Book of the Month

Book of the Month – Locke and Key: Crown of Shadows

What did the
iFanboy
community think?

Written by Joe Hill
Art and cover by Gabriel Rodriguez

Size: 152 pages
Price: 24.99

Locke & Key is great and it almost snuck completely past me. It was almost off being great and having a wonderful life all on its own while I trudged through my day to day existence, never knowing what I was missing, never conceiving of all that fabulous times we could be having together.

What I mean by that is that, initially, Locke & Key totally slipped beneath my radar. Sure, I’d begun to hear rumblings about how good this book was early on, even right here on this website, but for the most part, I ignored them. It’s not that I’m against horror, I’m just ambivalent about the genre. I like some horror and I dislike other (most?) horror. It’s not a genre I seek out, is what I’m saying. But I will check it out if I hear it’s good.

And that’s where you fine people come in.

I will be forever grateful to the people of the iFanbase who voted for Locke & Key in our audience choice video show. Because without them I probably wouldn’t have read Locke & Key, and my comic book life would be much poorer for it. Sure, I probably would have gotten around to it eventually, but when you read and talk about comic books for a living the list of books that you’ll “probably get around to eventually” can be as long as your arm.

Published by IDW, and written by Joe Hill and drawn by Gabriel Rodriguez, Locke & Key: Crown of Shadows collects the third storyline of the series in an absolutely gorgeous hardcover. I don’t often talk about production, but these Locke & Key hardcovers are just beautifully produced (there’s a placeholder ribbon!), as are many of the prestige collections out of IDW Publishing.

As this is the third volume, we’re pretty deep into the story at this point, but for the uninitiated here’s a quick recap. Tragedy strikes the Locke family outside of San Francisco when two teenagers attack the family in their home. The father is murdered, the mother, Nina, beaten and raped, and the three children — oldest son Tyler, middle daughter Kinsey, and youngest son Bode — try desperately to stay hidden. Eventually, the Lockes turn the tables on their attackers — Tyler savagely beats one of the attackers, Sam Lesser, with a brick and Nina kills the second attacker with an axe.

In the aftermath of the attack they move across the country to Lovecraft, Massachusetts to the family estate called Keyhouse. Very quickly we find that not only are there magical keys hidden in Keyhouse that do magical things when placed in certain doors, but there are evil spirits lurking who want to possess those keys (these same evil spirits persuaded Sam Lesser to attack the Lockes in the first place).

The first volume, Welcome To Lovecraft, dealt primarily with setting the scene, introducing the characters, and the struggle over the Anywhere Key (which lets you walk through a door and come out the other side anywhere). The second volume, Head Games, saw the evil spirit take form and insinuate itself into the lives of the Lockes while trying to possess the Head Key (which lets you open up people’s heads and mess with their minds and memories).

In the third volume, Crown of Shadows, the cat and mouse game over who will find the magic keys between the Lockes (all of whom, at least in the beginning, don’t really seem to fully realize that they are in a life and death struggle over these keys) and the evil spirit — originally seen as The Girl in the Well, now appearing as cool, soul patched teenager Zack Wells, though his “secret name” is Dodge — has now turned towards the key that will open the mysterious Black Room. Opening the door that room seems to be Dodge’s ultimate goal.

Reading the last paragraph it occurs to me that from the outside looking in, Locke & Key can seem convoluted and confusing. But it’s not. At all. And that’s one of my favorite things about Locke & Key. Yes, there is a complex struggle over these keys that all look different and all do different things, but ultimately, as with any great story, Locke & Key is really about the people and in volume three that fact is clearer than ever.

One of the most interesting, and often heartbreaking things, about Locke & Key over these last three volumes has been watching how the characters have progressed after the incredibly traumatic incident that kicks off the first book. Each one has dealt with it in their own way. The oldest son Tyler has dealt with the hardship of suddenly finding himself the man in the family at too young of an age. Middle child Kinsey has struggled to find her identity, going from dreadlocks to cheerleader to a hippie-punk hybrid. In volume three she has finally seemed to have found her comfortable place in the world. Youngest son Bode is perhaps the most inscrutable. He’s young; perhaps too young too fully understand what’s going on with his family. But he’s also the Locke who seems to be the most in-tune with what’s going on in the house with the keys, even if he doesn’t really fully understand it. But the most heartbreaking of all is Nina, the mother. She has been on a slow and steady spiral into self-destruction ever since the attack. She drinks. She constantly drinks. As a result of all the booze and psychological pain she has wild mood swings and fights with her kids. Things got even worse for her in this volume and she broke my heart constantly.

