written by Joe Hill and drawn by Gabriel Rodriguez
Published by IDW
Now this is how you do the first issue of a comic. The introduction is heavy and powerful and its’ suspense is far too good for me to ruin here. But the tone is masterfully set within a very few pages and the characters establish themselves immediately.
The story follows the Locke family as they return to their traditional family home, a rambling mansion in Massachusetts called Keyhouse. The three children set off to explore and it doesn’t take the youngest Bode very long to discover a strange key that turns him into a ghost and lets him float around unseen. This is just the first of many keys and many mysteries that the old house holds.
The art is beyond exceptional, at first it appears to be cartoony and lighthearted and I thought perhaps unsuited to the darkness of the material, but the more I read (and particularly on the second reading) there is an ominous undertone to Rodriguez’s art that is perfect for this story. The expressions on his characters are amazing and he is very good at giving emotion to the eyes, which are large and expressive.
Rodriguez uses all sorts of great transitions from panel to panel, like he will show a bus pulling up and a character getting in it, as seen through the windscreen of the truck he had just hitched a ride in (and the body he left behind).
Hill’s dialogue is so sharp and true to the ages of the adults, teenagers and little kids. On rereading I realised just how dark and foreboding the story is. He plants lots of seeds that don’t pay off until later volumes but that combine to create depth and history to this world. Joe Hill hasn’t written a huge amount of comics (although he has published short stories and a couple of novels) but he uses the form like an old pro.
Locke & Key is published as a succession of six issue mini series that are then collected into trades (which is when I read them) this means that once they start on a new mini series they come out regularly, that the art is consistently great and not plagued by the pressure of monthly deadlines that cripple many comics. It’s also a story working towards a definitive end, I think it might be six books in total when it’s all wrapped up.
This is how I imagine the future of comics to be, great creators working on their own stories and characters, setting their own release schedule to suit their abilities to create great work (not an arbitrary monthly schedule) and controlling their intellectual property.
Should I read it? Without a doubt, this is outstandingly great comics, the sort you force on your non-comics reading friends to show them there’s more to it than tights and side-kicks.
Buy it? Oh yes. I started buying this in the trade paperback and it is the only book that I wish I had started in hard cover (because they come out sooner). I told my girlfriend that the she would love it, which she did and now she’s bought the over sized special edition hardcover. Buy it for yourself, give it to your friends, force it on random strangers in the street.