Joe Hill impressed a lot of critics (though not me) with his debut novel, Heart-Shaped Box, and he impressed a lot of critics (including me) with his second novel, Horns. Unfortunately, Hill’s graphic novel series Locke & Key is not impressing the critics. It’s not even registering with them.
Or rather, the critics in the niche world of comics are taking note; the series has picked up some Eisner Awards and nominations and a British Fantasy Award in the category of Best Comic/Graphic Novel. This is wonderful, but it would be great if the mainstream folks would pay attention. Oh well. While the critics snooze on the job, Hill is quietly creating his best work yet.
As the story opens, we meet the Locke family: children Tyler, Kinsey, and Bode; mother Nina; and father Rendell– but don’t get too attached to Rendell, as he gets killed off a few pages later. A disturbed young man named Sam brutally murders his former teacher, and nearly succeeds in slaughtering the rest of the family. Sam escapes, and the grieving survivors escape across the country to Lovecraft, Massachusetts.
Which is dumb. Characters in horror novels ought to flee away from towns called Lovecraft, not toward them.
Lovecraft is home to the Locke family estate, Keyhouse, where the recently-deceased Rendell spent his childhood. Nina is too busy drowning her sorrows in a bottle to see that something is profoundly off-kilter in Keyhouse. High school senior Tyler is too haunted by guilt over his father’s death to notice the strangeness, and Kinsey is too busy trying to blend in at her new high school. But six-year-old Bode has discovered the keys that, when inserted in the right locks, deliver marvelous results; one of them, for instance, allows Bode’s spirit to fly around untethered to his body. And Bode has made a new friend here at Keyhouse. Too young to have seen The Ring, Bode does not realize that you must never, never make friends with ghost-girls who haunt wells.
Hill’s ongoing comic series (now up to four collected volumes and counting) is doing fresh and creative things. Hill started his career as a novelist with two perfectly respectable books, a ghost-story and a devil-story, but this is where his imagination is really taking off. The supernatural keys just keep getting cooler and cooler as the story progresses, and the malevolent shape-changing ghost haunting Keyhouse just keeps getting nastier and nastier. The characters are superb, the in-jokes are geeky (there are references to Arkham Asylum! and to Bone! and to Calvin and Hobbes!), and Gabriel Rodriguez’s art is lovely. These books are the best-kept secret in the horror and dark fantasy genres.
Check the WRL catalog for Locke & Key