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Graphic Novel Review: Locke & Key: Head Games by Joe Hill and Gabriel Rodriguez

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The second collection in Joe Hill and Gabriel Rodriguez’ continuing horror fantasy series, Locke & Key: Head Games (IDW), follows the three Locke children after the events in volume one. In this six-issue mini-series, the well-dwelling creature that has some sort of connection to the Locke family has joined the two older Locke kids on campus. Capable of assuming both a male and female form, their shape-shifting adversary apparently is unable to modify its body enough to be unrecognizable to anyone who might have seen the creature 20 years earlier.

Which means, of course, that at least one new character introduced into this volume will be an older geezer capable of recognizing the creature now calling itself Zach and — this being a horror series — will have to snuff it because They Know Too Much. This occurs in the first chapter and is decently handled: Hill clearly knows a thing or two about setting up a sympathetic victim. But the bulk of the witness tampering occurs courtesy of another magical key discovered by youngest Locke kid Bode: one that unlocks your brain and allows you to add or subtract memories to it.

The visual depiction of this process is pure comic book — and the high point of the Foreigner-indebted Head Games (yes, a character does sing some of the song’s lyrics). Stick the key into a hole that suddenly appears in the back of your neck, and the top of your head comes off, revealing an inside crammed with tiny representational figures. When one character has two of her deepest fears removed, they look like and sound like chittering demonic imps. After Zach gets a hold of the key, s/he uses it on two more humans. But the creature mysteriously is thwarted with the seemingly autistic son of one of his/her victims.

Much of this volume is devoted to Zach insinuating itself into the Locke kids’ lives, and if we still don’t know the motives behind all this scheming, we see enough of the villain’s quirks this time out to actually be interested in ‘em. As with the first volume, we get some suitably low-rent secondary antagonists — this time a pair of homophobic locals who have it in for the kids’ Uncle Duncan — convincingly characterized with the kind of ignoramus New Englander dialog that pappy Stephen King dashes off with deceptive ease.

Artist Gabriel Rodriguez catches it all, and as before excels in the details. The interior head shots, as already noted, are particularly fine, while the first chapter depicting the fact of Zach’s first victim has a visual melancholy to it that’s also quite effective. At times, I’m reminded of a slightly more baby-faced version of the EC artists (Johnny Craig, in particular), a comparison that’s invited by an appended parody of one of the horror line’s most infamous covers. Hill and Rodriguez clearly know from whence they came.

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About Bill Sherman

Bill Sherman is a Books editor for Blogcritics. With his lovely wife Rebecca Fox, he has co-authored a light-hearted fat acceptance romance entitled Measure By Measure.