"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
Locke & Key is a six volume longnote plus two one-shots series of Graphic Novels written by Joe Hill and illustrated by Gabriel Rodriguez.The series revolves around the three Locke children: 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 Sam Lesser, forcing the kids' mom to move them to the Locke family home called Keyhouse for a fresh start. The Locke children soon learn something unusual about their new home: it is filled with special keys with many unusual powers. There are a large number of magical keys, including 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.While around playing with the new keys, Bode discovers the ghost of a lady in a well. The ghost manipulates Bode and Sam Lesser into releasing her, then uses the keys to switch her gender and create a physical body. The ghost takes the alias "Dodge" and befriends the Locke children, pretending to be another new student. Dodge wants to find something in the Locke household and uses the friendship as an excuse to look around the house, while using his ability to change appearance to attack the Locke children whenever they find a new key.The story covers the Locke's investigation of the house and the keys, and how they tie into the Locke family history. It is a complex, highly interwoven horror drama, complete with complicated and powerful relationships between the many characters, and quite an extensive amount of backstory. 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.A television pilot of Locke & Key was made in 2011 for Fox, but sadly they passed on it and no other network picked it up. A trailer can be viewed here.
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.
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. In Clockworks this is revealed to be because the key to the front door is actually the last key forged, which prevents any adults from realizing or noticing the keys or their effects ("adult" being here defined as "person who has graduated high school")
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.
Angst: Most notably in the third volume's final chapter.
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.
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 and pretty much everyone else. Later at the end of Keys to the Kingdom Sam then attempts to out-gambit Dodge and fails.
Battle Trophy: Mark Cho is never without his comb, probably since his bangs fall forward into a bowl cut unless he keeps them brushed back. After stabbing Mark to death, Dodge takes the comb and casually works on his own tangles.
Better than a Bare Bulb: An unbelievable number of lampshades show up, and many a time actual trope names are droppped.
Big Brother Instinct / Big Sister Instinct: Both Tyler and Kinsey are very protective of their younger brother Bode. Threatening him in any way is a bad idea if you're not prepared to deal with both of them.
The cover of the first issue of Welcome to Lovecraft shows the Keyhouse in a dark and gloomy night. The cover of its final issue shows the now ruined Keyhouse on a bright day.
The story from the first issue begins with a splash page showing a butterfly fly past the door of the Locke's summer residence. It ends in the final issue with the splash page showing a butterfly fly past the door of the now closed Wellhouse.
Break the Cutie: Bode is an adorable six-year old boy with insatiable curiosity. The breaking starts in issue one, when his father is murdered and his mother is raped during a home invasion executed by his older brother's classmates. It just kinda goes on from there. Trying to protect him is actually a concern for his older siblings Tyler and Kinsey. At one point Tyler actually uses the Head Key to remove his memory of a monster attack, explaining that if Bode could remember it, he'd never sleep well again.
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 unaware 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.
Averted in two places, though both are early on during Welcome to Lovecraft. The guard killed by Sam is just Duncan's boyfriend Brian with no sideburns and a more muscular build. And the uniformed cop guarding Lovecraft is Tyler with a goatee and a slightly slimmer face.
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 beginning 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.
Celebrity Paradox: Nobody remarks on the fact that the town of Lovecraft is hosting a ton of magic and the odd Eldritch Abomination, which - plus the fact that the name dates back to the American Revolution - implies that H.P. Lovecraft isn't a going concern.
Nope, HP Lovecraft exists in this 'verse too. We can see 'In the Mountains of Madness' by HP Lovecraft on the second shelf of the bookcase when Nina finds the Echo Key in "Crown of Shadows." Apparently there are just no Horror fans among the cast.
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. Special mention should go to the Bitey Key, which was presented as just a doodle of Bode's. wasn't; in the Grindhouse one-shot a depression-era Locke woman uses it to dispose of an intruder.
The Lighthouse, which helps Tyler defeat Dodge in Crown Of Shadows #3.
The Hourglass Key was shown sitting just out of sight way back in the first arc, but Tyler only discovers it in volume 5. He even lampshades the fact that it took so long to show itself.
Cliff Hanger: Almost every issue since the comic is made up of six issue story arcs.
The Cutie: Bode is six years old, Curious as a Monkey, and adorable. Whether he's experimenting with the newest magic Key he's found, looking for treasure in the pond (using a toy fishing rod he "invented himself"), or even wearing a pot on his head as a helmet when he's being attacked by shadow-creatures, he's just so cute. Given how dark the story is, however, he's subjected to his share of Break the Cutie.
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).
Deadpan Snarker: Several characters, but Tyler is the king - he stops freaking out about seeing Bode use the Head Key for the first time in order to make a crack about his head being empty.
Despair Event Horizon: Entire first chapter. Entire first book. And then it gets better, but then it gets worse.
