We’re not rewinding very far here, to be honest, but the material we’re covering is required reading, boys and girls. Locke & Key began its run in 2008 with “Welcome to Lovecraft,” the first in a planned six arc story (we’re nearing the end now). Like its contemporary The Walking Dead, it quickly earned a reputation as a horror comic with more to offer than creepy art and a few choice scares. Written by Joe Hill (You might know him as the author of the novels Heart Shaped Box and Horns and the story collection 20th Century Ghosts; you might not know him as Stephen King’s kid. And before you ask, the answer is no. He’s not getting published because of who his Dad is. This guy has serious game.), it’s a series that’s at once whimsical and fantastically dark, funny and compellingly tragic. It’s a family saga, a haunted house story, a monster-movie style romp, a blood-drenched boyhood adventure and a fairy tale all rolled into one impossible to resist comic book package. Enter “Welcome to Lovecraft,” and enter a world no other comic has ever presented.
The Locke children are having a rough summer. Their father is dead at the hands of two kids he tried to help, they fought for their lives to avoid suffering the same fate, and now they’re moving with their mother and their Uncle Duncan to Keyhouse, a spooky old mansion in Massachusetts. The children each deal with the tragedy and subsequent upheaval in their own ways. Tyler, the eldest, spends most of his time brooding, as teenagers are prone to do. Kinsey, the middle child, changes her hair, withdraws into herself and replays the horror over and over. Only Bode, the youngest and most precocious, really takes the time to discover the true magic of their new home.
Keyhouse is more than just a big, spooky old house. It’s a big, spooky old house with keys that unlock strange doors that open on secrets. In Keyhouse there are doors that can change gender, change location, change everything, and Bode just happens to stumble upon one that kills him and allows his ghost to wander freely about the house until he’s ready to crawl back into his body and live again.
At first no one believes him, and everyone just assumes he’s pretending, but during these otherworldly wanderings, Bode finds something living in a well on the grounds, something that wants out, something that knows why their father died…
“Welcome to Lovecraft” is that rare story that manages to master the emotional chaos of its plot without sacrificing any of the fun of reading. The ebb and flow of grief mixed with confusion and even humor that dwells in each of the Locke kids is the kind of thing only a gifted writer can pull off, and Hill really does make it look easy. His characters suffer, but in the process of settling in to their new life they becoming endearing for more than just their status as victims. They become survivors, and then they become fighters, and it all happens so fluidly and organically that it hardly feels like someone wrote it at all. It just happens.
This is all heightened by outstanding art by Gabriel Rodriguez. The personality, the whimsy, the sense of playful darkness that he manages to convey in each panel is astounding, and yet he never works too hard to make things look realistic. The world of Lovecraft, Massachusetts is one where ghosts can be created and then banished in the span of a moment, where doors can open on strange new worlds, where monsters lurk in the depths, and it’s because of Rodriguez that we believe all that.
Put simply, Locke & Key is among the finest comics in publication right now, and “Welcome to Lovecraft” is one of the finest series debuts in years. It’s for horror fans, it’s for comics fans, and it’s for people who want to get excited about comic books again. If you fall into any of those categories, this isn’t a book you should miss.