Sunday, 1 September 2013

Locke & Key: Keys to the Kingdom

After three six issue series readers were still keen for more Locke & Key. Joe Hill and Gabriel Rodriguez were happy to give it to them. But they altered their approach a little to keep it fresh.

Keys to the Kingdom is far more experimental with what Locke & Key can be than any of the first three volumes, both in terms of writing and artwork. The first issue sees Rodriguez channelling Calvin and Hobbes creator Bill Watterson for a story that plays with the idea of how we view things differently as we age. Youngest Locke child Bode gets the Watterson treatment as he feels left out by his siblings and unable to connect with children his own age. It’s a nice self-contained story that contributes to the whole as well as serving as a reminder for the main characters of the series. The different approach to the artwork is a welcome change and shows how talented an artist Rodriguez is.

The third issue also presents a non-traditional script. We follow the Locke kids’ adventures throughout a calendar month, each day getting anywhere from a panel to a page dedicated to it. Hill uses this as a chance to show the passage of time in a way that only comics can, and subtly moves his story and characters along too. It’s not a mind-blowing approach, but it’s something different and something that Hill utilises to full effect.

Hill is also far more willing to play around with the concept of the keys than he has been before. Previously he introduced keys almost reluctantly, always making sure they weren’t used frivolously and ensuring he looked at the full scope of all the powers a new key introduced. With Keys to the Kingdom he introduces half a dozen new keys, many of which have powers that could support a mini-series in their own right. A mirror key allows people to change their ethnicity while a Mr T style medallion (naturally featuring a tell-tale keyhole) imbues wearers with incredible strength and we get a tantalising glimpse of Kinsey gliding around with wings sprouted from her back.

In addition to those Hill also throws in some throwaway keys clearly intended to be humorous. We see a monster made from thorns and another made from chains, the latter being battled by a muscular Bode, an acorn key that has a strange effect on squirrels, and a teddy bear with an intriguing lock in the back of its neck. There’s a sense of fun to it all and you get the feeling that Hill finally feels comfortable to play around with his creation after getting his characters and the rest of the book’s mythology established. It was worth waiting for.

Previous volumes are not ignored and there’s no sense of this being the volume where Hill and Rodriguez slow down and decide to milk their creation. Along with the fun and interesting keys we also get more developments and revelations regarding the main story than we have in any previous volume. Dodge reveals his true nature in the closing moments of the sixth issue and the volume ends on a cliffhanger that plays on everything that’s gone before it beautifully. I shan’t spoil what it is here.

With its fourth volume Locke & Key continues to prove why it is one of the greatest comic books of the century. It’s a ceaseless parade of captivating ideas blended with a gripping story and really natural dialogue. It’s so well written that it almost makes you hope Hill and Rodriguez will renege on their promise to wrap the main story up after the sixth volume.

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