also interested to read Locke & Key as an introduction to IDW. I wasn’t disappointed.
It is true that I am part of that dismissive bunch of assholes who thought comic books were for people who didn’t really like to read – those that needed pictures rather than simply imagining the words in their head. How wrong was I! Comic books are awesome. Truth fact. The visual art is arguably more important than the words (of course this depends on what series you are reading – some, like Sandman love wordy panels). I have fallen in love with the art of comic books, especially particular artists such as Mark Buckingham (yes, complete hero worship of this man is at play here).
This really is some dark stuff. Following the murder of their father, the Locke family relocate to their family’s estate. Keyhouse, as it is known, is full of mystery and intrigue – and we’re never quite sure if it helps or hinders the Lockes. The youngest member of the family, Bode, is the first to discover one of the magic keys – the ghost key. Meanwhile, Bode also befriends a dark spirit in the well-house who tries to convince Bode to free her.
While the children try to deal with the grief associated with the tragic loss of their father, fitting in at a new school, and the general minefields that go along with being a kid or teenager, they also must navigate the peculiarities of their new home. They begin to find more and more magic keys that all have a special ability/purpose. But like any power, it can be abused. They must learn to use it productively while ensuring the power does not fall into the wrong hands.
This is complicated, of course, as they don’t know who the real enemy is. During their adventures, the Locke family deals with their own history, murder, violence, psychopaths, betrayal, alcoholism, homophobia, grief, sex, abusive relationships, and so on. It’s dark and it’s addictive.
Why you should all read Locke & Key
Amazing writing from Joe Hill and brilliant art by Gabriel Rodriguez, this multiple award winning series has it all. Maybe it is a cliché by now, but I love a good story involving things only children can see/fathom – the imagination of a child is always greater than an adult’s (and I like to think I have a rather large imagination these days – but I don’t force a blackout on the house and pretend I’m a secret agent anymore – what’s happened to me?! Am I boring now? My seven-year-old self would be so disappointed!).
I was already well and truly hooked by the fourth trade but I found a nice surprise waiting for me. The first issue of ‘Keys to the Kingdom’, ‘Sparrow’ is dedicated to Bill Watterson, creator of possibly my favourite comic ever (and one I have actually loved since I was a kid), Calvin and Hobbes. Every other set of facing pages is dedicated to Bode’s story – Bode has become a stand-in for Calvin, with stories that could easily have appeared in the legendary comic strip. The art also matches the style of Calvin and Hobbes. Every Watterson fan should give this series a go – while it is much, much darker in tone, it upholds the wonderful importance placed on imagination that permeates all of Watterson’s strips.
Moral stories can be the kind where you feel like they are trying to ram their beliefs down your throat and you’ll do anything to keep from swallowing them. Locke & Key is fortunately a moral tale that doesn’t labour the point too much. The reader understands the moral tales around the problems that come with power and that life’s problems can’t just be fixed with magic (I know, it sucks, but we have to deal with this fact and move on). Also, sometimes what you feel like you want at the time, might not be the best thing for you in the long run.
Kinsey is an awesome female character – for comics and for any creative medium. She has her own style, strength, and is very sure of who she is. Oh, and what else? She totally befriends the freaks. The way it should be. I also loved seeing such a strong female character that is also so flawed, and not ashamed of those flaws. She isn’t afraid to admit she has made a mistake or done something wrong. And this sensitive emotional stuff? It doesn’t make her any less awesome!
Verdict: Brilliant series – recommended for comic book lovers and virgins alike. You won’t be sorry.