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"I came to see your father to get the keys. But I killed him because you asked me to. I told him that, too. Right before I shot him. That you asked me to kill him. You should've seen his face."
—Sam Lesser, referring to an offhand joke Tyler had once made about killing his dad
A highly detailed, amazingly written tale with a lot of past mysteries and a very deep, very intriguing mythology. The first volume of the series revolves around three kids (Tyler, who's in high school, Kinsey, his sister who's just a year younger, and Bode, the youngest and most imaginative). Their father, Rendell Locke, is murdered by Tyler's psychopathic classmate, forcing the kids' mom to move them to a new home, looking for a fresh start. Later volumes continue to focus on the kids and their lives, but slowly the story branches out, giving all the characters at least hints of depth.
Saying too much of anything would give away crucial plot points, when one of the series' main draws is to keep the reader guessing. The plot is as much a character as the Locke children.
This is a complex, highly interwoven horror drama, complete with complicated and powerful relationships between the many characters, and quite an acceptable amount of Nightmare Fuel. It's been revealed that there are a large number of magical keys involved, only a few of which have been found - one that turns you into a ghost, one that changes your sex from male to female and vice-versa, one that can open a door to anywhere in the world, one that can open your head and let you take out memories and character traits - or even put things in, and many, many more. It's called Key House for a reason.
Like Hellboy, Locke & Key is published as a number of limited-series volumes. Each volume consists of six issues, and tells the story of different magical keys, while bringing a little more of the overall mystery surrounding the keys, the Keyhouse, and thus linking into the larger narrative. As of May 2011, four volumes have been released: Welcome To Lovecraft, Head Games, Crown Of Shadows, and Keys To The Kingdom. Clockworks is the fifth book, not yet collected into a trade paper back.
A perfect example of Better Than It Sounds, it's hard to sum up the series in a few words. Like Neil Gaiman's Sandman and J.K.Rowling's You-Know-What, Joe Hill uses a number of Chekhov's Guns in the storytelling, so better pay attention when you read.
Now has a character sheet.
The Series contains examples of:
- Academy of Adventure: The Lovecraft Academy, attended by Tyler, Kinsey and Bode, was the same school at which their father and his group of friends discovered the magic keys.
- A Day in the Limelight: The narration switches between the point-of-views of different characters in different issues, so everyone gets their chapter in the sun (or, in this series, their chapter in the suffocating darkness of crushing terror).
- Adults Are Useless: Interesting variation: like in Peter Pan, adults will forget about magic as they grow up; hence why Rendell Locke doesn't remember about the keys.
- All There in the Manual: The author's website and blog provided background information on the magical keys during the release of the Welcome To Lovecraft TPB book. Guide To Known Keys also provides bits of backstory.
- Applied Phlebotinum: ALL the Magical Keys around which the story revolves. Later, the Whispering Iron also applies.
- Art Bump: In Head Games, we get a two-page spread of what's going on in Bode's mind. Seriously. This depiction (of a young boy's thoughts) is much more highly-detailed than the normal panels of the series. It has to be seen to be believed.
- Artifact of Death: The Ghost Key, especially since Dodge uses it to kill Sam Lesser at end of the first volume.
- Art Shift: The final pages of Crown Of Shadows' last chapter have their panels arranged like shards of broken glass, to correspond with the chapter title "Beyond Repair".
- The first issue of Keys to the Kingdom has scenes from Bode's POV done in an homage to Calvin and Hobbes, while a later issue has a few scenes from Rufus's POV done in the style of an old war comic.
- Angst: Most notably in the third volume's final chapter.
- Attack of the 50 Foot Whatever: Crown Of Shadows #5.
- Badass Biker: "Jordan Gates is a psycho rich bitch who's been thrown out of like eight schools. Been in the crazy house, too."
- Batman Gambit: Dodge manipulating Sam Lesser. Later at the end of Keys to the Kingdom Sam then attempts to out-gambit Dodge and fails.
- Beauty Equals Goodness: Sometimes played straight, often averted by Dodge.
- Better Than a Bare Bulb: An unbelievable number of lampshades show up, and many a time actual trope names are droppped.
- Big Labyrinthine Building: The Keyhouse Mansion.
- Black Like Me: Thanks to the Skin Key.
- Bus Full of Innocents: Get killed in volume 1. In a variation, the bus isn't full of innocents - only five people, all of which are murdered innocent of the larger story, and summarily murdered for their glancing involvement.
