Locke & Key Volume 3: Crown of Shadows reviewed

Rating 8.9/10

A mediocre Locke & Key is better than most other stories out there.

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Image: Locke & Key Volume 3: Crown of Shadows cover The third story arc in the 2009 British Fantasy Award winning and Eisner nominated series continues to impress, although for the first time in its release there is a weak link.

Review by Brian Herstig

Acclaimed suspense novelist and New York Times best-selling author Joe Hill (Heart-Shaped Box) has created an all-new story of dark fantasy and wonder: Locke & Key. Written by Hill and featuring astounding artwork from Gabriel Rodriguez (Clive Barker’s The Great and Secret Show, Beowulf), Locke & Key tells of Keyhouse, an unlikely New England mansion, with fantastic doors that transform all who dare to walk through them… and home to a hate-filled and relentless creature that will not rest until it forces open the most terrible door of them all…

If you are not familiar with the Locke & Key series, it is a limited edition graphic novel that is one of the best examples of the difference between  a comic book and a graphic novel. It all starts with Hill, an acclaimed and experienced writer. This is a series whose storyline could easily be a novel. The characters are real, flawed, and relatable. Despite being a fantasy, the actions and situations are surprising believable and feel like they could be occurring in the next town, or house, over. The compelling storyline set in motion in the first book of the series has started a series of events and actions that are constantly mined for deeper and deeper emotional (and visual) impact. Rodriguez is one of the top illustrators in the business and his drawings pair perfectly with Hills prose and add a depth and richness to not just the language and actions occurring, but the world being created.

One of the best things about Locke & Key as a whole is how it feels like it COULD be something that is happening right now. It lives just on the edge of believability. If only because, in some instances, we WANT to believe the fantasy places it goes to could be real. A key to open your brain and take out unwanted memories or emotions? A key that can take you through a door to anywhere you can imagine? But all of these flights of fancy are grounded in reality – as are the consequences of using them. The other thing that makes Locke & Key so compelling is the rich, and realistic, emotional component of the series. The main characters are a family whose father/husband has been mysteriously, and brutally, murdered. As a newly single mother tries to find a way to keep her family, and herself, going, she and her 3 children are horrifically attacked. The mother is beaten so badly that she uses a cane to walk and turns to alcohol to cope. The oldest son, a slacker to some degree before, becomes the man of the house, responsible for the welfare of the family and looking out for his younger brother. The daughter’s response to the senseless tragedy is to eliminate the emotion of fear from herself – but what are the implications of that in a teenager? And the youngest brother, still a child, is being protected by everyone from the strangeness going on around him. Between the family dynamics these situations impose, issues with high school, and a paranormal and fantastic new world opened to them, it’s no wonder the kids are screwed up.

This arc takes us deeper into the mystery of Keyhouse, the keys, and a possible otherworldly hand in what is happening. Unfortunately, it also has the first stumble of the series. Sadly, issue 4, Light of Day, takes a turn too far into fantasy with the discovery of a new key that creates a situation that feels unbelievable for an otherwise grounded series. Hill has created an increasing sense of foreboding throughout the series and in issue 4 begins to draw all of the evil together. This will require a huge response to drive it back and he veers into an area that probably sounded good in concept, and certainly has a very appealing visual nature to it, but ends up not fitting in with the tone of the series.

Locke & Key may take its first stumble, but a mediocre Locke & Key is better than most other stories out there. The illustrations (particularly in issue 2, which focuses on the Drowning Pool) continue to be top notch and the story and issues put forward by Hill are moved forward and deepened. Where else can you deal with a broken family, the emotional trauma and recovery from a brutal murder and attack, high school term papers, and what happens when you remove emotion from a teenager? The opening issue, The Haunting of Keyhouse, gives us some interesting hints about the malevolence behind everything, and the closing scenes of the final issue, Beyond Repair, offer a tantalizing hint of what is to come. Locke & Key is a limited edition series – meaning this is a story with a beginning, middle, and end. That end is coming and the fact that is not open ended, like Y and others before it, only adds to the excitement and plotting in a positive way.

In September FOX announced that Locke & Key would be made into a television series, to possibly debut in summer 2011. Producers will include Alex Kurtzman and Roberto Orci (LOST, Star Trek reboot), as well as Steven Spielberg and it will be written by Josh Friedman (Terminator: The Sarah Conner Chronicles). All of this is good. How they intend to turn a limited run graphic novel into a TV series remains to be seen. Will it veer away from the plot of the series (a la The Walking Dead, which originally hewed close to the graphic novels but towards the end of the season went off on its own direction)? Or will it stick to it and end up being a limited run series, more akin to a British television series (6 episodes for 4 or 5 seasons)? We’ll have to wait and see, but the pedigree of those involved is promising.

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