Review: Locke and Key, Vol. 6 by Joe Hill

16164271Title: Locke & Key, Vol. 6: Alpha and Omega

Author: Joe Hill

Illustrator: Gabriel Rodriguez

Publisher: IDW Publishing

Format: Electronic

Where I got it: Netgalley

Review:

Locke & Key has been one of my favorite comics to read over the last few years. It is the example that I use of a story that truly takes advantage of the graphic medium. There are elements of horror and humor, with characters who are coming of age at a time when a great evil is about to be unleashed on the world.

At the end of the fifth volume, Dodge came into possession of the Omega key, which had the power to unlock the gates to hell. To make matters worse, he inhabited Bode’s body on his path to unleash destruction. Victory appears certain for Dodge, but you never know with the death-defying persistence of the Locke children.

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The setting takes place during prom. Ty and Kinsey both go to the school bash, where Joe Hill pays tribute to his father by reenacting a classic scene from Carrie. He has really come into his own and like his novel, NOS4A2, he no longer shies away from his heritage.

After the party, Kinsey is tricked into thinking her mother is back on the bottle and defies her mother’s orders by going with classmates to the cave where the door to evil lies waiting. Ty, fearing for his sister’s safety, becomes overwhelmed with shadow monsters and Kinsey and her friends are suddenly in a peril of their own.

The final volume of Locke & Key was an utter delight to read. All of the characters are brought back and old plot lines are tidied up. My only gripe is the lack of limitation on the keys, creating a sort of deux ex machina when their adversary seems unstoppable. But it is these keys that make the series so fun.

If pressed, I may consider Locke & Key to be the best comic series to come out in the last decade (although there are many good ones). If you haven’t read it yet, you are really missing out. Now that the final volume is coming out, there is no better time to immerse yourself in the magical world that Hill and Rodriguez have created.

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Three Short Reviews (NOS4A2, The Tyrant’s Law, Mockingjay)

I’ve decided to bundle three reviews. Not because these books aren’t deserving of their own reviews. I just don’t have anything profound to add to the discussion. So here’s the rundown of my recently read books.

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NOS4A2 (short for Nosferatu, the famous 1922 horror flick) is Joe Hill’s third novel. I’ve read his previous two novels, his short story collection, and his wonderful comic series, Locke & Key. This novel is a clear progression in his writing career, expanding into a more epic story line that spans decades rather than days like in Heart-Shaped Box and Horns. There are more characters, a more complex plot, and overall a more gratifying novel.

Joe Hill took a pen name, desiring to make a name for himself on his own accord. His previous novels shied away from his father’s (Stephen King) horror themes. In NOS4A2, Hill embraces his father’s legacy, paying tribute to some of his older novels including Christine and The Dead Zone.

The story follows the life of Vic McQueen, a young brat growing up in a broken home. She has the magical ability of finding lost things and encounters a soul-stealing pedophile of sorts by the name of Charlie Manx. She escapes from his grasp, but his interest in her continues into her troubled adult life. Her son is captured and brought to his child prison known as Christmasland. Vic must enter Manx’s world to save her son from Manx’s grasp.

NOS4A2 is everything Joe Hill fans can want and expect. Recommended.

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15790816The Tyrant’s Law is Daniel Abraham’s third novel in his The Dagger and the Coin epic fantasy series. This is one of the top five epic fantasies out there and perhaps the only really good one that is being written with any regularity (although, I expect Brandon Sanderson to get right back on track with his The Stormlight Archive).

This series is smaller in scale that George R. R. Martin’s series, but similar in a couple of ways. Like A Song of Ice and FireThe Dagger and the Coin is a battle for the throne. Abraham also employs Martin’s technique of naming each chapter with the viewpoint character. The Tyrant’s Law follows four — an exiled widow named Clara, a young cutthroat banker named Cithrin, a bodyguard/captain named Marcus, and a scholar-turned-tyrant named Geder Palliako.

I will admit that I thought the series got slightly bogged down in this volume, but as I said, if you are into epic fantasy, this is one of the best things going right now.

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7260188Mockingjay is the third book and final book in Suzanne Collins’ mega-blockbuster series, The Hunger Games.  I read the first book a few years ago and then finally picked up the second book on audible a couple of months ago. I had a short-notice trip to Toronto last week and was able to pick up the third volume on Overdrive through my library.

The series was entertaining and perfect to listen to on commutes where my attention can be somewhat divided. Given the popularity of this book, there is no point in me discussing the plot. While I enjoyed the thrill of the Battle Royale-style survival, the series fell victim to common tropes (a three-way romance and a classic dystopian militaristic society). It was well worth my read, but I doubt it will have a lasting impression on me.

