Sunday, 2 March 2014

Locke & Key: Alpha & Omega

I don’t usually put spoiler warnings here but I’m making an exception with this. Locke & Key is a series that is at its best when it has the ability to shock and surprise. As such I’d firmly suggest reading the first five volumes before checking out what I have to say below. I won’t mention anything specific that happens in this collection, but I can’t make the same promise about the first five. You’ve been warned.

Alpha and Omega had a lot to achieve. As Locke & Key’s final (regular) arc it had to provide fitting resolutions for the main cast, explain the origins of the otherworldly Lovecraftian soul-stealers, give the dastardly Dodge his comeuppance, and dish out a few more facts about the mythology of the series. It also had to live up to the high standard set by volumes one to five and be generally compelling.

It was a tall order but the series did at least have seven issues to tell its story in. That was one more than normal.

Happily Locke & Key here gets the ending it deserved. Joe Hill’s inventive streak is alive and well, firing out revelations and one or two final keys. His knack for writing empathetic characters is as apparent as ever, something easily overlooked with a series with such a wonderfully inventive central concept. Tyler and Bode-Dodge are particular highlights. The oldest Locke child has been taken from an impulsive, angry teenager grieving over his father’s death into a young man who thinks about and considers his actions across the course of the series. The way he’s written here shows how good a job Hill’s done at progressing him, and it was so natural that it wasn’t immediately noticeable.

Dodge, still wearing the body of Bode, is impressive for an entirely different reason. As the character in the know he’s the one who gets all the infodumps and monologues. It’s information most readers will have been waiting to get for a long time and so needed to be included. It could have been forced and unnatural but Hill manages to make it compelling and natural dialogue. It’s an impressive accomplishment.

Gabriel Rodriguez is just as on form as his creative partner. The page which shows Dodge talking about bringing armies through the black gate, surrounded by at first dozens and then just a few possessed humans, is particularly good. It hints at the key powers we’ve never seen at the same time as creating an interesting visual for what would otherwise be a boring bit of prattle. Rodriguez is just as important when it comes to making those moments worthwhile as Hill.

It was the final additions to the mythology I was looking forward to most, being someone more interested in ideas than plot when reading comics. I wasn’t disappointed. Every plot gap you could want filled in is and the motives of the horrors from beyond are satisfyingly single-minded and depraved. Hill does his creation justice.

But with all of this said it was in many ways the story that mattered the most here. In addition to a fantastic concept Locke & key had given us a great story told in perfectly judged instalments across its previous five volumes. It all could have fallen apart in this volume had the story not delivered the proverbial goods. But it does. There’s a climactic battle with a logical reason for happening, Dodge meets an unpleasant end, and Ty gets one last farewell with his dad. What happens to Bode makes sense but it’s not something I’ll comment on here. The series needs to have some surprises for you to discover yourselves.

All in all Alpha & Omega is a great end to a great series. Thank you Joe Hill and Gabriel Rodriguez for giving us one of the best written series comicdom has ever had. What could have been a wonderful idea milked endlessly was instead something to look forward to and savour. It’s something that can be returned to again and again. It’s a fantastic accomplishment.

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