I recently read the fifth volume of Joe Hill’s graphic novel saga, Locke and Key. Hill is the son of Stephen King, and like King he tends to write on dark subjects. But King has never written a graphic novel, and in this way Hill has managed to one-up his prolific dad – Locke and Key is a masterpiece that blends complex, compelling storytelling with beautifully detailed art by Gabriel Rodriguez.
The first volume of Locke and Key, titled Welcome to Lovecraft, shows that the Locke family has just suffered a major loss. Rendell Locke, the reader sees, was violently murdered by two young men. The rest of the family is lucky to be alive. In other hands this kind of subject matter could turn lurid, but Hill and Rodriguez show us the family’s grief, and in so doing craft their characters into people the reader wants to root for.
For example, we’re shown the eldest Locke son, Tyler, at his father’s funeral. He stares in grief at the red urn holding his father’s ashes, then sits on a long bench in the funeral home hallway, while first one, than another of his high school acquaintances speak to him and make inane comments. As Tyler remembers an overheard conversation between his parents, the hallway changes to that of his home, and he sees a much younger self walking to his parents’ doorway. Then the hallway is once again in the funeral home, his uncle comes over and sits with him, and Tyler breaks down in tears.
Once the family has moved across the country from California back to the old Locke family home in Lovecraft, Massachusetts, we see that the middle sibling, Kinsey, is still reliving the time of the murder, when she held her younger brother tight up on the roof and hid from the killers behind a chimney. She bit her lip until it bled then, and when she remembers, she bites her lip until it bleeds again.
The grief of the youngest, Bode, is strikingly rendered in a panel that shows his reflection in that red crematory urn, holding the hands of his sister and brother. His face, drawn with large staring eyes, is the only one with features – his family’s reflections are distorted and their faces are blank. Bode says, “After my dad died, they put him in an oven and burned him up and stuck what was left in a jar. That’s called cream-making.”
Having made this family’s grief clear, Hill then introduces two tantalizing elements, the first magical key, and a spirit who lives in the wellhouse. As the reader discovers throughout the volumes of Locke and Key, there are many, many keys, and each one does something different. One makes you a giant, one turns you into a spirit, one changes your gender, one fixes what is broken – the list goes on and on. And that spirit in the wellhouse, it wants the keys, especially one key, the key to the Black Door.
Throughout the Locke and Key saga, Hill weaves an amazingly sophisticated tale involving the past of Rendell Locke, the patriarch who dies so quickly in the first volume, as well as the creators of the keys. As his children discover the magic keys, they also must fight the spirit who wants the keys, for the stakes are incredibly high. I myself eagerly await the last volume of Locke and Key, which comes out next year.
Has anyone else out there enjoyed Locke and Key? Any thoughts on the connection between Joe Hill and Stephen King? I welcome your comments!