The Short Version: After a horrific home invasion kills their father, the Locke family retreats to their ancestral home across the country: Lovecraft, MA. But the past has not let them go, in more ways than one, and Key House turns out to be full of secrets of its own…
The Review: I’m on record as being an immense fan of Joe Hill. He’s got a bogglingly huge imagination, an equally big heart, and a pen that can somehow capture it all in prose that creates and captivates. But I only knew Joe through his novels – and that leaves a massive, gaping hole in his collected works, for Locke & Key ran from 2008 to 2013, a window of time that comes between his smash-bang debut (Heart-Shaped Box) and the novel where he really hit his stride, NOS4A2. (ed. note: this is not meant to denigrate Horns, which is an excellent novel in its own right – but I don’t think anyone would disagree that it doesn’t match the scope of his more recent work.) Not only that, people look to it as one of the best spooky graphic novel runs of recent history – and so what better way to kick off this year’s visit to The October Country?
Unsurprisingly, Hill delivers in spades. He brings his distinctive voice and imagination to the form in a way that I’ve seen few authors manage, even authors who use the form quite regularly. A Warren Ellis graphic novel reads differently than a Warren Ellis novel, even if they’re approaching the same topics and feel of-a-kind – but Joe’s work in this first volume of Locke & Key feels tremendously like it’s the exact same writer. What magic is this, that allows someone to work so easily and similarly in different forms? Perhaps there is a key for this, too.
I should also note that Gabriel Rodriguez’s art must have something to do with the evocative read. There’s something rather wonderful about his illustrations, which stand just to the side of reality while also making us feel like this is what we could look like inside a graphic novel. It’s what I imagine Ray Bradbury would’ve been doing if he were an illustrator instead of a novelist, if you’ll go with me on that one.
Rodriguez also does not shy away from the violence and darkness inherent in the story, including some pretty horrifying moments that include (but are not limited to) gunshot wounds, scissors to the neck, and an axe to the head. And the recurring image of a dead body, a body that gets dead of its own volition in a way.
See, Key House has (as you may’ve guessed) a whole bunch of keys that are somehow tied to it. These keys can, it seems, do all kinds of wondrously magical things – like free your spirit from your body, open a portal to anywhere, change your gender identity, and (I would assume) quite a bit more. The youngest Locke, Bode, discovers the first key (first for readers, anyway) and it’s the one that, when he uses it to open a door outside and walk through, sends his spirit out of his body, leaving a dead crumpled husk on the ground. It’s a harrowing image, even as Hill and Rodriguez keep things zipping along and regularly return Bode to his body with speed. But the harrowing image of his older sister raging at him for this prank and then returning to sit, worried and afraid, by the body… it’s a quietly potent scene, one of several in the collection, that does so much to build the psychological profiles of these characters.
We’re also given a classic villain character in Sam Lesser. We don’t quite understand why he attacked the Lockes in the first place or who it is he’s taking orders from… but man is he a twisted SOB. Welcome to Lovecraft functions very much as a sort of standalone adventure in the spirit of Cape Fear or any other assaulted-family narrative of its ilk, and I appreciated the fact that the book served both as an introduction and also a truly contained arc. Lesser’s relentless closing-in on the Lockes keeps the reader on the edge of their seat and it’s only after the book resolves (arguably even after it closes) that the other greater details introduced throughout really start to permeate the reader’s imagination. At that point, of course, it’s impossible not to want the next volume. I’m tempted to chuck the rest of my October Country reading list and just splurge on the next five volumes – it’s that good of an introduction.
Rating: 5+ out of 5. I really dug this introduction to the creepy, magical, and also totally-ordinarily-scary world of Lovecraft, MA and the Locke family. Hill’s storytelling is as strong as ever, even with the constraints of the comic form, and it’s matched perfectly by Gabriel Rodriguez’s artwork. The result is a gripping, scary, and captivating read – one that both stands on its own and also opens up so many questions and curiosities that you can’t help but need the next volume. My love for Joe Hill and his creepy imagination only keeps growing with everything that I read