It would be easy to dismiss Locke & Key as a competent re-telling of stories you’ve heard before. There’s a bunch of kids in a house filled with secrets, lost keys that unlock supernatural powers, magic that only children can see, a misunderstood spree killer, a mentally handicapped kid who can talk to ghosts, it never pays to be an adult who figures out what’s going on, and the town’s name is Lovecraft. If you’ve ever read a book or seen a movie or television show influenced by Stephen King or Neil Gaiman, the components of this story will be very familiar.
That said, with each additional volume, Locke & Key is becoming one of the best versions of that story ever published.
If it isn’t already, Locke & Key will undoubtedly be the next big series comic readers recommend to their friends who never read comics. Like Sandman, Watchmen, and other books that have gone on to achieve mainstream literary recognition, the biggest barrier to entry is the artwork. Gabriel Rodriguez’s action gets more fluid as the books progress, but the character designs are unremarkable and the panels lack depth. The style is reminiscent of old horror comics, which means some characters are just gross to look at. Combined with the slow pace of the introductory storyline, skeptical readers might conclude that the series is little more than a vanity project.
Then the Locke children discover a key that literally opens their minds, and middle-child Kinsey decides her life would be better off if she plucked the fear and sadness out of her head. Suddenly, it makes sense why this story had to be told in comic book form. As the kids discover more keys, the artwork becomes essential and more fantastic. Hill and Rodriguez hit their stride, building on their well-earned confidence to experiment with things like a stunning wordless action setpiece and a touching Bill Watterson tribute in later volumes.
Aside from Kinsey and her mother, the characters have yet to breathe beyond the flat backgrounds they appear in. And this far in, the villain’s success at out-maneuvering his opponents borders on unnecessary cruelty. But as a collaborative work of art, Locke & Key continues to get more impressive book by book. The elements it draws on may be clichéd, but no one’s thrown together everything and the kitchen sink like it.