Review by Ian Keogh
The three teenage Locke children have moved with their mother to their dead father’s family mansion, and during the first Locke & Key Master Edition discovered keys opening doors to the impossible. They’re being tracked by a threat masquerading as a friend, and have the teenager’s sense of wonder and invulnerability as they explore. However, what ensures Locke and Key’s success is the day to day drama being as strong as the horror.
It’s something Joe Hill lets lapse to a degree, as over the first half of this second volume he provides what’s undoubtedly a virtuoso rush through an assortment of regular horror threats, giving full range to his imagination. With the benefit of hindsight Stranger Things appears to have taken a fair bit from Hill’s exploitation of teens in danger, and a chapter set in the caves beneath Lovecraft might have been adapted wholesale. However, the opening half concludes with one of the finest chapters of the entire series, focussing on Nina Locke crumbling under the strain of recent events both alone and in front of her children, yet Hill masterfully includes comedy moments despite the mood.
Gabriel Rodriguez proves his artistic worth again and again, his stunning adaptability highlighted here as he copes with every strange turn Hill throws at him. In the fifth chapter he switches from a sequence of full page illustrations of a battle between two giants to a crowded domestic scene setting up Nina’s collapse, and later there’s an accomplished Calvin and Hobbes pastiche, which is nowhere near as easy as those who don’t draw might imagine. Detail is his default, though, and every page is packed with effort.
In paperback the second half of this collection was published as Keys to the Kingdom, while the first half is Crown of Shadows. Having built the tension book by book, Hill now starts dropping the explanations. Zack Wells has been a regular supporting character, befriending the Locke children deceitfully with the aim of acquiring a key concealed in their house. Hill has ensured readers know what the cast doesn’t, and here he offers the full disclosure about Zack, As might be expected, it’s creatively horrifying, not least for the person discovering the truth being the least capable of doing anything about it. However, by the end Hill ensures events take an even more sinister turn.
While superhero publishers use their hardcovers as limited print run means of bilking as much money from their audience as possible, other publishers are more selective, only reissuing their more acclaimed publications in a luxury formats. This applies to Locke & Key, and anyone who likes their horror to be more than stalk and slash could do far worse than just head straight for these editions. Locke & Key concludes in Master Edition III.
The Keyhouse Compendium is an alternative formatting released to coincide with the TV series, and compiling all six volumes of the original series, and these can also be found as a slipcased set.