Monday, October 21, 2013

Locke and Key by Joe Hill

Locke and Key is the Eisner-award winning series written by Joe Hill (son of horror writer Stephen King) and illustrated by Gabriel Rodriguez (who has also collaborated with Clive Barker). It is by far my favorite horror series and it concludes at the end of this month. Locke and Key follows the Locke family – Bode, Kinsey, and Tyler – as they move with their mom (Nina) to the Keyhouse in Lovecraft, Massachusetts following the murder of their father. The Keyhouse is a sprawling New England mansion under the care of their Uncle Duncan, and it’s replete with a mysterious well-house, various rooms, and magical doors. Locke and Key is collected into five volumes so far: Welcome to Lovecraft, Head Games, Crown of Shadows, Keys to the Kingdom, and Clockworks. The sixth and final volume comes out early next year. As the series progresses, Bode, Kinsey, and Tyler learn more about the history of the house, and about the “something evil” that has returned to haunt the Locke family once again.

It is impossible not to note the focus on horror in Locke and Key, even if just observing the backgrounds of the writer and illustration: Joe Hill is the son of horror writer Stephen King, and Gabriel Rodriguez has collaborated with noted horror writer Clive Barker. It is genuinely scary, and that makes it even more fun to read.

The series often depicts graphic violence that is reinforced by suspense and anticipation. The subject material is mature – Mr. Locke, the father of Bode, Kinsey, and Tyler, is murdered by an unhinged high school student at the beginning of the story. His murder is, in part, a result of an offhand comment Tyler made at school about wishing someone would kill his father, one that will forever haunt him and wrack him with guilt.

But then there is also the strange spirit who haunts the bottom of the well in the well-house (a character later revealed as “Dodge”), who appeals to Bode in an attempt to free herself from her prison. She has no qualms about moving people like chess pieces, placing them in positions where they can do the most, and most horrific, harm. For example, she orchestrates the release of Sam Lesser, the teenager who murdered Mr. Locke, and his murder-spree that brings him to Lovecraft in Welcome to Lovecraft.

Keyhouse is in the fictional Lovecraft, Massachusetts, and Hill’s setting of the series is very deliberate. Massachusetts has a rich historical background; as the site of early American colonies, Hill has access to a historical context that goes back to the 1600s. He engages with this history through several flashbacks throughout the series, including to the Revolutionary War. Since the Locke family has always safeguarded Keyhouse, the characters that star in the flashbacks are distantly related to Bode, Kinsey, and Tyler. Their father, murdered in the beginning of the series, is the focus of a long arc set in the 1980s.

One interesting feature of the series is the introduction of a new key and its function as the story progresses. The Keyhouse is filled with keys, some hidden, some right out in the open. Bode finds many of the keys through his exploration of the house, however, Kinsey and Tyler pick up their share of keys as well. The keys also provide one of the key motivations of Dodge, the evil spirit who lives in the well-house. He/she (the spirit shifts between man and woman throughout the series) is searching for the Omega key, which will open “The Black Door” and release the evil inside.

In “Head Games” there is a Head Key that unlocks the back of the characters’ heads, and allows them to put things in and take things out. Kinsey is able to better deal with her grief and unhappiness by taking out everything that is making her sad, while Dodge uses the head key to remove old memories of himself from an older woman.

I have absolutely loved reading Locke and Key over the last few years, especially for Hill’s truly terrifying storytelling.

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