Author: Joe Hill
Illustrator: Gabriel Rodriguez
Published: IDW Publishing (2008)
With a subtitle like "Welcome to Lovecraft," this first volume in Joe Hill's and Gabriel Rodriguez's Locke & Key series really sets up some expectations among horror fans. The name conjures some macabre and strange images, but for this graphic novel I think it's meant merely to provide some atmosphere to a noticeably shinier world than any H.P. Lovecraft ever created.
At it's heart, this is a story of a grieving family trying to come to terms with the murder of their father, Rendell Locke. As the guidance counselor for a disturbed teenager, Sam Lesser, Mr. Locke unwittingly sewed the seeds for his own death when Sam visited him at home and murdered him. Witnesses to the aftermath and nearly victims themselves, the three Locke children and their mother retreat to a small New England peninsula called Lovecraft. To a new home called Keyhouse, Rendell Locke's former home that's now cared for by his younger brother. Soon after arriving though, the youngest son, Bode, discovers the place has a mystique and history unknown to the rest of the family.
While the family is depicted at certain moments like a run-of-the-mill TV-movie cast, they come alive with each page and are very likable before long, which helps make it easy to root for them when things start going wrong. First, there's the strange "echo" at the bottom of the well in the well-house behind the main house, which befriends Bode and entices him to help get the spirit its freedom. Then, there's Keyhouse itself with a very strange door with an even stranger ability, a door that's one of many in the house. And then there's Sam Lesser who seeks to break out of prison in order to hunt down the rest of the Locke family for reasons that aren't merely his own.
I must admit to being thoroughly charmed by the artwork in this novel. Rodriguez adds an electric quality to the characters, resembling something between a conventional comic book character and a Rockwellian painting. The bloodier moments of the story come off as a bit glossier than you might expect for such gruesome scenes, but overall it really compliments the story and the characters.
As for Joe Hill's approach to developing each character, there's a lot left to explore but this is only the first volume, so there's plenty of time to dig deeper into their psyches. Bode is only a tyke and doesn't fully comprehend what's happened to his family, but he deals with it in his own way. His sister, Kinsey, is a bit angst-y and too Kristen Stewart at first but she comes around in no time to become sympathetic. The eldest kid, Tyler, is a bit harder to like at first because of his self-loathing because he blames himself over his father's death. Overtime, you appreciate his situation and what he does afterward is very sympaethic.
And while I didn't much care for the lead villain and its situation at the end of the novel, I can appreciate the twist and I am genuinely interested to see what happens in the second volume of Locke & Key. So, despite whatever flaws might exist with the book, it's easy for readers to immerse themselves in the world and get wrapped up in the mystery of Keyhouse and the Locke family's connection to it. And if nothing else, it's worth checking out for the splashy artwork.
I think there are two more volumes in this series, so I'll keep my fingers crossed that they can at least make par with this first volume.