Title: Locke & Key Vol. 4: Keys to the Kingdom
Publisher/Year: IDW Publishing, 2011
Artist: Gabriel Rodríguez
Writer: Joe Hill
Collects: Locke & Key: Keys to the Kingdom #1-6
After I set “Locke & Key (Vol. 4): Keys to the Kingdom” down, I realized that I only had two collections left until the end. This re-read has gone by pretty quickly, and it had been long enough that I feel like I’m finding brand new things with each moment I turn the pages. I had been talking a bit about how patient and deliberate Joe Hill has been up until this point, but in “Keys to the Kingdom” things have started to speed up, which means that the intensity has started to build as well. And that has mostly been a positive thing.
Plot progression has picked up again in this volume, and boy does it ever! Hill covers a lot of territory in this collection, but he manages to do it in such a way that it doesn’t feel like it’s bloated, nor does it feel like things are being rushed. He opts to focus on certain things, but does show snippets of the Locke kids battling it out with Dodge over keys, as well as conflicts they are having with each other in the story arc “February”. I liked how it puts in the effort to have development for our characters, but doesn’t get bogged down in EVERY conflict they have with Dodge. We also get to see more backstory to Rendell and his high school friends, as Kinsey, Tyler, and Dodge run into Erin Voss, Rendell’s childhood friend who is now committed to a mental asylum. Kinsey is desperate to know what the connection is to Rendell, Voss, and the secrets they were keeping, while Dodge wants to keep Erin’s mouth shut since in her addled state she still recognizes him as her childhood friend. This also led to a kind of awkward within present context optics plot point, in which Kinsey and Bode use one of the keys to change their race so they can visit Erin, as her rantings make it seem like she is super agitated by the presence white people (let me just say that this isn’t the case, though I won’t reveal what I mean). I definitely understand the way that Hill used it to make a greater point about how Black people are perceived by white people in American society, and there is a moment that I thought was genuinely poignant at the end of the issue, but pretty much putting Kinsey and Bode into magical black face so they can learn a lesson about the humanity of Black people didn’t really land for me. It just felt a bit patronizing. But by the end everything had made a comeback for me, as a significant plot development that signals the last third of this series knocked my socks off. I knew it was coming, but it was still VERY well done, and ups the stakes to the highest levels they’ve been thus far.
And in terms of character development this volume was top notch. For Tyler, he is starting to feel the weight of all the difficult things in his life, and it’s making him overwhelmed and under severe pressure. His only solace is his girlfriend Jordan, whom he is head over heels in love with, and while Jordan obviously cares deeply for Tyler, she is pretty damaged. Which, of course, leads to problems down the line, and Tyler starts to think that being strong is something he can achieve through magic, much like Kinsey tried to extract her fear through the same means. It’s a pretty heavy moment when Tyler feels enough despair over everything that he turns to something that may not work out the way he wants it to. And speaking of Kinsey’s issue, we see all of that coming to a head now too, as having a lack of fear and grief has not only affected her relationship with Nina, it has also started to affect her friendships. Funnily enough, having no fear and no grief has made Kinsey a pretty shitty and selfish friend, and the most interesting part of this entire arc for me is that she recognizes this, but literally cannot bring herself to care because of her actions with the Head Key.
And finally, the art continues to be visceral and gory, but with a bit of a nostalgic twist in one of the stories. The first story, “Sparrow”, involves Bode trying to make friendships but preferring isolation, and he eventually puts himself into the body of a sparrow for a bit of time. And this is all drawn and written in a way that is in tribute to “Calvin and Hobbes”, a comic that has been near and dear to my heart since I was a small child. While it’s true that some of the juxtapositions of the nostalgic and bright Watterson style mixed with the gore and violence of “Locke & Key” is unnerving, I honestly thought that it was super charming and fun to give Bode this kind of adventure with a loving tribute to a cartoonist and storyteller that clearly inspired the Hill and Rodríguez.
“Locke & Key (Vol. 4): Keys to the Kingdom” has left us two thirds of the way into the story of the Locke family, and we are now heading for the final showdown between them and Dodge over the keys in Keyhouse. I know where we are going, and I’m still a little nervous to tread into the places that I know are coming up. But Hill and Rodríguez have something truly wondrous in store, and I’m ready.
Some things come to a head in this volume plot wise, with some social commentary and “Calvin and Hobbes” love thrown into the mix, which is a pretty good combination for the start of the final issues of this series.