Sunday, January 3, 2010

Locke & Key: Welcome to Lovecraft / Head Games

Locke & Key tells of Keyhouse, an unlikely New England mansion, with fantastic doors that transform all who dare to walk through them.... and home to a hate-filled and relentless creature that will not rest until it forces open the most terrible door of them all...! Acclaimed suspense novelist and New York Times best-selling author Joe Hill (Heart-Shaped Box) creates an all-new story of dark fantasy and wonder, with astounding artwork from Gabriel Rodriguez.

The Locke & Key mini-series have generated a spectacular buzz among fellow reviewers and I knew that I had to read it at some point. What better time than right now, while I am high on my horse and galloping through Comic Book Land. Goofy introductions aside, Joe Hill is a talked about name and although I had the barest sample of his work in The Living Dead anthology with J.J. Adams as an editor, Hill exerts a certain gravitational pull over me.

I decided against refreshing my memory prior to picking Welcome to Lovecraft and let the graphic novel surprise me. Surprised I was, because right from the start I was welcomed with a messy homicide, hints of a rape scene and Locke’s bloody retaliation after two juveniles attack them in their summer house. However Grendell Locke is dead and the Locke family moves to Lovecraft, Massachusetts to rebuild their lives. But dealing with grief is not easy, when done in Keyhouse, a house unlike any other and with a secret dweller, posing as Bode Locke’s [the youngest Locke] echo, but a more sinister nature and vicious intentions.

Joe Hill impressed me with Keyhouse as a concept. Old houses fascinate us as objects and sights. We have given them names back in the day and I am positive that this is a practice still kept alive around the globe. These manors and estates have their own history and we liken them to people, usually people of age. It’s quite natural to take this notion further and imagine that one such house has a special talent. Keyhouse is that special place with countless keys of unknown magic properties hidden inside the building and special doors than can change and transport its occupants. It can be both an adventure and a bear trap, stalking in the shadows and biding its time.

No concept is complete without the proper cast to drive the reader to the last page and charm him enough to fall in love with the ideas. As a reader I am more and more convinced that it’s all about the characters and the Locke clan is endearing and each member had something to offer to me emotionally to be hooked on how their personal fate would develop and how they as individuals dealt with their grief and adjusted to Lovecraft.

I have never been satisfied with children and teens as characters prior to Locke & Key, mainly due to the dissonance between what adolescents perceive and understand about their social environment and about what they are innocent and naïve to not grasp at all [with teens my main gripe is with maturity in general]. However the Locke children, especially Bode the youngest, didn’t trip any alarms and that certainly impressed me.

Then there is Sam Lesser. The opening issues portrayed him as a psychotic murderer and yet near the end, when his relations to the Locke family are revealed [also how he became what he is], I couldn’t remain cold hearted to him as a character. Unenviable personal tragedy marks Sam’s life and tragedy seems to be describe the Locke’s general condition, but Hill is sure to stray away from charted waters and adds new touches to this story archetype, which is still popular in pop culture.

Locke & Key sounds too good to be true right about now, so the pessimists are bound to say that the art department probably is below the writer’s skill. To those people I say nonsense, because Gabriel Rodriguez seems to have been commissioned by the comic book gods and has supplied the matching illustrations to enhance the experience from story and concept. My preferences towards the human face and body have been tainted by super hero comic art, where proportions and shape are driven to anatomical perfection and beyond. So I needed a few initial moments to warm up towards how Rodriguez portrayed people, but this is an issue I have as an art lover as far as comic books are considered. His skilled pencil has breathed life to Keyhouse and its scenic authenticity as well as the breathtaking key designs, which I hope that someday are crafted into actual keys.

Verdict: Bravo, I want more.

New York Times bestselling writer Joe Hill and artist Gabriel Rodriguez, the creators behind the acclaimed Locke & Key: Welcome to Lovecraft, return with the next chapter in the ongoing tale, Head Games. Following a shocking death that dredges up memories of their father's murder, Kinsey and Tyler Locke are thrown into choppy emotional waters, and turn to their new friend, Zack Wells, for support, little suspecting Zack's dark secret. Meanwhile, six-year-old Bode Locke tries to puzzle out the secret of the head key, and Uncle Duncan is jarred into the past by a disturbingly familiar face. Open your mind - the head games are just getting started!

According to my plans I should have stopped at Welcome to Lovecraft, but knowing a second volume existed proved too much of a temptation and I ended up picking Head Games almost immediately. This speaks ill for me as a person [weak willed junkie], but speaks tons about the creators and the quality work team Hill/Rodriguez provides.

Compared to Welcome to Lovecraft, the plot has slowed down a few notches in favor of character exploration and development. Sam Lesser is dead [or is he?] and the family is safe from any immediate physical harm. But that doesn’t mean they are out of the woods, because their world has been breached by a new threat masked as a friend: Zack. The young man immediately attaches himself to the Locke family as Tyler’s [the oldest] best friend and then seems to share a romantic moment with Kinsey. I am unwilling to go into details about his agenda and plans, but it’s for certain that bodies litter the ground after he has had his way.

I am not a person to give out spoilers [although I am tempted to], so my discussion of the plot ends here. This volume is tightly connected to the first. Each issue within these volumes have strong ties between each other for one detail mentioned in one issue resurfaces as valuable information in the upcoming ones. Everything is connected into a thick web and a proper discussion would mean spoiling all the fun. To me Hill’s creation is a mosaic, so I will leave you to discover its beauty on your own.

However I can talk all I want about the Head Key. Concept-wise Hill has pleasantly surprised me again and brought to existence an idea that has been bobbing up and down in my head for a while. What if you can open your head and put or take out whatever you please? Hill taps into teen mentality and brings to life a fantasy everybody had once or twice [or countless times] in their youth. I am talking about stuffing the learning material inside the cranium without the tedious hours involved in reading and studying or erasing those unpleasant aspects and memories, which make us think we are weak.

Wonder is paired with scare yet again. Sure, it’s a big thrill to have such a nifty key around, when the situation arises, however in ambitious hands the key can cause harm and pain and lead to broken lives and destroyed feelings. Nevertheless the Head Key has brought in some of the most intriguing scenes such as the interaction between Kinsey’s crying and her fear.

Head Games wouldn’t be the addictive read that it is, if Rodriguez wasn’t the designated artist for this project. As I mentioned above Locke & Key is the love-child of sophisticated story and imaginative and elegant art. I believe the concept, story and characters to be engaging, but they wouldn’t have invaded my imagination with any other artist commissioned to work with Hill. Rodriguez has a rich creative vision, which is responsible for a breathtaking visual of how an open head would look like and what the person’s inner world would resemble. Both creators enhance each other’s talent and even to those that are not comic book readers, I believe, this title will be an irresistible must-have.

Verdict: I am a big fan and I can’t wait to see what will happen in the next installment Crown of Shadows.


Alex J. Cavanaugh said...

Sounds intriguing!
The town's name of Lovecraft definitely caught my attention.

Harry Markov said...

Mine too. I never knew that there could be such a town in existence, but then again I am not so sure whether it is real or fictional.

Memory said...

I just read this book this morning and I agree--I want more! I've already requested the second book from my library.

Harry Markov said...

I am glad you liked it, but I think this is impossible not to like, if one is into the genre as a whole.

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