In addition to being a bestselling novelist and a noted award-winning short story writer, Joe Hill also happens to be the son of novelist Stephen King. I lead with this and feel guilty about it at the same time. Hill created his own name in order to establish his own identity. As soon as we found out, we start telling each other. As I said, I feel guilty, but I also know that letting the cat out of the bag, again, will draw more people to this review and hopefully pump up Hill’s sales. He deserves to be read. He has an intriguing mind and a unique way of looking at the dark corners in life.
Despite his paternity, Hill has crafted an existence for himself that’s just starting to take off. His novel, Heart-Shaped Box, leapt onto bestseller lists and latched hold of horror fans’ psyches in wild, delicious ways. His collection of short stories, 20th Century Ghosts, has won the Bram Stoker Award, the British Fantasy Award, and the International Horror Guild Award.
Now, along with artist Gabriel Rodriguez, Hill has staked out the comics medium with a new series called Locke & Key. The launch is a page-turning suspense story full of surprises. According to information that’s been released by IDW Publishing, this is going to be at least a six-issue monthly series. Hill has plans for at 68 issues of Keyhouse.
I really like the idea behind the house and the series. It focuses on kids, and the house has doors they can pass through that will change them. The power of the doors can change their age, race, and gender, and has a tendency to push people toward the evil we all carry around inside us.
The first issue is stunning. When I saw the blood-red cover with the old key so prominent, I didn’t at first see the house in the background. Once I saw the house, I couldn’t get it out of my mind. I just sat there for a moment, frozen, thinking about all the possibilities of the key and the house and all those doors. I think this is what still consumes me about the story.
The story begins quietly, almost innocently, but it quickly turns mean and hard-edged, which is one of the qualities of Hill’s writing. The story picks up with Sam Lesser and Al Grubb, two high school students that were counseled by Tyler Locke’s father, turning up at the Locke house. A single page of simple conversation with Mrs. Locke turns chilling when we see the weapons they’re packing.
On the next page, we get a full-page shot of a man and a woman lying dead in the back of a pickup truck. A bloody tarp barely covers them.
Hill plays with time in this first comic. He leaves us hanging, wanting desperately to turn the pages, but afraid of what we’re going to see at the same time. In four quick panels, we’re introduced to Tyler, Kinsey, and Bode Locke, who are evidently going to be our main characters throughout the comics.
Tyler is the brooding high school teen who resents his dad’s manipulation to get him to help paint the summerhouse. Kinsey is a pre-teen girl who seems to be the responsible one. Bode is the ever-curious and ever-daring kid who’s always getting into trouble and exploring. Rodriguez’s art is fantastic and really brings the characters and the environment around them to life while looking simple at the same time.
The panel of Mr. Locke coming home and surprising the teen killers is chilling. Then Hill cuts away to the funeral and we don’t know who’s dead. Afterwards, Tyler sits through unbearable visits from friends who are so disconnected from reality I wanted to scream at them. One guy can only talk about himself. Another can only talk about how famous Tyler is going to be. Writing about real people is one of Hill’s gifts. Apparently illustrating them is one of Rodriguez’s.
While sitting with his Uncle Duncan, Tyler remembers how his father planned for them to go live at Keyhouse if anything ever happened to him. Hill’s script is an economy of language. Every panel moves the story along and provides information as well as emotion. Rodriguez makes them all beautiful to look at.
Then the story plunges back to the day of the murders, when the teen killers were inside the Locke summer home. The next few pages are full of tension, suspense, and thrill-a-second pacing that had me flipping pages like a madman. The story turns chilling, and then cuts off again, leaving me hanging once more. You know Tyler survives, but you don’t know if anyone else does.
The next sequence introduces Keyhouse and the layout of the grounds. That it’s on a peninsula cut off from civilization is at once intriguing. I know the distance away from a populated area is going to be trouble.
Once the exploration of the house begins (which I was dying to see), Hill moves us back to the past again. The graphic panels Rodriguez presents had me once more hanging on as what happened the day of the killings is finally played out. It’s brutal and vicious, but that’s the only way it could have happened.
The true weirdness descends on the story in the next few pages. Bode is off exploring the weird house all on his own when he has an out-of-body-experience. We learn that Sam Lesser, one of the teen killers, is still alive in juvenile lockup. Not only that, but he’s also talking to a mysterious entity he can see in a sink full of water.
I’m totally jacked about this series. I think it’s going to be great. I can’t believe Hill decided to do it as a comic book instead of a novel, but in an interview I read, he said he’d just always envisioned it as a comic book.
I love Rodriguez’s art, so that’s a bonus – in addition to a great, macabre story with plenty of mystery and suspense. Waiting over the next five months is going to test me to my limits. I expect I’m going to be daydreaming — or having nightmares — about Keyhouse and what’s really going on for some time now. If you’re a comic fan or a horror fan or a Joe Hill fan, you gotta check this one out.