Tuesday, 27 May 2014

Locke & Key, Volume 1: Welcome To Lovecraft Review (Joe Hill, Gabriel Rodriguez)

I read this puppy when it first came out a few years ago and really wanted to like it, and didn’t. So, now the series is done, I thought I’d go back and give it another shot - maybe I was in the wrong frame of mind, or maybe I was just plain wrong, and this time I’d love it? Nope - still terrible, unfortunately.

Three kids - an older boy, his slightly younger sister, and their youngest sibling, a boy called Bode (and the only one whose name I could remember, purely for being such an odd name!) - have their father taken from them when one of his students comes to his summer home and murders him. The kids and their mum move from west coast to east coast back to the father’s childhood home - a massive, forbidding Lovecraftian mansion in the fictional Massachusetts town of Lovecraft (the thinking seems to be: it’s a “horror” comic so let’s remind readers of it by heavily referencing horror writer, HP Lovecraft). 

The Lovecraftian mansion set in Lovecraft is of course haunted with all manner of ghosts and special keys unlock special doors that can warp space and time, even the temporal planes - when Bode walks through one door, his body is left behind and he becomes a ghost. And while the kids get over the trauma of their recent loss, their dad’s murderer is on the loose - and he’s coming to finish the job! 

It’s definitely cool that Joe Hill is following in his dad’s footsteps and writing his own haunted house story but I have to say he’s certainly not as great a writer as Stephen King was when he was a younger man and Locke & Key isn’t a patch on The Shining. For one, Hill focuses far too much on the kids’ difficulty in getting over their dad’s death which is realistic but not at all compelling to read - I get it, they’re saaaaaaaad! - while failing to make them stand out as characters. 

The older brother is pure emo, the sister is a flatliner - she literally at one point joins a track team and says that she’s running because she’s got a lot to run away from - what cheesy writing! - and Bode is your average Disney kid. Cute as a bug, always being clumsy but in a way that advances the story like he’s fooling around and then - oh, is that a special key that fell out of that jug I knocked off that shelf? How convenient! 

And how on earth can this family afford so much? They have a summer home, separate from their regular home, AND a giant mansion on the other side of the country! Their mum doesn’t work, their dad was a school administrator, and the uncle is a failed artist. Where the hell is the money coming from!? 

The story is completely static. The kids mope about - do we like them yet now that we’ve seen them sob for the millionth time? not even a bit! - while Bode pokes about the mansion and stumbles across the magic doorways and the ghost in the well. Basically the story is, the family moves to the mansion and then spends the whole book waiting for the killer to show up - very boring! 

I do appreciate the supernatural element and that the keys and doors thing is original, but the book really needs things like a plot and characters you care about in order for it to matter. Bode becomes a ghost, then the older brother - so what? I hate both of these clods! 

Gabriel Rodriguez’s art is fine but I don’t think it’s suited to the horror genre, mostly because it’s too cartoonish. The characters are a little too anime-esque for Hill’s over-emotional, horror-leaning script and I can’t say I found the villains in the story very menacing in their depiction. The layouts and drawings themselves are fine and definitely suit mainstream comics, but for a comic that’s supposed to creep you out, it’s not a good fit. 

I’ve tried reading one other Joe Hill book, Heart Shaped Box, which I couldn’t get past page 50 because it was so badly written, so I guess his work just isn’t for me. 

Locke & Key wants to be a horror comic that mixes the old and new to create something exciting and fresh, but instead it’s a very tedious book with completely flat characters, a slow and uninvolving plot, and some supernatural elements that don’t liven up the paper-thin story in the least.

Locke And Key: Welcome to Lovecraft

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