Locke & Key Vol. 4: Keys to the Kingdom
written by Joe Hill
illustrated by Gabriel Rodriguez
It has become abundantly clear to me that Joe Hill and Gabriel Rodriguez are a dream team, because Locke & Key has turned into one of the best series I've ever read.
Where the first three volumes in this series offered a fairly conventional presentation in the storyline, a stellar presentation at that to be sure, the fourth volume really starts to play with the medium a bit and tries a couple new things. In the first chapter, Sparrow, there is a wink-and-nod to comic strips of old like Calvin and Hobbes and Peanuts, as the Locke & Key world is seen through the imaginative eyes of Bode. The latest key to reveal itself to the brave boy is one that seems to bring out the holder's animal spirit, which in Bode's case is a sparrow. Every kid dreams of flying and the wonder and terror of this reality is superbly captured.
While Bode gradually builds his confidence, Kinsey struggles to connect emotionally with Zach (Dodge in disguise), while Tyler struggles with depression as he places all of the family's burden squarely on his shoulders. The discipline they initially showed in handling and using the keys erodes with each issue it seems, as the temptation of such easy powers gets the better of them at times, plus Kinsey and Bode each become a little free-and-easy with their friends and spill secrets they shouldn't about the keys. "White" and "February" do a lot to show just how far the three Locke children have come since moving to Lovecraft, and how far they have fallen from their original quest to stop Dodge.
Things really get ratcheted up in this fourth volume and taken to places I didn't really expect, which has been great because the revelations that come about feel so organic that it's a wonder I didn't see them coming from the get-go. Kinsey, for instance, lets slip to her two best friends, Scot and Jamal, about the head key. The two boys already had a bit of tension between them as they both pine over Kinsey secretly, but when they start toying with their own minds, the weirdness goes to a whole new level.
Then there was the chapter called "February" that felt like a highlight reel of high adventure, with only snapshots of their increasingly frequent battles with Dodge and the monsters the evil specter can summon. That chapter alone proved to be a visual feast.
All of the chapters were candy for the eyeballs, really. Even the gruesomeness depicted in the climax of the final chapter "Detectives" was incredible. I have a hard time thinking of any series, graphic novel or otherwise, that has created such an otherworldly universe and kept its humanity through the three main characters so expertly. The first three books were great, but this fourth one was just stellar, and the way it leaves off heading into the fifth volume is tremendous. Despite the inevitable bellyaching over the violence and coarse language in the book, it would not surprise me to find these books being used as learning material in a school somewhere. If you want to read a classic before it's even completed, Locke & Key is it.