Sometimes, the book really is better. Netflix’s latest hit show, Locke & Key, is based on a horror comic series written by Joe Hill with art by Gabriel Rodriguez, which made its debut in 2008 under IDW.
The initial six issues of the series proved to be popular enough to subsequently spawn five more limited series, all of which have been collected in six graphic novels, titled Locke & Key, Locke & Key: Head Space, Locke & Key: Crown Of Shadows, Locke & Key: Keys To The Kingdom, Locke & Key: Clockwork, and Locke & Key: Alpha & Omega. There have been several one-shots as well, and it was recently announced that Locke & Key will be crossing over with DC Comics’ Sandman Universe in the near future.
The comic books revolve around the Locke Family – the mother Nina, eldest son Tyler, daughter Kinsey, and young nine-year-old Bode, who move back to the Locke family home, Keyhouse in a town called Lovecraft (subtle much?) in search of a fresh start. But little do they know that the house holds a deadly secret, and there is magic within those walls.
That magic comes in the form of a set of magic keys, all of which have different powers.
There’s the Anywhere Key, which, inserted into any door, can open a door to any other door you can visualise; a Ghost Key, which can separate someone’s soul from his or her body; and a Shadow Key, which enables the wielder to control shadows.
Then there’s the Head Key, which goes into the base of a person’s head, and allows you to unlock your head and take out memories or thoughts or put things in. It’s a key that is featured in the TV show as well, though in much more vivid ways.
Well, you get the idea. The best part about the comic book is how all these keys are used in different ways depending on who has them, which makes for some twisted scenarios, and in the case of Dodge, some seriously depraved and cruel murders.
The original series was only six issues long, but it told a story that is as magical as it is creepy. Each issue was told in the perspective of a different character, beginning with Tyler, the oldest son, then Bode, the youngest, and then Kinsey, and in a surprising turn, murderer Sam Lesser.
The first series was more about the three children learning to cope with the loss of their father than the actual house. However, the antagonist, Dodge, is an ever-looming presence, and her role only grows greater and greater as the story progresses.
However, it may have started out that way, but the story gets darker and darker as we learn more and more about Dodge and the origins of the keys. The more fantastical elements of the story come together as more keys are discovered, and then by Clockwork, we are knee deep into the origins of the keys and what happened to Dodge.
And once all the pieces of the puzzle are put together, it all leads to a thrilling, nail-biting finish that you’d never think a comic book could provide.
The comics version, however, is more of a straightforward horror/thriller than the TV show. The keys don’t even play a major role in most of the first series, with only two of them making an appearance. They do get more important as the series goes on, but unlike the TV show, they are not the main focus.
One thing I really liked about the series is how Hill takes his time revealing all the pieces that come into play, with almost everyone, from a mentally-challenged teenager to a little sparrow playing a role in the story. The story is aided brilliantly by Rodriguez’s artwork, which flits between charmingly quaint to horrifying in a style that reminds me of the now defunct Vertigo Comics’ Fables series.
Speaking of Fables, I also liked the way the story doesn’t take a linear path towards its conclusion, with Hill playing with different themes, concepts and formats, while still adding important elements into the tale.
Keys To The Kingdom, for instance, starts off with a story called Sparrow, about Bode finding a key that can turn him into an animal. Drawn in two distinct styles, one a homage to Bill Waterson’s Calvin And Hobbes to depict Bode’s point of view, it’s an off-kilter, story that begins in a charming way but ends with a horrible bloodbath, and a touching conclusion for Bode. Crown Of Shadows even has a fight between a giant-sized Tyler and a shadow monster formed by Zack, an exciting encounter told in one-page splashes that most superheroes would die for.
Netflix’s version of Locke & Key somehow pales in comparison to the thrill of the comic book. I had hoped that the more horrific elements of the comics would make it to the show, but so far, it’s been mostly about the kids and more of a coming-of-age story than anything. Still, the show has been so popular that chances are there are going to be more seasons, so here’s hoping it eventually does justice to the comic book!
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