Seven years, seven books, and we’re now one issue away from reading the end of easily one of the greatest Fantasy stories of the last ten years. If you consider what else has come out in that time, you’ll see this has been no small feat. But even very good things must come to an end, so we’re about to say goodbye to the Locke family and leave Lovecraft, Massachusetts. I finished rereading the series in part for Stainless Steel Droppings’s RIP VIII, but also in preparation for the end of the series. It’s impressive not only how well it holds up, but how much else there is to find.
Locke and Key, Joe Hill and Gabriel Rodriguez’s massive graphic novel, has followed the Locke family as they return to their ancestral home at Keyhouse in Lovecraft. They’ve been driven there after a shattering, at the time apparently senseless attack. A stunned collection of wounded individuals, the Lockes are trying to feel their way forward. In that haze of grief and trauma the youngest, Bode, befriends an echo of a spirit in the Wellhouse on the property, and begins discovering the keys.
Over the course of seven more books and two standalone stories, Hill and Rodriguez open spectacular doors throughout Keyhouse, and even in the characters themselves. We follow them as they piece together their family and try to find their way back into the world. Their struggle to bury the past is that much harder as they discover a dark force searching for one particular key to a very sinister door, deep in the caverns beneath Keyhouse.
Locke and Key is remarkably expansive in its treatment of concepts and ideas, reaching far back into the past and deep into the psyche of its characters for rich, masterful storytelling. Take particular notice of the subplot where Kinsey Locke removes her fear and sorrow, or the inner life of Bode’s friend Rufus Whedon. Hill explores very complex, emotional ground throughout the books, pushing all the way to the margins to fill this world with an amazing field of ideas. He’s able to go so far thanks in large part to Gabriel Rodriguez’s masterful artwork. A great example of where these artists merge is in the moment Bode shows Tyler and Kinsey the Head Key. As they look inside you could lose hours unpacking what’s going on in that panel.
Or better yet, take a moment to sample the kind of storytelling and artistry available throughout the series distilled and intensified in its two standalone issues. Grindhouse and Open the Moon follow stories outside of the main arc of Locke and Key. Though they reveal some of the keys and doors differently than when the Locke kids discover them, ultimately those moments don’t spoil the fullness of the rest of the series. What they do is present two facets Locke and Key excel at brilliantly. Grindhouse, the second of the two, shows the darker, pulpier side of the storytelling. Here Depression era gangsters attempt to take an earlier generation of the Locke family hostage and hole up at Keyhouse, only to discover true terror when the House is unleashed upon them. Hill and Rodriguez are in full EC comics heaven here, with all the Grand Guignol trappings. Follow that with Open the Moon, which tells a touching story of fatherly love for his sick son. This time Joe Hill gives us a story worthy of (and dedicated to) Ray Bradbury, while Rodriguez brings it to life with beautiful illustrations that evoke Winsor McCay’s Little Nemo in Slumberland.
All of that’s about to come to a close. In one more issue, those of us who have followed this series are going to slip off to a quiet corner and “absorb” those last moments (I think we’re going to be a bit weepy). We’re about to learn what finally happens to Tyler, Kinsey, Bode, and the rest. It’s going to be emotional for us; probably all we’ll be thinking about for a bit. It’ll be sad to see this series end, but in that good way that’s informed by the knowledge you’ve experienced something that’s going to stick with you for a very long time.