Locke and Key: Welcome to Lovecraft by Joe Hill (author) & Gabriel Rodriguez (artist)
Psst. Hey, you. Yeah, you. You wanna see something really scary? Here. It’s the first volume of Joe Hill’s horror comic Locke and Key: Welcome to Lovecraft, the trade collection of the first six chapters in this story. The art is done by Gabriel Rodriguez. The volume is beautifully drawn, emotionally authentic and downright scary.
In the opening pages, a deranged student, Sam Lesser, savagely murders high school guidance counselor Rendell Locke. Only the quick thinking of Rendell’s children, Tyler, Kinsey and Bode, and their mother Nina’s ferocity, save them from the same fate. Now the wounded widow Nina and her brother-in-law Duncan have transplanted the family from northern California to the island of Lovecraft in Massachusetts, and the Locke family home, a place called Keyhouse.
The house has a forbidding quality, with its dark staircases, widow’s walks, wine cellars and a locked wellhouse. Within a few minutes of arrival, the youngest Locke, six-year-old Bode, finds a strange key. Later he learns by personal experience that this is the ghost key. While Tyler and Kinsey struggle with their trauma, Bode explores Keyhouse. Bode is the only one small enough to slip through the barred window and get into the wellhouse and he hears a voice from the well, an echo… almost.
Across the continent, the murderer Sam hears a disembodied voice that comes up from the stainless steel washbasin in his cell. Soon, he has escaped and is murdering his way east, drawn by the voice.
Hill blends true supernatural horror and the splatter-horror of the murders with the authentic emotional trauma the Locke family is feeling. Tyler was engaging in adolescent rebellion up to the moment of his father’s murder, literally. In addition to survivor guilt, he struggles with remorse over an offhanded comment he made to a fellow student before the attack. Kinsey, the middle child and an athlete (she runs track), tries to keep a low profile. “I don’t want to give people one more reason to stare at me,” she says. When she remembers the murder, she recalls her impulse to run and hide with Bode as cowardice, not seeing that it saved both their lives.
Nina is a strong, competent mother. When Bode does a drawing of himself becoming a ghost at school, and says he hopes he’ll meet his father, she handles this with imagination and compassion. In a later scene she figures out that Kinsey has eavesdropped on a conversation. The frame after that confrontation captures Nina’s struggle; hugging her daughter close, one hand gripping the neck of the wine bottle. Nina is self-medicating.
Bode is manipulated by the thing in the well, and he isn’t the only one. So is the murderer Sam.
Kinsey’s track coach, Ellie Whedon, who grew up in Lovecraft like the Locke brothers, gives the readers some clues about the nature of Keyhouse and of the keys themselves, and the thing in the well tells Bode about the Anywhere Key, that lets you unlock any door and step into anywhere you want. Rendell or someone has cleverly hidden the Anywhere Key in plain sight. Soon, the Locke family is under attack again, from Sam and the thing in the well.
Welcome to Lovecraft resolves this part of the story completely, and lays the foundation for a longer, complex tale of good and evil, secret histories and magical artifacts. The thing in the well is no longer in the well, and it has a plan. At the end of this volume, Bode has found another key, one with a skull on it.
The dialogue is well-written and believable. Hill pays some homage to other storytellers along the way. Tyler and Sam attend the William Gaines Academy, and Gaines was the publisher of Entertaining Comics and Mad Magazine. Ellie Whedon’s last name has to be a nod to Joss Whedon, and a fisherman sails a boat called the Kelly Link, after the master fantasist by the same name.
The writing is wonderful, and the art is beautiful. Gabriel Rodriguez’s images shimmer. He makes use of large eyes, almost manga-style, to depict the innocence of the Locke children, especially Bode. Part of the story is unwritten, carried in the images, like the disturbing resemblance of Tyler to his father. I can’t believe that isn’t going to come into play later in the story. The somber autumnal colors of the book add gravity, beauty and fear.
The bottom frame on page 57, with Bode prancing on the lip of the well, conveys without words his innocence and lack of fear, and contrasts later with the frame on page 110. Bode’s eyes are lit from an external light source – and so are the eyes of the thing climbing out the well.
The difference between 5 stars for me and 4.5 stars is often a difference of details, and as beautiful as the art is, I had trouble with it in a few places. In the sequence at the funeral parlor, Tyler has a flashback. I didn’t know for a couple of frames that the adult sitting next to him was his Uncle Duncan, and I didn’t understand who the little boy was, either. Much later in the book, Sam kills the captain of the fishing boat. I cannot grasp the mechanics of that death, from where they are standing to where the body seems to end up. Then there is that jar of fireflies. These are minor things but they distracted me from the powerful images and the compelling story.
Buy Welcome to Lovecraft. Read it. Savor the beautiful, and gory, artwork. This is a work of horror, so beauty is relative in a book in which the human villain kills at least fourteen people that we see, in a book where a six year old dreams of seeing his father’s face after the fatal gunshot to the head. Still, it’s a mesmerizing opening. I plan to read more Locke and Key, immediately.