Thursday, 25 August 2011

Locke & Key Vol.4: Keys To The Kingdom HC

Locke & Key is a horror / fantasy series written by Joe Hill, who is the son of Stephen King, and illustrated by Gabriel Rodriguez, who I’m sure comes from a good family, too.  The series is about the Locke kids, Tyler, Kinsey and Bode, who have recently moved to the Keyhouse in the town of Lovecraft, Massachusetts, along with their mother, where they keep finding magical keys.  These keys include the ‘Ghost Key’, which turns the user into a ghost, the ‘Head Key’, which allows the user to literally open the top of his or her head and insert knowledge (by putting in books, etc.) or remove memories and emotions, the ‘Anywhere Key’, which allows the user to travel anywhere they wish to go, and so on.  These keys have something to do with their late father, although we don’t know the full story behind the keys yet, and there is also some kind of demon, disguised as a teenage boy called Zack, who has befriended the Locke kids and is after the most powerful key of all, the ‘Omega Key’, which will open the black door and let through many more demons.  Or something like that.  This may or may not sound corny to you – I certainly think the title of the series, Locke & Key, is very corny, as is setting a horror series in a town called Lovecraft – but it is actually very well written, beautifully drawn, and it’s a series I would happily recommend to more or less anyone.

This fourth volume in the series introduces several more keys and offers a slight change of pace.  All six of the comics collected here continue the main storyline, but four of them are relatively self-contained, and Hill and Rodriguez use some of these issues to experiment with some new storytelling techniques.  The first issue, in which the youngest Locke sibling, Bode, discovers the ‘Beast Key’ and is transformed into a sparrow, is a tribute to Calvin and Hobbes creator Bill Watterson, with four panels on each page, sitting over a larger splash image, in the style of a newspaper strip.  Bode’s pages, at least, are drawn in a more cartoony style, with the last panel on each page containing some kind of a punchline, or at least a turning point in the story, and it’s a clever issue.  The second issue doesn’t really try anything new stylistically.  Here, Hill and Bode look at the issue of race, when Kinsey and Bode discover the ‘Skin Key’ and turn themselves black so that they can visit a black nursing home resident who knew their father but apparently dislikes white people.  This is a really good issue, and a tense one, too, as Zack also pays the nursing home a visit - with knives! - while the kids are there.  The third issue, entitled ‘February’, is another clever one, with the action taking place over the course of a month, with no more than a page or so given over to any one day of that month.  The scrapes that the kids get themselves into with various new keys are given no more than one (often amusing) panel each, with no explanation for what is going on, while the bulk of the story focuses on the negative effect that Kinsey’s experiments with the ‘Head Key’ have on her friends, and Tyler’s break-up with his girlfriend.  The fourth issue focuses on one of my favourite characters, Rufus, a mentally handicapped boy who is obsessed with war, and his toy soldiers.  Rufus, is seems, can see and talk to ghosts, and here he spends most of the issue talking to the ghost of the man who killed the Locke kids’ dad, who appears to him dressed as a soldier and tells him a few of Zack’s secrets.  Parts of this issue are made to look like an old war comic – a war comic in which the characters are Rufus, Bode and their toy soldiers (and a monkey, and a robot) – but most of the issue is made up of exposition.  Then we get to the two-part story that closes the book, in which the Locke kids finally discover that Zack is not all he seems to be, and the bloody, shocking ending left me very impatient to read the next volume, which probably won’t be out until next year.  All in all, this was another enjoyable volume in this enjoyable series.

Cost: This has a recommended retail price of £18.99 / $24.99.  It is currently available on Amazon for £10.82, but I bought my copy in my local comic shop – The Grinning Demon in Maidstone – several weeks ago now, and paid £20.00.  Yes, that’s right, I actually paid £1.01 more than the recommended retail price for this book, which isn’t like me at all, but the owner of my local comic shop is so bloody friendly that, when I saw this sitting on the shelves in there, on the day of its release, I just couldn’t resist it.  I do now feel a bit stupid for paying over the odds for this book, but I also feel good about supporting my local comic shop for a change, rather than a big – possibly evil – online retailer.  Mmm, I may have to rethink this ‘on the ration’ lark.  


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