Wednesday, May 9, 2012

GN Review -- Locke & Key, v. 1: Welcome to Lovecraft / Joe Hill and Gabriel Rodriguez

I first ran across Locke and Key a few years ago, probably not long after it was first released.  I read it, and remember being vaguely impressed with it at the time, but then was soon lost to other superhero comics at the time.  Then I had a conversation with my youngest sister, who I asked if she would prefer any horror in her comic books.  She responded in the enthusiastic affirmative, and Locke and Key came back to mind.  I re-read the first volume, and it still packs as much of a wallop in a second reading as it ever did in the first.

Welcome to Lovecraft, the first volume of this series, deals with the events that bring the Locke clan to the family estate known as Keyhouse, located in Lovecraft, Massachusetts.  Having lived in San Francisco until the murder of their father, Rendell, by one of his students, Tyler, Kinsey, and Bode Locke, along with their mother Nina, travel across the country to the house to pick up and rebuild their lives.  Unfortunately, it seems the estate has other plans in store for the family, as Bode, the youngest child, discovers how to die and turn himself into a ghost by going through one of the doors.  Additionally, he begins having conversations with a voice in the old well on the estate grounds, which turns out to belong to a malevolent entity that seems to share a strange connection to the estate, and to Bode's father.

The entity, it turns out, is actively working to bring Rendell's murderer, Sam Lesser, across the country to the estate to finish the job he began with the rest of the family.  Having seen the entity, who we eventually come to know as Dodge, in a picture of the Keyhouse in Rendell's office, Sam was lured in by the promises of power and freedom Dodge offered, and allowed himself to be manipulated by the spirit.  Possessing intelligence but no empathy or moral compass, Sam murdered Locke on her behalf, and broke out of prison with Dodge's help.  His sudden arrival at Keyhouse causes the family to confront a demon from their past, and young Bode must decide whether or not to trust Dodge's word to save them.

To say this is an intense story would be a gross understatement.  It starts off with a murder, and is viciously replete with details.  We have gunshots, people being bludgeoned with bricks, and one person taking an axe to the back of his skull.  There's plenty of blood, tears, death, and grit teeth as Hill makes clear to the reader that this family is not ever safe.  Even if they may think they are, we are made at all times to know better, and to worry for them.

The children are the main characters, and their reactions to the past tragedy and present circumstances highlight their personalities as they try to deal with things.  Tyler would love to break down and lose it, or run off on his own and start his life anew, but he's trying hard to hold it together to give Bode a role model.  Kinsey, who sported a look and attitude that signified her disdain for what anyone else might think of her, is trying to look and act as normal as she can to avoid dealing with the questions and looks of her new classmates.  And Bode, being the youngest, takes escapism to the extreme as he explores the house, becomes a ghost, watches over his family, and converses with a voice in a well.

One particularly amusing/disturbing scene is a comic Bode draws for his teacher, describing his summer in a very truthful and upfront manner.

I've also heard more than one person call this series Lovecraftian, which I rather take issue with, based on this first arc.  It seems like they got hung up on the title, Welcome to Lovecraft, and decided that gave them leave to utilize the adjective without doing any research.  While I'm not the biggest aficionado of H.P. Lovecraft's works--I've maybe read slightly more than a dozen of his works--I've read enough and done enough research to know when the word is being misused.

Lovecraft's works involve, among other things, a horrible knowledge of humanity's insignificance in the universe, that either results in death or insanity for the protagonist.  This story involves a murder, possibly a haunted house, and a ghost or spirit that wants to manipulate and/or harm the family.  While there are some themes that touch on those mentioned in Lovecraft's works, the story itself is not (at least yet) Lovecraftian.  Hell, if anything, I'd say this story has more influence from Stephen King than Lovecraft, with the jailed murderer escaping with the help of an incorporeal entity.  Though I suppose calling this story "Kingian" or "Kingly" would sound a bit off for various reasons.

Artistically, it's hard not to stand in awe of Gabriel Rodriguez's work on this series.  The art is detailed, expressive, and just realistic enough to make you cringe in fear or unease for the hapless family.  The grisly scenes of violence are rendered with plenty of blood, but there's also a conveyance of viciousness, desperation, and a primitive struggle to survive that does just as good a job of making them intense as the gore.  There is also an unmistakable tone that comes with each character: Sam is remorselessly creepy, Ty is stoic but hurting beneath, and Nina is the picture of denial and desire to forget.  It's all done extremely well, and supports the narrative beautifully.

Overall, while I couldn't possibly recommend this series to kids, with all its blood, murder, and scenes that strongly indicate male-on-male fellatio, it's impossible to deny that this intense, disconcerting read is a delight for fans of the horror genre.  While I wouldn't call it Lovecraftian, I would say that it's still worth a read for anyone with a strong stomach, a love for scary storytelling, and an eye for good artwork.  Highly recommended.

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