Though he's established himself as a smart fiction writer in his own right, for many long-term lovers of horror fiction, Joe Hill King still remains the tow-headed kid who got smacked on the face by his movie father for reading a Creepshow comic in the Stephen King/George Romero flick of the same name. And while it may not be entirely kosher to bring up a role Hill played as a ten-year-old kid in one of his father's lesser projects, I still can't help imagining Bode Locke, the youngest of the three sibs facing the horrors of Hill's series, Locke & Key (IDW), surreptitiously sneaking his own Creepshow comic into the house.
Bode's dad — were he still alive — would most likely be more understanding about his son's choice of reading matter. A high school counselor, Ren Locke wound up on the wrong side of a gun when two of his students unexpectedly showed up at his summer house. One of the twosome, Sam Lesser (a great name for a deranged second), turns to have been in thrall to a mysterious being trapped in the bottom of a well á la the demon ghost of The Ring. Ren's death brings his wife and children back to their New England family home and the adjacent well house holding this malevolent creature. Said creature is by no means through, messing with the still-mourning family – or with Sam Lesser either, for that matter.
The first six issues of Joe Hill & Gabriel Rodriguez' Locke & Key have just been collected in a hardcover subtitled "Welcome to Lovecraft," and it's a strong start for the series. Primarily told from the point-of-view of the three Locke children, the book sets up Hill's rich premise and clearly establishes its three protagonists. Eldest son Tyler Locke is still suffering guilt pangs because he believes he may have inadvertently pushed his schoolmate Sam into murdering Ren. Middle daughter Kinsey, who protected her younger brother by hiding from the killers on top of the roof, still wants to be as unobtrusive as possible, striving to stay anonymous in her new school (William Gaines High, EC lovers!) Little Bode, meanwhile, is being regularly visited in dreams by the bloody specter of his father telling knock-knock jokes.
The adults, heavy-drinking Mom Locke and ineffectual Uncle Duncan, appear even less equipped to handle the aftermath of Ren's demise, so once we see Sam Lesser escape the juvenile psych facility that's holding him until his trial, we're pretty sure the kids are gonna have to fend for themselves. The evil something, which is capable of taking on both female and male form, is looking for some keys that were once in young Ren's possession. For reasons not yet explained, said keys are attracted to the youngest Locke, who keeps finding 'em in surprising places. The mansion's many doors, it turns out, open to more than one place if you have the right key. First one Bode opens allows whoever steps through it to temporarily leave their body, in essence becoming a living ghost.
In stories like this, it's rarely the grand whosit that provides the creepiest elements, but their all-too-human lackeys. Like his father, Hill possesses the commendable knack for creating believably recognizable antagonists without shying from the grandiose hideousness of their actions. And in Sam Lesser, he's crafted a great horror henchman: pathetic and menacing at once. In lesser hands (you knew I was gonna use that phrase, right?), the inclusion of Sam's back story would've diminished the impact of his violent acts – not so in Locke & Key.
He’s aided in this by artist Gabriel Rodriguez, who has a firm grasp on grandly gory splatter and quiet angst, a strong handle on his characters’ emotional body language as well as the story’s atmospheric mansion setting. The well house is a particularly fine visual construction: when we see it in a photo in Ren's office and a ghostly figure suddenly appears in the picture's window, it's a neatly eerie moment. Bet it would've given young Joe Hill pause if he'd come across anything like it in that Creepshow comic . . .