- Cast of Snowflakes: The characters wear no masks, no capes, no costumes, and their dresses and hair styles both change over the story; yet they remain easily recognizable. After the release of Welcome to Lovecraft, artist Gabriel Rodriguez became the first artist the Chilean-North American Cultural Institute honored with their annual literary prize, the Walt Whitman Award, for his work in the field of graphic novels.
- Casual Danger Dialogue: Tyler, by now having gotten used to scary shit, is perfectly calm when he's been captured by a bunch of Living Shadows and hung upside-down from the ceiling.
- Cat Scare: The begining of Crown Of Shadows #3 is somewhere between this and Scare Chord; though this being a comic there's no music to accompany the scene.
- Character Name and the Noun Phrase: I mean, really?
- Chekhov's Gun: Many, many of them, making it a case of Chekhov's ARMORY.
- The mirror and Scissors Bode gives Dodge.
- The well-house painting hanging in Rendell Locke's office.
- Also a literal gun, bought and hidden by Tyler's Mom as a precaution in Welcome To Lovecraft
- And Kinsley's Bracelet, which is later revealed to contain the Anywhere Key
- ALL of the magical Keys can fall under this, too.
- The Lighthouse, which helps Tyler defeat Dodge in Crown Of Shadows #3.
- Cliff Hanger: All. The. Time.
- Cluster F-Bomb
- Cool Loser: Scot Kavanaugh and Jamal Saturday.
- Cool Shades: Scot Kavanaugh.
- Compelling Voice: Hello, Music Box Key.
- Despair Event Horizon: Entire first chapter. Entire first book. And then it gets worse.
- Early-Bird Cameo: In the flashback to the 1988 high school production of The Tempest, you can see not only the Anywhere Key in action, but also the Angel Key, Hercules Key and Crown of Shadows several issues before they debut.
- Everythings Nuttier With Squirrels: In one issue which takes place over the course of a month, Dodge's various attacks on the Lockes are shown as single panels. One of them features an army of sword wielding squirrels. Sadly, the history of the Squirrel Key has yet to be revealed.
- Fate Worse Than Death: Dodge at the beginning of the story. Erin Voss, later.
- Also, what awaits all of mankind if Dodge succeeds in opening the Black Door.
- Fire-Forged Friends: Kinsey, Jackie, Jamal and Scot.
- Foreshadowing: "I can't wait to climb down from here and get large on you, bitch."
- In the first issue of Keys to the Kingdom, Bode briefly pretends that his head has been utterly emptied of all contents by the Head Key and he is unable to move, think, or care for himself. The second issue features a woman who actually had that done to her.
- Gender Bender: I wonder what The Gender Key does.
- Good Bad Girl: Jordan has downloaded her ethics paper from the internet, but she's not going to turn it in because "If you cheat in an ethics class there's really no hope for you."
- Gory Discretion Shot: Even though the series has no qualms about showing violence, there is one easy-to-miss moment that was intentionally done discreetly: In the first issue, during the murder of Rendell Locke, there is a panel showing Al Grubb in Nina's bedroom - he's holding up his unbuttoned pants and Nina herself is nowhere to be seen. There are clear signs of a struggle that took place on the bed, including streaks of blood on the wall next to it. When next we see Nina, her clothes are severely torn, and there are four long parallel wounds in her hand as though someone grabbed her violently, scratching her hand with his fingernails in the process. This is clearer if you read the script book for the issue, and we see some definite hints that Nina Locke was raped off-panel.
- Confirmed in Crown Of Shadows #6.
- Grand Theft Me: Bode isn't Bode anymore.
- Heterosexual Life Partners: Kinsey and Jackie. Scot and Jamal.
- "Hey You!" Haymaker: Administered to Tyler by one of the shadow creatures.
- Hoist by His Own Petard: Benjamin Locke seals away the parasites with a lock made from their own corpses.
- Hope Spot: At the end of "Clockworks #6", It's implied that the fish hook on Tyler's hat is made from Whispering Iron, and could theoretically be used to create one final key. Whether they can use that knowledge to stop Dodge before he opens the Black Door remains to be seen...
- Hot Amazon: Jordan Gates again. She may or may not be moving into Ensemble Darkhorse territory.
- Imagine Spot: Tyler does this every now and then, usually imagining himself in outrageously badass costumes. Also, Jordan Gates lying on a school desk in her underwear.
- Dodge does this in "Keys To The Kingdom", and his imagination is a bit more... disturbing.
- Incredibly Lame Pun: "Black-currents" jelly. Dodge instantly figures it out.
- Infant Immortality: Averted with Jay Bird
- Instant Awesome, Just Add Ninja: Subverted. Dodge briefly considers a Ninja disguise(which looks a heck of a lot like Ryu Hayabusa), but decides against it.
