Sunday, May 13, 2012

GN Review -- Locke and Key, v. 2: Head Games / Joe Hill and Gabriel Rodriguez

While it isn't my intention to just constantly review titles that aren't for children--it's coincidence, I swear!--it really is noteworthy to mention Locke and Key again for its sheer narrative appeal.  I recently got a hold of volume 2, entitled Head Games, and figured I'd put it in the pile of Things That Will Eventually Be Read and Reviewed.  Then I opened it up to glance at a few pages, and ended up sitting down to read the whole thing over the course of a little over an hour.

It was that good.

This arc of the Locke and Key saga focuses on the Head Key, which Bode finds at the end of the previous volume.  He shows he siblings, Ty and Kinsey, how it can be used to add and remove things to and from one's head--literally.  Suddenly you have the ability to learn any subject or skill instantaneously, or to remove bad feelings or fears.  Keeping this a secret proves too big a task, and Ty brings two classmates, Jordan Gates and Zack Wells--who is actually the evil entity Dodge, who's managed to switch to a male body with the help of another of Keyhouse's keys.  Jordan freaks out and runs away, but Zack-Dodge feigns awe and wonder, and gets the siblings to trust him before secretly using the key to manipulate those around him who might figure out who he is.

I have to give props to Joe Hill, who is proving highly adept at taking multiple plot threads and weaving them together in support of a larger narrative arc.  Dodge, who seems to have gotten away scot-free at the end of volume 1, turns out to have more than a few problems keeping anonymous, and must permanently stop the snooping of an old professor who has pieced his secret together.  This story takes up the entire first part of the narrative, complete with background on the professor, his relationship to Dodge and Rendell Locke, and his own concerns about what "Zack" might mean for the Locke kids.  It's a fascinating tale, the events of which help touch off the episode of the Head Key.

There are also plot threads involving Duncan Locke, who it turns out is gay; homophobia, directed at Duncan and his boyfriend by the ignorant townsfolk where he currently lives; Ellie Whedon's travails in keeping Dodge around as her "nephew," when it's made explicit that she had once been Dodge's lover; Kinsey's desire to not feel bad feelings; and Ty's desire for normalcy and companionship.  All of these elements have a part to play in shaping the overall narrative, and Hill handles them all in a way that fits together wonderfully.

While there's plenty of action and grim adventure in this story, there's also a sense of impending dread that permeates the entire narrative, and you get the idea that this is a saga that will continue to develop, shift, and change as the stakes get higher and higher for everyone.  The Locke children are basically set up as the protagonists, and the slippery Dodge is obviously the main antagonist, even though they don't realize it yet.  It makes for compelling reading, with plenty of murder, mayhem, and malice sprinkled throughout.

Gabriel Rodriguez continues to knock it out of the park with his art on this series, rendering characters, settings, and details in a clear, at times viscerally expressive style.  He takes things a step further by putting down his process to drawing the pages of Locke and Key in a detailed essay and exhibition.  It's highly educational and insightful, and gives a good idea of how involved the process of penciling, inking, detailing, and editing just one page of a comic can be.  Throw in the fact that most comics are twenty-two pages every month, and it really hammers home the message that there's more to drawing comics than picking up a pencil and doodling.

Overall, I would currently rank Locke and Key as one of the most compelling comics out there, adult or otherwise, that leaves you wanting to know what happens next when you finish each volume.  Head Games has definitely maintained this feeling, with tight storytelling, great artwork, and a cliffhanger that leaves you wondering what will happen now.  Highly recommended.

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