Graphic Novel Review: Locke & Key by Joe Hill, Gabriel Rodriguez and Jay Fotos
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About Joe Hill: Joe Hill is the #1 New York Times bestselling author of Heart-Shaped Box, The Fireman, and Full Throttle. He won the Eisner Award for Best Writer for his long-running comic book series, Locke & Key, co-created with artist Gabriel Rodriguez. Much of his work has been adapted for movies and television. His second novel, Horns, was translated to film in 2014 and starred Daniel Radcliffe. His third novel, NOS4A2, is now a hit series on AMC, starring Zachary Quinto. The first season of Locke & Key was released on Netflix in early 2020 and became an overnight smash. His story, "In The Tall Grass," co-written with Stephen King, was made into a feature for Netflix, and became a mind-bending cult horror sensation. Most recently, Hill has returned to graphic novels -- his latest comics include Basketful of Heads and Plunge for D.C., and Dying is Easy for IDW.
Locke & Key exceeded my expectations. In a big way. I can see it becoming one of my all-time favorite graphic novels. With stunning art, an engrossing plot, and relatable characters, it tells more than just a horror story. It goes much deeper than that. It's an excellent book about family, grief, and growing up.
The story follows Locke siblings Tyler, Kinsey, and little Bode, who return to Keyhouse Manor, their ancestral home, after the murder of their father. Keyhouse is a place unlike any other, filled with doors and the magical keys that open them. There's also a malevolent presence that will stop at nothing in its quest for the Omega Key. I don't want to spoil the story but the entity has shape-shifting gifts and uses them to enter siblings' lives, earn their trust, and hurt all those who may recognize it.
Keyhouse Manor hides many secrets. Keys help unlock them. Each key has magical power. The Anywhere Key, for example, opens a door to any place the bearer can visualize; the Shadow Key allows its wearer to control shadow creatures and even the shadows of other people. There are many keys hidden in the building, and discovering their powers makes Locke&Key addictive.
They also allow authors to tell something about how people experience grief. Kinsey uses Head Key to remove fear from her head (literally) and to cope with self-loathing. After a painful betrayal, Tyler uses Hercules Key to shield himself from his feelings and reinforce his macho attitude on an ice hockey rink. Bode, on the other hand, loves to roam the grounds of Keyhouse as a ghost (thanks to the Ghost Key).
In Hill's world, only children and teenagers can use keys. Adults can not see or experience their magic. Not directly. When kids graduate high school, they forget about magic. I suspect it's an allegory for many adults who trade their imagination for rationalization and, sometimes, resignation. As a result, the protagonists of Locke & Key struggle with many things. Growing up, relationships, finding their place in the world, but also grief. They were present and severely traumatized by the events that took their dad. They have to figure out how to move on.
Initially, they look at magic keys as a solution to their problems, but it does not work that way. You must face your emotions instead of taking shortcuts and numbing yourself. Shortcuts are often dangerous and the Locke siblings learn their lessons hard way.
Every single character in Locke and Key adds depth to the story and is well developed. Even side characters here have meaningful story arcs. This is both the result of Hill's writing style and the art of Gabriel Rodriguez, who does a good job of bringing out the characters' personalities.
So, the art. I loved it. It's glorious. Gabriel Rodriguez brings Keyhouse to life and dazzles with his skill. He somehow manages to change the scenery and go from fantastical and light to nightmarish in the blink of an eye. He fills the panels with humor or menace, depending on what is appropriate at the moment. The coloring by Jay Fotos accentuates the art.
CONCLUSION: I highly recommend Locke and Key to any reader. Even to those who have never read a graphic novel before. It just has it all. Portal magic, horrors coming from within the mind, characters you can empathize with, and a great story. It's much more than horror, it's a layered story about family and loss.