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Locke & Key, Vol. 1: Welcome to Lovecraft

Locke & Key, Vol. 1: Welcome to Lovecraft - Joe Hill, Gabriel Rodríguez Gritty, dark, plausible and magical, Joe Hill's Locke and Key has that sort of heart-breaking magical realism reminiscent of films like Pan's Labyrinth - in a very, very good way. The writing here is every bit as good as his dad's and I'm seriously tempted to check out a whole lot more by Mr. Hill, but for now, catching up with this series should be more than enough of a treat. Scheduled to be a sort of play in three acts, each of which is composed of two major arcs, Locke and Key should be completed sometime in the next year and that gives me even more hope for 2013 entertainment-wise.

After the murder of their father, the Locke family decides to get a fresh start by moving to the east coast with their father's brother in the old family estate (aptly named Keyhouse). There the three children (Ty, Kinsey and Bode) discover magic long since forgotten by the elder Locke brothers. The house is filled with hidden keys and doors that can open anywhere and anywhen if used in the right combination - doors that make you have out-of-body experiences, keys that open your mind and allow you to put things in or remove them, and of course, the most magical key of all, that opens doors to anywhere you want to be. There is evil there as well. Locked behind doors and long-since forgotten with the wonderful magic of the place is a malevolent force that wants to be set free and on its agenda: revenge.

Not only does Hill manage to chart a believable and emotional path through the turmoil of a family coming to grips with the death of an amazing father with all of its mislaid guilt, anger and frustration and tell the story of a family uprooted with young people going through all the social anxieties of trying to fit in to a new community while avoiding being the center of any unwanted attention, he also manages to paint a magical backdrop against which there is potential for healing and adventure. Exploring Keyhouse and the places it will take the Locke family is going to be amazingly fun. At the same time, the journey takes them deeper into their father's childhood as they cross paths with his old friends, his old haunts and the legacy of his own adventures through the ancestral mansion decades earlier. Through it all the children come to grips with what has happened in their lives and become more than just the inheritors of sadness, passive pawns in the universe's unwinding, but active participants in writing their own futures and destinies.

The narrative format provides a mix of contemporaneous narrative and flashbacks to their father's childhood at Keyhouse that frames the current action, deepens mysteries and provides a sense of symmetry I've always found appealing in storytelling. I don't know why, but the feeling that we've done this before, or the connection between present events with a very precise sequence of events in the past that lead inexorably to some destined future always seem to heighten the epic quality of stories to me. Combine that with the sense of mystery and adventure that the setting of an old creepy mansion with magic keys and doors has to offer and children with wonderfully powerful imaginations and you have a winner. A real winner. Of course, it doesn't hurt that Hill's narrative abilities and dialogue writing are absolutely the equal of his father's. Some of the best comic narration I've ever read was the issue narrated from young Bode's point-of-view. It's poignant, funny and filled with boundless energy that captures that is quintessential for that particular age.

This first volume provides just enough closure to the first part of the tragedy to provide some growth to its main characters and takes us through enough of their lives so that we can identify with and fall in love with them. In many ways, this is what I was hoping for from The Wormworld Saga. While that story has been cool and imaginative, it's lacked the emotional resonance and nested realism of Locke and Key.