Review of Locke & Key, Vol. 5 by Joe Hill

13490570Title: Locke & Key, Vol. 5: Clockworks

Author: Joe Hill

Illustrators: Gabriel Rodriguez

Rating: 4 star

Publisher: IDW Publishing

Review:

Here we have the fifth collection of Joe Hill’s fantastic Locke & Key series. The premise of the story is that three siblings, Ty, Kinsey, and Bode, have suffered the loss of their father to a killer. They move to an old family mansion in Lovecraft where a series of magical keys await to be discovered. A supernatural being also wants the power of these keys and will use and even kill the kids to harness their power .

screen-captureThe fifth book is an origin story. We learn who the locksmith is and where the power of the keys come from. We learn the secret to what the Omega key opens and why Dodge is so intent on getting his hands on this key. The origin story is told as a frame story, as Tyler and Kinsey come across a clockwork key that gives them the power to travel back in time as ghosts to learn the secrets of Lovecraft, their father’s involvement in the whole matter, and the mystery behind Dodge.

What makes this story arc enjoyable is that many of the pieces that have been alluded to in previous volumes finally come together. After finishing this volume, the reader has a much better understanding of everything that is at stake and the motives behind Dodge’s incessant quest to find the Omega key. Dodge, who know inhabits the young Bode’s body, is still relentless in his pursuit, not afraid to throw anybody under the bus (both figuratively and literally speaking) to achieve his goals.

screen-capture-1The fifth volume contains everything that needs to be told, but it also serves as a bridge novel. The fourth volume ended with the death of Zack Wells and the transferring of Dodge to Bode’s body. Ty and Kinsey’s discovery of this fact is delayed in this volume, instead filling the reader in with enough back story to prepare for the final confrontation of the next volume. While the origin of the keys was interesting and a necessary thing to tell, it did suspend the quickening momentum of the series.

Gabriel Rodriguez’s artwork once again was excellent, with many intricate details and imaginative renderings of Ty and Kinsey as they travel to view past history. I enjoyed reading volume five as much as the others and look forward to its conclusion in the next volume.

Review of Locke & Key, Vol. 4 by Joe Hill

9674335Title: Locke & Key, Vol. 4: Keys to the Kingdom

Author: Joe Hill

Illustrators: Gabriel Rodriguez

Rating: 5 star

Publisher: IDW Publishing

Review:

I have thoroughly enjoyed reading Joe Hill’s Locke & Key comic series. The premise of the story is that three siblings, Ty, Kinsey, and Bode, have suffered the loss of their father to a killer. They move to an old family mansion in Lovecraft where a series of magical keys await to be discovered. A supernatural being also wants the power of these keys and will use and even kill the kids to harness their power.

screen-captureIn the first story arc, Hill pays tribute to Bill Watterson with a storyline and artistic renderings that are reminiscent of Calvin and Hobbes. Bode is a type of Calvin, who finds himself in a macabre snowman scene and then later finds a key that turns him into a sparrow.

Zack Wells also gets his hand on the key and turns himself into a wolf, planning to devour Ty and Kinsey. Bode and his feathery friends are his siblings’ only chance at surviving Zack’s lethal attack.

The story continues with the kids trying to learn more of their father’s past. An elderly black woman (who has an intense fear of white people) has knowledge of their father, but she is crazy. Still, Kinsey is intrigued and uses a key that can change the color of her skin so that she can approach the woman without setting her off. This story arc touches on the subject of racism as Kinsey steps into another person’s shoes, so to speak.

The Locke kids are getting closer and closer to discovering Zack’s true identity and Sam Lesser’s ghost appears before Bode’s friend (and Coach Whedon’s son), Rufus. He explains that Zack is really an enemy and that he must help the Locke family to get rid of him. As usual, Zack is on top of things and tries to put a stop to it.

screen-capture-1Tyler finally discovers that there is something suspicious about Zack and goes to the Whedon household to find evidence. Zack, who apparently is a star fencer, escapes from the smitten grasps of Kinsey to confront Tyler before the truth about him is revealed. An all out battle ensues and only one of them can be victorious.

Joe Hill really hit a homerun with this collection and I really like the way the individual episodes contribute to the prevailing story arc. There is a nice blend of real-world problems intermixed with the supernatural nature of the keys and the Locke kids’ battle with Dodge/Zack.

The tribute to Bill Watterson was particularly enjoyable, as Calvin and Hobbes was my favorite comic series growing up. The last story arc, “Detectives,” was a huge payoff and a climax to so much of what had been building up over the past several issues.

This series seems to be getting better and better and I plan to read and review volume 5 soon.

Review of Locke & Key, Vol. 3 by Joe Hill

7202841Title: Locke & Key, Vol. 3: Crown of Shadows

Author: Joe Hill

Illustrators: Gabriel Rodriguez

Rating: 5 star

Publisher: IDW Publishing

Review:

There is no better way of telling Locke & Key than in graphic form. From the continual unveiling of magical keys to the persistent growth in the characters, this series is addictive to say the least.

In the third volume, Ty’s mother has digressed into a dysfunctional, alcoholic mother. But the kids manage and they stick together against her verbal abuse and against Zach, who seeks to gain the power of the keys and kill the Locke family in the process.

