Review: Locke and Key: Head Games

ike 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


  1. These 2 arcs of Locke and Key have been some of the most refreshing comics I’ve read in a long time.  Incredible writing and unique art.

  2. Great review!  I love this series and am oh so very glad you do to.  Almost every single issue of this arc was my POTW or close to it.  Such a compelling read that I think everyone should give a shot.  And those hardcovers…just beautiful stuff.  I think issue #2 was probably my favorite of this arc.  Like you said, the rendering of the inside of Bode’s head is nothing short of brilliant.  I recommend everyone give this book a shot.

  3. I’m glad Locke & Key is finally getting some iFanboy love

  4. Good to see L & K on the front page! Great review.

  5. I had the exact same problem, i mean who could possibly be able to put this book down to use the ribbon.

  6. Good review!!! I bought the hardcover based on other reviews and loved it. So much in fact that I started buying the single issues of Head Games. I’m glad one of the iFanboy staff is reading this.

  7. The plan is to read the next arc in single issues. I didn’t get to the first hardcover until Head Games was already in progress. 

  8. As impressive as the hardcovers are, I love this series too much to pass up the singles when they come out.  Figure I’ll just have them all nicely bound together when the series wraps up.

  9. I’ve got the hardcover sitting on my to-read stack. I’m excited to get to it.

  10. hadn’t realized the second arc was collected. Must rob a bank for this!

  11. Hmm, I have a very light week of comics this week… hmmm… could I…? Should I…?

  12. Oh, I think so.  

    And if anybody hasn’t started the series yet, the first one’s out in paperback so it’s a perfect week to check it out.  

  13. I can’t think of another artist that literally scares me with the art. Not just creepy, but actually scary.

  14. Sounds good. This is on my radar for one of those "when I get the money" situations.

  15. I’ve got both arcs in singles (first printings, i’m awesome) and in HC. The HCs are gorgeous. I’m probably going to re-read the whole lot soon.

    Btw, it’s going to be a movie. 

  16. This series is always on the bubble for me, not because it’s bad, just that reading it in issues kind of leaves me, I don’t know, ambivilant, maybe. I’m still on board with the series, but will probably change up my reading habit and just do it all in one sitting – sounds like it’ll read better that way.

  17. I’ve been buying the HCs and loving them.  Excellent series.

  18. I just read the first trade last week.  It is incredible.  Thank you to everyone on the site who has suggested it.

    @Paul – Does this review contain spoilers? If so, I’m going to hold off until I get a chance to read vol. 2.

  19. Some mild spoilers. Come back and let us know when you’ve read volume 2!

  20. I will certainly do so.

  21. The first volume was good, but I felt like this arc surpassed it in every way. Been reading in issues since issue one and it reads fantastic in that format, the only painful part is the pause between arcs.

  22. I talk to Rodriguez on deviantart and he’s such a swell guy.  He’s doing a Clive Barker penned book now, and it’s fantastic.

    I love Locke and Key, and intend on collecting every hardcover they come out with.  The stories are refreshing, inventive, and easily accessible and relatable, while at the same time being fantastic.

    Possibly my favorite series out right now, besides The Damned, which is taking forever to come out. 

  23. I thankfully bought both of these in single issues, and this will probably be one series where I continue to get it in issues.  I have also got the hardcover for the first series and I will probably get the hardcover to this as well.  This is easily one of my favourite ongoing series right now.  Rodriguez’s art is spectacular and Hill’s story is amazing.  It really makes me want to check out Hill’s other books like Heart-Shaped Box.

  24. THe Locke and Key books are the only ones I can get my wife to read and she is already jonesing for the next hardback. This book has done what no other has been able to do. Maybe I can get her to pay for the next one?

  25. I picked up the first trade of Locke & Key a few weeks ago. For some reason, I’d thought this was a limited series, rather than a Hellboy/Umbrella Academy-style quasi-ongoing, and I was very happy to discover my error.

    What I love about this series is that the conceit of having multiple mystical keys allows Joe Hill to keep layering on new elements and new ideas, making the world increasingly more magical and more complex. The man has creativity to burn. And he’s not one of those all-too-common comic book writers with big ideas but lousy characterization. As you said, Paul, the small moments are among the best part of these books. Mr. Ridgeway, the literature/theater teacher, was only in one issue, but he was such a complex, well-developed character that his fate truly struck an emotional chord.

    I’m also hopping onto issues for the next volume. I can’t wait.