- Ironic Echo: In the first issue, Tyler looks down in the water and imagines his reflection with outfits appropriate to the other vacation destinations he wants to go to. Later, he looks into the water and sees himself covered in blood, as he was after beating Sam Lesser.
- Jigsaw Puzzle Plot
- Kick the Son of a Bitch: As bad as Dodge is, it's hard not to cheer when he kills Ellie's horrible, horrible mother.
- Kudzu Plot
- Kick the Dog: Sam Lesser gets several moments in the first volume, most of them involving killing innocent people at random.
- Killed Off for Real: Played straight, subverted, averted, take your pick.
- Knock-Knock Joke: Rendell seems to have been fond of them.
- Living Shadow: The Crown of Shadows.
- Loads and Loads of Characters: The series seems to be expanding into this trope as it explores its Myth Arc further. The Lockes of each generation, and then their friends, and then their friends, and then...
- Magic A Is Magic A: While it's implied the characters can create keys to their own specifications, once created, a key behaves the same every time.
- Mental Time Travel: The Timeshift Key lets you do this.
- Mistaken for Racist: Erin Voss, an old black woman in a mental institution, freaks out and starts yelling "WHITE! WHITE!" whenever she tries to talk to someone. This is attributed as being a hostile reaction to the white people who are always there (it is New England, after all) but it's actually because her head was completely emptied out by Dodge, and all that's there is endless white, which she sees whenever she tries to think coherently or interact with the worlf.
- Mundane Utility: Tyler uses the head key to cram his studies. It may have backfired.
- Dodge used the Head Key to become a great fencer, Tyler uses the Hercules Key to kick ass at hockey (and take out some frustrations) and Bode uses the Giant Key to play cars with real cars. Also in the flashback to the school's production of The Tempest, the Anywhere Key, Hercules Key, Angel Key and Crown of Shadows were used to put on one hell of a show.
- Near-Death Experience: Basically, everyone who survives anything in this series gets to claim this.
- Our Monsters Are Weird: Dodge. And the creatures from the characters' heads, removed by the Head Key. Not surprising, when you remember that Joe Hill's Dad is the poster boy for this trope in literature.
- Owl Be Damned: Dodge sends a metal owl monster after the Lockes at one point.
- Pet the Dog: Sam Lesser's backstory.
- Puppeteer Parasite: A whole dimension of them await behind the Black Door.
- Puppy Dog Eyes: Bode. It doesn't work on Tyler, though apparently it 'usually' does.
- Rape as Drama: It's hinted this is one of the reasons why Nina is having such a hard time adjusting.
- Revealing Hug: Dodge in Bode's body at the end of Keys to the Kingdom.
- Rhetorical Request Blunder: See the page quote.
- Sealed Evil in a Can: In a well, to be more precise.
- Sequel Hook: Dodge's escape and Bode finding the Head Key, and the Reveal about the Toy soldiers. Arguably, Kinsey removing her fears may also count as this.
- Shoot the Shaggy Dog: Sam's ultimate fate at the end of Keys to the Kingdom make his story an example of this.
- Shout-Out: Among the names (of Rendell Locke and his friends) scratched on the cave wall seen in the third volume, one is "Whedon".
- Not necessarily a shoutout, the name appears to read Ellie Whedon to this troper, one of Rendall's (and Dodge's) friends.
- Tyler is shown reading Peter Pan to bode in Crown Of Shadows.
- In Keys to the Kingdom #2, the patient directory at Mc Clellan Hospital is made up almost entirely of comic authors/artists including, but not limited to, G. Ennis, K. Smith, and G. Jones.
- In a scene after the aforementioned Bill Watterson style Art Shift, Bode is seen reading a Calvin and Hobbes book.
- They live in a town called Lovecraft!
- Super Strength: Hercules Key
- Tell Me About My Father: Kinsey goes through this in Crown Of Shadows, even though her father's death was recent. Arguably, this is a major direction of the plot.
- This Is for Emphasis, Bitch: "Wait'll you get a load of how I plan to say goodbye, bitch." and "I can't wait to climb down from here and get large on you, bitch." With a cast full of high schoolers, it was inevitable.
- Tonight Someone Dies: Turns out it's one of Rufus' action figures.
- Wham! Episode: At least one issue in each volume so far, and possibly the entirety of Keys to the Kingdom.
- Winged Humanoid: The Angel Key.
- You Have Outlived Your Usefulness: Played With; Dodge kills Sam because of this, but then it turns out he was using Sam to try and find the Omega Key.
- Zerg Rush: At one point, Bode attacks Dodge with a flock of sparrows.