Thursday, December 4, 2014

Best Reads of 2014: Comic Books - Joe Hill's Locke & Key

To kick off my favourite reads of 2014, I am starting with comic books, the Locke & Key series by Joe Hill and Gabriel Rodriguez, now collected in six beautiful trade paperbacks.

The short version
The fabulous Kinsey, older brother Locke, and their younger brother, Bode.
It's a great, immersing series. Three siblings, Locke, Kinsey and their baby brother, Bode, along with their grieving and self-medicating mother, move back to Keyhouse in Lovecraft, New England. The kids  soon discover that the residence contains magical keys that can open to doors to other places, or erase memories or do other fantastical things. They must defend themselves and the keys against a demon bent on acquiring them and letting loose more badness into the world. Their daily life is imperilled in horrible and fantastical ways.

Niggly details
Admittedly, Hill doesn’t know much about hockey—a subplot features an entire hockey team sporting Jason-Voorhees-style goalie masks. The story is also a little reminiscent of weekly TV episodes in places, with intense inter-familial going-ons.  Other critics have complained that the series starts slow, but it's all set-up for  later pay-off. Patience, kiddies.

What I like
That said, Rodriguez’s highly stylized art is gorgeous, their use use of panels is innovative (splash page, background, side bar—you name it), and Hill merrily chugs the plot along with well-defined, imperfect characters. There are also plentiful nods to 1980's pop culture and horror icons, predominantly H. P. Lovecraft mythos.

Hill presents an intergenerational struggle against evil, with plentiful flashbacks (His dad loves doing that, too, coincidentally, but Hill is damn good at it, too.). Hill has a fondness for bonding characters when they are kids, as King does in IT. And Hill also throws in a life-altering event in their youth; however, have no worries, there is no orgiastic plot point as there was in King’s IT. This flashback-and-old-evil-and-intergenerational storytelling is layered, a la Sandman (by Neil Gaiman) and thoroughly immersing.

I’ve read Hill’s story, “My Father’s Mask”, also about a disturbed family and young hero, and I must say that I like what he does. However, by entering the comic book medium, he is doing the King storytelling tradition one better. While Stephen King has adapted many works for comic books, Hill created this baby.

And this baby deserves a second read—a rarity for someone with my tight schedule.

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