When Zach gets his hands on the shadow key, he sends a collection of shadow monsters after Ty, Kinsey, and Bode. They discover that light can help keep them at bay, but the only way to defeat them is with the power of another key, which Zach finds embedded in the floor boards.

After staving off Zach’s assault, things return to normal for the Locke family (relatively speaking). Kinsey, who has somewhat of a crush on Zach, is approached by a trying-to-be-smooth character named Scot Kavanaugh. He tells her of a secret he’s discovered in a cave bearing the mark of her deceased father.

Meanwhile, Bode finds another key that comes in useful to deal with his mother’s destructive outbursts. She learns of the power of the key and attempts to use it for a much darker and powerful purpose.

Reading the Locke & Key series is truly an enjoyment. On one level it is fun escapism, but on another level, the dark forces that the kids face run in parallel with the psychological trauma they suffer from their past and now in the present with their mother. This difficult subject matter is handled effectively and there are real emotions conveyed in the various relationships Ty, Bode, and Kinsey encounter.

The artwork, as always, is superb and the storytelling is equally stellar. I look forward to continuing the series.

Review: Locke and Key, Vol 2 by Joe Hill

Title: Locke & Key, Vol. 2: Head Games

Author: Joe Hill

Illustrators: Gabriel Rodriguez

Rating: 

Publisher: IDW Publishing

Review:

There are many things that make the Locke & Key series so enjoyable. Perhaps most importantly, it doesn’t take itself too seriously. The second volume, Head Games, features a premise that would likely not work in any other form of media other than comics. But that is precisely why it works.

In Head Games, six-year-old Bode Locke discovers another magical key inside their Lovecraft mansion. This key has the power to open one’s mind — literally. By inserting the key in the back of the head, the mind and memories of the person is graphically displayed inside their head like a bowl full of Halloween candy. Memories can be plucked out or information can be placed inside. This works out well for Ty Locke, who is behind in his homework and can now cram the books inside his head.

Ty has befriended his schoolmate, Zack Wells (who in a previous life was also the Locke father’s classmate, Luke). Unbeknownst to Ty and Kinsey, Zack has supernatural powers of his own and will stop at nothing to unlock the powers of the key house.

Joe Hill has achieved a good balance of harnessing the true emotions of teens, while making the series escapist fun. There are many elements of horror and Gabriel Rodriguez’s artwork is a great complement to Hill’s narrative. I was a little confused toward the end of where the story was going and in a sense, it lacked full closure to the story arc. Regardless, this is definitely a series I will stick with until the end.

Review: Locke and Key, Vol 1 by Joe Hill

Title: Locke & Key, Vol. 1: Welcome to Lovecraft

Author: Joe Hill

Illustrators: Gabriel Rodriguez

Rating: 

Publisher: IDW Publishing

Review:

I read the first volume of Locke & Key when it first came out a few years back. I recalled enjoying it quite a bit, but for one reason or another, I didn’t continue the series (or frankly any comics for quite some time). I have recently been getting into comics again and wanted to give this series a shot again. I forgot how darn good it really is.

Locke & Key is about three siblings, Ty, Kinsey, and Bode Locke, whose school-counselor father is murdered by two of his students. After his death, his children move to Lovecraft, MA to live with relatives in Key House, a strange home with a supernatural history.

What seemed to be a violent act of juvenile delinquency is more than it first appeared. Sam Lesser, one of the students who murdered Mr. Locke, is able to communicate with a demon-woman through water. She helps him to escape from juvenile detention and leads him back to Key House to free her from captivity. Ty, Kinsey, and Bode will have to relive their horror. Fortunately, the house is not all evil and Bode stumbles upon a key that gives him a unique supernatural ability. But is it enough to save his family from impending disaster?

I gotta say, it is refreshing to see such a wonderful story arc being applied to the graphic form. The idea of a supernatural house is not novel, but there is a mystery to its purpose and complexity that intrigued me. In the first book, we learn of a key to a ghost door (where a person’s spirit is temporarily able to leave his body) and the Anywhere Key (used to free the demon-woman from captivity). We are led to believe there are many more keys as well.

Gabriel Rodriguez’s illustrations are also superb. They are drawn in comic-fashion, not treading on realism, but providing an artistic style that complements the text beautifully. One of the biggest things I look for in artwork is for the artist to be able to convey emotion. All too often, there is a focus on style, but in the end, the imagery must help communicate the story. Rodriguez executes complex emotions with simplicity.

What I like most about the initial story arc is that it leaves so many possibilities. There are many more keys to be found and I am certain their troubles are far from over. They are living in a place of desirable power and there are many people/supernatural beings who would do anything to get their hands on it.

I highly recommend the first book in this series and I look forward to reading the other installments. It blends fantasy, mystery, and horror in a way that makes it very difficult to put down.