Locke & Key, Vol. 1
[Reading Challenge 2022]

Locke & Key, Vol. 1: Welcome to Lovecraft

by Joe Hill and Gabriel Rodriguez
IDW Publishing, 2008

[ Challenge # 21: A graphic novel or comic book. ]

Finished my Three-color mythology pick, Locke & Key. This was Vol. 1 of the series, but I don’t think I’ll be going on. I was eager to read it because of the Lovecraft associations, but aside from the name of the town it’s set in, there wasn’t much of the Mythos in there. It’s more of a supernatural thriller.

A high school guidance counselor is murdered by two of his former students and his wife and children traumatized, having had to hide from the killers and then attack them on their own. One teen attacker dies while the other has his face disfigured by the murdered man’s teen son, who bloodily bashes him with a brick. Afterwards they move cross country to a old Edwardian house in Massachusetts on its own private island which was in the late father’s family. The house is called Key House and the town, Lovecraft.

The house has special keys that unlock special doors, which, when you go through them, turn you into¬† someone or something else, or transport you somewhere else. A demonic woman living in the wellhouse wants one or more of the keys so she can get out of her supernatural prison and cajoles the youngest child into befriending her. Meanwhile, the crazy youth who planned the father’s murder escapes from jail and travels cross-country to seek the same keys from the family. And — surprise! — he had been cajoled by the demon lady in the wellhouse as well (sorry for the pun) because she had communicated with him out of a picture of it in the murdered teacher’s house!

The artwork was OK, if not as expressionistic as I wanted, and bloodier than I wanted. Too angular and stylized for my taste. The palette of subdued browns, golds, and blues was restful, but monotonous. I would have liked it used to convey emotion. The character design of the teen killers made them look supremely goofy, and in the case of the stalking teen, unsettling. He began to remind me of Mad Magazine’s gap-toothed mascot Alfred E. Neumann. Shortly after this came into my mind, there came a page showing him sitting on the steps of the high school, which is named William Gaines Academy! Gaines being the original publisher of Mad Magazine. I appreciated the in-joke, but know also a teen reader of this (it’s made to appeal to teens and YA) wouldn’t get it.

“What? Me worry?”

I thought the story lacking. It sounds like a good story in synopsis, but just wasn’t written well. Much of the dialogue sounded two guys were joking around as they wrote it, trying to sound edgy and flip, even as the things they were writing about — grief, PTSD, guilt, the fear of forever being a victim — were serious ones. It devalued the more heartfelt parts. For example, one of the teens who killed the father mentions twice that the mother used to bend over while she was packing groceries to show him her panties. I guess the purpose of this was to show he’s a gross teen psycho who makes things up, but as far as grossness goes, it’s a cheap shot. It served no purpose except to make the writers sound flip and edgy. The story wasn’t about this yucky dude who dies early. It’s about the family and the mysterious house.

There’s another cheap shot later when the demon lady, who has escaped the well, uses one of the magic keys to change her gender to male and quips, “Time to have clothing to fit balls again.” Like…what?

I don’t recommend this despite the hype.

(More of a Lovecraft connection comes into play later on in the series, when it turns it there is a “Plain of Leng” — an extradimensional space — beneath Key House that is full of demons, who are wont to possess teens and turn them into murderers. Which brought up, for me, the way Lovecraft’s Mythos has sunk its tentacles into modern horror and fantasy… not least because it’s copyright-free.)

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  1. […] the Mountains of Madness and the Plateau of Leng, which pops up in a recent graphic novel I read, Locke & Key, as “The Plain of Leng.” Many of Lovecraft’s locations make out-of-genre cameos […]

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