Locke & Key: Keys to the Kingdom #1 (IDW Publishing)

Artist Gabriel Rodriguez channels Bill Watterson as novelist Joe Hill’s horror series aims its focus in on the Locke clan’s youngest member, Bode.


32 pgs., color; $3.99
(W : Joe Hill; A: Gabriel Rodriguez)
I’m coming late to the table, so to speak, for the much-heralded Locke & Key series written by novelist Joe Hill (Stephen King’s son) and drawn by Gabriel Rodriguez, but the good news is that it doesn’t matter (much). Keys to the Kingdom is the fourth story arc in the series about the Locke Family (Tyler, Kinsey and Bode Locke plus their Mom). After their father was murdered, they moved to Key House in Lovecraft, Massachusetts, both of which are aptly named. Key House is not only a cool old house that looks like it was designed for a classic horror film, but is also full of magic keys that allow the holders to do things like play with other people’s memories or turn themselves into animals. And can you think of a better setting for a horror story than a New England town named after one of the masters of the craft?
Keys to the Kingdom #1 focuses on Bode, youngest of the Locke children. Whenever the story is told from his point of view, the art is reminiscent of Calvin & Hobbes and that’s no accident: the issue is dedicated to Bill Watterson, who created that strip. It’s a good stylistic choice because Bode shares a lot of traits with Calvin, including self-sufficiency, boundless self-confidence and a tendency to spontaneous philosophizing which displays a wisdom beyond his tender years. He’s a role model for every kid who’s ever felt like an outsider because Bode is not self-conscious or unhappy about being alone: instead he’s strong-willed and articulate enough to tell his older pal Zack that he really would prefer to be alone with his own “weird thoughts” than join in the other kids’ games.
In this issue, Bode uses the animal key and is transformed into a sparrow (he was hoping for a silverback gorilla) and quickly discovers that the bird world is much more complicated than he thought. Zack (not really such a good pal) shadows him and uses the animal key to become a wolf and lead an attack on Bode’s siblings. You won’t believe how the two transformation stories work out, but it’s brilliant and totally convincing within the world of the series. This is the most literate comic I have read lately, and not only because of Bode’s philosophizing: the characters are complex and the story is really about family dynamics and an outsider kid learning to get along. Far from detracting from the horror and fantasy elements, this attention to characterization makes them more effective because it allows you to become emotionally invested in the story rather than thinking of the characters as disposable elements created to prop up the plot between horror effects.
The art is also great and the use of two distinct styles (when the story is not being told from Bode’s point of view, the panels are drawn in a more realistic, angular style) produces a sense of polyphony as if you are hearing the same story told from multiple viewpoints. The layouts produce a similar effect: each page consists of four vertical panels in the center superimposed over a splash page which provides a larger context for the action. You can check out a preview of Keys to the Kingdom at the artist’s web site, http://www2.gr.cl/?p=1656. | Sarah Boslaugh

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