Distracted by the Sexy: Dodge uses the Gender Key to employ this against Mark Cho, distracting him long enough to get close. Though seeing his male friend not only turned evil but female, naked, and acting very seductively was probably a bit freaky as well.
Distracted from Death: When Kinsey, Jamal, and Jordan are trapped on a catwalk by Dodge and offered a Sadistic Choice where two of them have to kill the third or all three die, Jordan tries to convince them to kill her. They refuse, she pretends to agree with them, then steps off the catwalk the moment they're looking away. Kinsey and Jamal even try to carry on a conversation with her for a minute, not realizing that Jordan had jumped.
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.
Earn Your Happy Ending: After the utter chaos and devastation of the final arc, Tyler defeats Dodge and redeems him with the Alpha Key, Tyler and Kinsey return Erin Voss's mind to her with the Head Key, Bode is returned to life with the Ghost and Animal Keys, the Lockes agree to adopt Rufus and rebuild Keyhouse, and Tyler has a tearful reconciliation with his father in the Wellhouse.
Everything's 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.
Exact Words: When Dodge asks Tyler where the Omega Key is, while using the music box to guarantee a truthful answer, all Tyler says is that he "used his head on that one." Turns out it's literally locked inside his skull.
In 1988 Dodge makes Duncan promise to not follow Dodge and Rendell and their friends to the Black Door. Duncan says, "I promise with all my heart. I will not walk down those steps into the drowning cave again for the rest of the day." And he doesn't. He uses the Anywhere Key to go into the drowning cave.
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.
Intangible Time Travel: The Timeshift Key allows the user to visit the day set on the clock as an invisible, intangible observer.
Invisible Parents: This applies to several of the characters, especially teenaged Rendell and most of his friends. Most strikingly, we never see or hear about the parental uproars, questions, and calls for investigation that must have consumed the town following the 1988 disappearances, or how this must have affected the young survivors (whatever other details they necessarily forgot about).
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.
Jerk Ass / It's All About Me / Teens Are Monsters: With special mention to Rendell and Erin. After Dodge is infected, the other Keepers of the Keys take action to protect themselves - removing Dodge's memories of them and keeping Keys on themselves at all times - but do nothing to protect anyone else in the town. They don't even drop hints that Dodge was acting strangely and might have become dangerous. This despite the fact that Rendell and Erin know what happened when the door was first opened during the American Revolution: the demons went on a killing spree until they were captured and the door closed. At that point it turned on the crocodile tears and tried to trick the guards into reopening the door. The instant they did, the demons started attacking again. Assuming that the demon didn't have any memories independent of Dodge, the logical expectation would be that demon!Dodge, like every other known demon, would begin a massacre since it wouldn't have the over-riding goal of trying to reopen the portal. Yet the Keepers didn't even keep a rotating watch on their old friend! With the sole exception of Ellie, they acted purely on the principle of CYA. Any deaths subsequent to their mind rape of Dodge would have been squarely on their heads.
Another special mention to Rendell. Since the official story was that the missing teens drowned, he must have hidden the bodies (neither Erin nor Ellie were up to it), which at the very least required moving Mark into the Drowning Cave with Dodge and Kim and cleaning up the blood. He probably used the Shadows to do this. However, he never sent the Shadows to look for Erin's thoughts and memories which were in the cave the entire time. If he hadn't been so myopically self-centered and determined to hide his own culpability, Erin wouldn't have lost 24 years of her life to an asylum.
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.
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 world.
Monkey Morality Pose: In second issue of Headgames, inside Tyler's head, three versions of himself are covering their mouth, eyes and ears.
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.
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.
Pet the Dog: Sam Lesser's backstory. It illustrates how Dodge could manipulate him so easily.
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. This is later confirmed in Crown Of Shadows #6.
In Headgames, it is strongly implied that Dodge rapes Ellie. She is sitting in the shower in her underwear when he enters, says some definitively creepy lines, and removes her bra. The scene ends there, but it's pretty clear what happens.
Recursive Canon: Among other books, "Locke and Key" can be seen on a shelf in the first issue of Crown of Shadow when Nina finds the echo key.
Revealing Hug: Dodge in Bode's body at the end of Keys to the Kingdom.
The Lovecraft hockey team plays against Voorhees High. If it wasn't obvious enough, the opposing players can be seen at the beginning and end of the issue wearing old-style goalie masks, even though they are not playing goalie, while Tyler is barefaced. The Lovecraft goalie is wearing a far more modern "cage" helmet.
Shower of Angst: In the first volume, when Bode is exploring with the Ghost Key, he sees Tyler standing numbly in the shower, staring at nothing.
So Happy Together: "I think I feel pretty shiny right now" and "Because it's your name for me."
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.