Don’t get me wrong, Locke & Key: Crown of Shadows isn’t all arguing and bottles of booze being smashed into walls.

The second chapter (or “issue” if you prefer) is one of my favorite things that I’ve read in a while. In it, Kinsey and some friends from school go exploring an old underground military base near the school because one of the boys (who looks kind of like Spider Jerusalem and is crushing on Kinsey) saw her father’s name written on the wall deep underground. The area is off limits because the base now floods with water at high tide. Of course, it all goes wrong and the four friends get trapped and they have to figure out how to free themselves before they drown or freeze to death or both. There are no demons to defeat here, just regular people put in a bad situation trying to find their way to safety. It was riveting.

And in the action-packed climax, Dodge uses the aforementioned Crown of Shadows to turn all of the shadows of the house sentient so that they can attack the Lockes and try to get their keys, only to be thwarted by Tyler who uses a key of his own to become a giant so he can beat back the shadows (again, this sounds crazy and confusing, but it’s really not).

All of these emotional character moments and scenes of big time action are captured by the amazing Gabriel Rodriguez. It’s funny, way back on the video show where we talked about the first volume, Josh and I raved about Rodriguez and how he was one of the best artists working in comics. Well, he is much better now in the third volume. And the funny thing is that I didn’t even notice how much better he had gotten until I pulled volume one off the shelf to look up an old plot point. It’s not a dramatic improvement, it’s a subtle one, and that’s a good thing. Oftentimes, it’s the subtle improvements that make all the difference in comic book art.

Now we get to the writer, Joe Hill. Oftentimes, writers that come into comics from other mediums (in this case, novels) have a bit of a learning curve when it comes to comics, but not Joe Hill. He seemed to get it right off the bat. The thing that’s most impressive about Joe Hill is that he in addition to building fantastic characters and putting them through a believable emotional wringer, he is fantastic at mood and tone. Above all, Locke & Key is a creepy book; it’s much more unsettling than scary (which, let’s be honest, is really hard to do in comics). There is a pervasive feeling of dread that runs throughout Locke & Key that really sets the mood for the whole book. You just know that you can turn the page at any time and something bad is going to happen. And as a team, Joe Hill and Gabriel Rodriguez are fantastic together. As a new-ish comic book writer Joe Hill is downright economical with his words and he really lets Gabriel Rodriguez flex his muscles and tell the story. Crown of Shadows is chock full of fantastic usages of silent panels and beats. It’s really a wonderfully formed comic book from a craft standpoint.

I’ve gone nearly my entire review now hoping I’d be able to avoid the cliché but it seems appropriate now. Locke & Key is a horror comic for people who don’t like horror stories (and for those who do). It’s just a flat out great comic book that defies genre ghettoizing.

Conor Kilpatrick
I'm still creeped out by the Head Key
conor@ifanboy.com

 

or InstockTrades.

Comments

  1. vadamowens vadamowens says:

    I’m so glad you’re enjoying this.  It’s such a fun/creepy book.  Hopefully this can help spread the word.

  2. Shadz Shadz says:

    Great review, sir. 

    If this story was a rollercoaster ride book 3 was reaching the top and seeing that first big drop with a loop at the end.  It’s going to be great and scare the shit out of you.   

    I peeked at issue 1 of the next story arc (Keys to the Kingdom) and Gabriel Rodriguez seems to pay homage to Bill Watterson’s Calvin&Hobbes. That would make this the second book to do so this month (the other being Superman&Batman 75). Coincidence?

  3. The only bad thing about Locke and Key is having to wait another 6 months for the next hardcover.  Such a great series.

  4. scim says:

    I love this book. And its not just the hardcovers which look beautiful, the single issues are also beautiful printed on thick glossy paper with a tougher than normal cover often with embossed or foil-like features. I just love the story, it has so much mystery in it and the fact that you know who the (current?) bad guy is and how is inserted himself into their lives you as a reader are almost constantly put in situations where you say "Look out he is right (behind, next etc.) you!" The evil of that character, the mystery of the keys and the house and the characters itself makes this a highly enjoyable story for me. 

    The new storyline Kings to the Kingdom just started and art/layout wise this issue is brilliant, the new key Bode found is interesting as well. Can’t wait to see which direction the story is going in this arc. Its a series I highly recommend and after hearing its being turned into a TV show I cannot wait to see some of the scenes from the book translated to live action :)  

  5. stuclach stuclach says:

    I’m in favor of anything that defies Ghettoizing. 

