Overview

Locke & Key #1

Review

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Locke & Key #1

Credits

  • Words: Joe Hill
  • Art: Gabriel Rodriguez
  • Inks: Gabriel Rodriguez
  • Colors: Jay Fotos
  • Story Title: N/A
  • Publisher: IDW Publishing
  • Price: $3.99
  • Release Date: Feb 21, 2007

Novelist Joe Hill was born Joseph Hillstrom King, the second child to world-renowned authors Stephen and Tabitha King, and now, a mere year after the king of Kings brought his own property, The Dark Tower, over to mainstream comics to the praise of critics everywhere (well, except from me, but I digress…), his son joins IDW to produce Locke & Key, and this time, the “King” involved is operating as creator and full-on scripter.  Following the success of his first horror novel, Heart-Shaped Box (named after the Nirvana song), Hill collaborates with co-creator and artist for the series, Gabriel Rodriguez, and what the duo put out is—come what may in later installments—the best first issue to a horror comic I have ever read.

What makes it so good?  The story begins during a day in the life of the eponymous Locke family, on vacation in West Coast Country, USA, renovating their small rural estate.  The  comic itself opens with a serene full-page splash, depicting the front door to said estate, a large “Welcome” mat laid before it.  A butterfly hovers beatifically over a small patch of wildflowers, the scene otherwise empty, a small brass knocker resting lifeless against the plain wood of the door.  And then the horror begins.

Quietly, surreally, appearing as though a part of some other introductory scene, a thing made for some far less dreadful tale, Hill and Rodriguez masterfully hook readers through both cheeks with the gentlest of care.  You hardly feel the pain.  Moving between past and present then, a trick as old as time and yet utilized to awesome effect here, the creators give an eerie authenticity to the proceeding events.  Whether sudden violence, heart-thumping tension, maudlin self-discovery, true mourning, offhand banter, or the beginnings of the epic side of the story, it all feels casual, everyday and genuine.  Which makes it, frankly, all the more terrifying.

Hill seems a natural at visual storytelling, not just managing a fabulous flow but also using the very tricks allowed by comics to enhance his overall plot.  The revelation of what’s shown versus what isn’t, and when, and even in what way—it’s all here.  Nothing complicated, but very, very clever.  And effective.  Moreover, Hill manages to use visual cues to put honest personality into his characters, even within the course of a single introductory issue.  The book focuses primarily on a singular and terrible event, and then its aftermath and the way in which the characters are moved into the positions the book needs them to be moved into.  And yet it all seems natural, and without ever becoming dense or burdensome, packing a precise ratio of character, plot, and ingenuity into an unbelievably cohesive whole.  The issue is so good, in fact, I’m nervous the follow-up can’t possibly match it.

Gabriel Rodriguez may be as much to blame for this expectation-raising beginning, and I’m inclined to believe he is.  His layouts are superb, his composition pitch-perfect for every moment.  There’s something inordinately appealing to Rodriguez’s character expressions, their postures, his take on action and scenes of dramatic impact.  He never comes across as kitschy, though his style is indelibly that of a comic book: a rare nuance to achieve.  The horror is gripping, the quieter scenes engrossing.

As I described the opening page in detail earlier, so now I’ll mention the book’s final page: it’s a mirror image, or rather, a through-the-looking-glass dark cousin thereof.  And the point: the entire book is this carefully laid out.  Every moment made just so, to correspond and fit with the moment that came before and the moment to come after, often panel-to-panel.  Locke & Key #1 is one the most detailed and skillfully constructed—literally constructed—non-art-house comic books I’ve ever seen, and it should make everyone realize just what a horror comic can be, as opposed to a horror anything else.  The best of the best, and practically a manual on how to write a good first issue to an ongoing series.

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