“Joe Hill is some kinda genius.” That was the thought I had after closing issue six of Locke & Key: Head Games. Hill, the author of the excellent novel Heart Shaped Box and the even-better collection 20th Century Ghosts, is fast becoming a juggernaut in the horror field. He could stick exclusively with prose and still make a big splash in the genre, but it is his most accomplished work to date is in the much-maligned field of comics.
The unique structure of Locke & Key is almost as revolutionary as the content. Hill has constructed each six issue mini-series to represent half of an “Act,” with the entire story being told in three acts. After each mini-series Hill and artist Gabriel Rodriguez take a little time off, preparing the next series. This allows the story to be told smoothly without the months of waiting that usually accompanies a monthly comic that falls behind schedule. The first collected edition Welcome To Lovecraft acts as a prologue to the story proper and will have you hooked in the first few pages.
There is a sense of whimsy and magic found in Locke & Key that might draw comparisons to lighter works but it is Hill’s reluctance to sugar-coat that places the series with more mature works like Pan’s Labyrinth or The Stand. There are some rough and chilling sequences here but the book’s supernatural elements coupled with Gabriel Rodriguez’s perfect “never-too-dark,” borderline “cartoony” art keep (at least in my opinion) the work accessible to even squeamish audiences.
There are great characters, creepy villains and even some touching moments but I think what I love most about the book is just the feeling of sheer “freshness.” There may have been stories (kind of) like this one before, but none of them were ever told in this way. The comic book format allows for a much bigger story, and gives Hill time to linger on smaller characters and plot lines that really allow the story to “pop.” Aside from being “some kinda genius” Hill must also be one hell of a juggler because the sprawling nature of the story never undercuts the overall feeling of suspense that nags at the reader on every page. This synthesis of great writing and art makes Locke & Key a totally unique and rewarding experience.
If you’ve never stepped foot in a comic book store in your life, that is no excuse. If you like horror or have any interest in a story well-told you should run down to your local comic shop and stock up on either the collected editions or the single issues. Oh and while you’re there get the first volume of Scalped…and The Boys….and Ex Machina…..okay, I’ll stop now.