Like the first collection, this second hardcover volume of Locke & Key features one of those grandfatherly placeholder ribbons. This time it’s green (my favorite color along with clear and silver). I never once used it, as I was never willing to pause from reading until I’d reached the end of the book. That’s because creators Joe Hill and Gabriel Rodriquez are sort of cruel in their own unwillingness to relent from telling a captivating story.
The premise is simple enough. With each installment, we’re to be introduced to a new mystical key forged from the so-called “Whispering Iron” during the late 18th century. The modern day Locke family, descendants of the keys’ original creator, are slowly unraveling the truth behind the artifacts, just as a Voldemort-like villain called Dodge vies to collect them for himself. One key untethers your ghostly spirit from its physical host. Another opens doors to anywhere you’d like. A third key allows you to unlock a person’s head, inviting you to peer into their mind and tamper with their base of knowledge, precious memories included. Part of the fun of the series is witnessing the introduction of a simple tool (each key) and following Hill as he utilizes it in dozens of inventive ways. Sometimes for good. More often for evil. Mostly for mischief. If I were Hill, which I’m not (that would imply a grossly inappropriate conflict of interest), I’d have a bumper sticker which reads: “Keys don’t lobotomize people, androgynous lunatics from your past do.” For the record, that reference falls under the ‘evil’ category of things to do with a spooky old key.
I suggested up above there that if the villain were a Bertie Bott’s Every Flavor Bean he’d have an ash gray Voldemort tang to him. I think we’re both aware of the oddness of that sentence. Let’s not dwell on it anymore. If you’re a Harry Potter fan like yours (mostly) truly, you’ll probably see those shades of Tom Riddle as well. Much of the series’ mystery centers on a childhood friendship between Dodge and the late Rendell Locke. They appear in a photograph with other friends posing in their costumes for a production of The Tempest. Looking at this image I couldn’t help but think of those scenes of long-dead Hogwarts alumni, perhaps my favorite bits from that series. I can’t dismiss the character as a carbon copy though because he’s actually much more compelling. There’s little doubt that he’s more of an active threat, leaching into the lives of the Locke children, posing as a friend and confidant. If anything, Hill is improving upon the archetype.
The series features a fully developed ensemble as well, with Hill following not only the three Locke children, but their mother, uncle, and teachers. Even with all the big ideas and murder and mystery afoot, we have a furnished town with fully realized townsfolk, each with their own dark secrets and desires. The catalyst for great story is great characters. Wind them up just right, set them down in just the right position, and they’ll collide in just the right fashion. There’s a tremendous overarching plot, but the real draw are those small moments at breakfast or in those fears about the big exam.
Dismiss Gabriel Rodriguez’s pencils as cartoony at your own detriment. Not sure how the script read, but the guy composed the interior of a little boy’s boundless imagination within the confines of his open noggin and it looked exactly the way it should have. There’s something so matter-of-fact in the way he presents something scary. It’s almost emphasis through subtraction. The story is creepy enough on it own and attacking the page with jagged pencils and a gallon of ink would be overkill in this case. These two are speaking the same language and it feels like a match made in Hell. In the good way.
Here’s the thing. I don’t know of a better ongoing comics series at this particular moment. Perhaps someone, not naming names, gained access to the my skull by way of some antique key, plucked the other favorite books from my memory and stashed them in an old shoe box. As it is, we’ll simply say that Locke & Key is my favorite series on the market and I’m frothing for the next storyline to hit the stands. I’ve never wanted to rob someone’s head of their next story, but now that he’s presented the notion…
Paul Montgomery has a patronus and it’s a tree kangaroo. Find him on Twitter or contact him at firstname.lastname@example.org.