  6. RazorEdge757 RazorEdge757 says:

    The mother got rapped?! I did not know that, maybe because I have only read the first trade. Now I need to go pick this and the second one up.

  7. s1lentslayer s1lentslayer says:

    I just finished reading this the other day. Love me some Locke and Key.

  8. Paul Montgomery PaulMontgomery (@fuzzytypewriter) says:

    The very best. 

  9. HerrStarr HerrStarr says:

    So great, and if you enjoy this series you really should add Heart-Shaped Box and Horns his prose novels to your stack, Hill is equally adept at telling stories without pictures.

  10. Spoons Spoons says:

    @RazorEdge

    SPOILER

    It is strongly implied in the first book and they just finally said so explicitly in the final issue of this arc. 

  11. skeets skeets says:

    hell yeah read this shit people

  12. Ruo21 Ruo21 says:

    WOOT WOOT. That last issue of the arc was amazing. Hopefully this will give the book a little bigger push.

  13. SpiderTitan SpiderTitan says:

    Finally Locke & Key gets Book Of The Month!!! This was def the best volume so far & I am drooling over what will be revealed with the Omega Key! I mean (SPOILERS) we see the Omega door, the dead corpse in the well & the Omega key appearing out of the father’s ashes, which also makes me wonder how that happen, did the father swallow the key to hide it from Dodge & it did not brun when he was cremated? either way I am so excited for Volume 4!!! I wonder if this series will be a long on-going series that may be conitnuous for years to come, or is it a limited series, & if it is when is the series supposed to end, like with which volume?

  14. Great to see Locke & Key get botm. It’s a great pairing of artist and writer and it hasn’t had a bad issue yet.

  15. odare77 says:

    I too read it in hardcovers, and I would attribute the discovery of this great book to this website.  I borrowed the first one from the library, but ended up buying it to keep and have kept up with it since.  The key idea wasn’t that intriguing to me when I first heard about it, but on reading the title each new discovery is fascinating.  Great pick.

  16. JesTr JesTr says:

    I picked up the first hardcover when it was first released and have been getting the single issues ever since.Each time I read an issue and think it can’t get any better Hill and Rodriguez prove me wrong and get better and better. I think my favorite issues to date are the very two Conor describes from this collection. Those are the one with Kinsey in the cave and the Tyler/Dodge show down, with the "BIG" epic battle issue being my favorite.

  17. Neb Neb says:

    This is series has been on my list to check out.  The problem is that there’s no room or money for it.  Someday….

  18. after this review and the other thread about the best current comics, convinced me to get into this series, i waked into the store and saw the first HC for $10 used. The universe spoke and now i’m gonna read. =)

  19. Doddsickle Doddsickle says:

    Gonna be picking up the 1st HC this weekend, I’ve heard nothing but praise for this book.

  20. The final/epilogue issues about "fixing broken things" (to be vague) was so saddening.

  21. this is one of my mustttttt reads and i have killed to get it ! or at least broken some fingers for it! 

    i’ve even had to slap my mama it so good . I’m not proud of that but I warned her. she gambled and lost on that one . and i will slap you if you don’t read it all and like . it’s for your own good . only you can stop your friends from reading bad comics . and locke & key is the gateway comic to get your friends hooked and turned into zombified cult followers of the good stuff .  

  22. Just burned through the first HC based on this review (yeah i work that way). Wow! what a great series…total page turner. I’m def going to get the rest including this one!!!

  23. iSpiderMan says:

    Strong story, writing & art. The only IDW book I get.

  24. blulew23 blulew23 says:

    Just finished the latest volume. Great read! This book is so good, my wife, who isn;t a comics fan has given me orders to pre-order every volume of this. 

  25. rjspring rjspring says:

    Been hearding very good things about this series, will be sure to pick up the first HC the next time I place an order at IST…  looks like the iFanbase has sold IST out of the current HC as of the time stamp of this post

  26. gruvenreuven gruvenreuven says:

    Amazing book… I blew through volume 1,2 & 3 in a day. The next day I made a B-line to my local comic shop to pick up vol 1 of "Keys to the Kingdom". (Vol 2 due out 20-Oct-10).  I’m hooked.. this series is that good

  27. vadamowens vadamowens says:

    Anybody who’s interested, they have v 1 & 2 of Locke & Key HC new, $5 a piece. http://www.fearlessreadersonline.com