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Comic Book / Locke & Key

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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

Locke & Key is a series of comic books written by Joe Hill and illustrated by Gabriel Rodriguez, which have gotten collected as graphic novels. Six volumes of the G Ns have appeared so far. A seventh volume, starting off a new cycle called “World War Key”, will appear in late 2021. The seventh volume will collect a few of the one-shot comics published so far.

The original series, which takes place in the early 2010s (though the first issue appeared in 2008), revolves around the three Locke children: Tyler (eldest brother), Kinsey (his sister, a year younger than him) and Bode, by far the youngest.

A television pilot of Locke & Key was made in 2011 for Fox. That network passed on it and no other network picked it up. A trailer can be viewed here. A second and more succesful adaptation, directed by Andy Muschietti was picked up by Netflix and premiered in 2020 - see Locke & Key (2020).


A miniseries {{Crossover{{ with The Sandman’’ entitled Locke & Key/Sandman: Hell & Gone'' began publication in 2021. This, as well as a few other side stories.

The Series contains examples of:

  • Academy of Adventure: Borderline. 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. Tthere's nothing unusual about the school, and while things happen there that affect the plot, almost all of the true "adventures" take place at Keyhouse.
  • A-Cup Angst: Kinsey. Tyler makes fun of her for this, but the way Kinsey suppresses a grin while she flips him off suggests it's both meant and taken as a familiar joke.
  • 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"). This trope is deconstructed as, though it was invoked to keep adults from abusing the keys, it also leaves the responsibility of keeping them and guarding the Black Door entirely in the hands of minors, which leads to a lot of trauma. Furthermore, as the entire plot shows, it leaves each generation discovering that they even have this responsibility in the first place entirely through dumb luck.
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  • 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. Guide To Known Keys also provides bits of backstory.
  • The American Revolution: When the Black Door was discovered and the first Keys were made.
  • 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, as it's what the keys are made from.
  • 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.
  • Armored Closet Gay: Invoked by Brian about the two ambiguously butch lesbians who are vocal about their homophobia. They soon start to assault him and Duncan.
  • Artifact of Death: The Ghost Key, especially since Dodge uses it to kill Sam Lesser at the end of the first volume. Breaking Sam's neck first probably helped with that though.
  • Artifact of Doom: Some of the keys can be pretty dangerous if used in the wrong hands, but the Omega Key is the most dangerous of all, as its only purpose is to open the Black Door and unleash the creatures that dwell beyond it.
  • 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.
    • The second half of the "Open the Moon" one-shot is done in the style of Winsor McCay's Little Nemo comics.
  • Attack of the 50-Foot Whatever: The climax of Crown Of Shadows #5, thanks to the Giant Key.
  • 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.
  • Beauty Equals Goodness: Sometimes played straight, often averted by Dodge.
    • Averted by Brian who's not pretty, but is still a nice guy (though a bit provocative).
  • Be Careful What You Wish For: Tyler tells Sam he wishes he could kill his father. Sam takes it seriously.
  • 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.
  • Bonding over Missing Parents: Kinsey and Jamal share stories about their respective dads on more than one occasion.
  • Book-Ends:
    • 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.
  • Casting a Shadow: The Shadow Crown allows the wearer to summon an army of shadow-creatures to do their bidding. Dodge also uses it to transform himself into an enormous wolf-monster.
  • 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 Keyhouse 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.
  • Cassandra Truth: Kinsey's personified fear tries to warn her about Zack, but of course she's not listening.
  • 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. Special mention should go to the Bitey Key, which was presented as just a doodle of Bode's. 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.
    • The fishhook Tyler wears in his hat, which he got from his father. It turns out to be forged from the only lump of Whispering Iron that Rendell managed to recover during the disaster 25 years ago; realizing this, Tyler uses it during the Final Battle to forge the Alpha Key to use against Dodge and the other possessed.
  • Children Are Innocent: Revealed to be the reason why Bode seems to be the one who always stumbles upon the keys, and why the adults forget about the key magic: Hans Riffel was concerned that adults would be malicious enough to use them as weapons, thus the keys can be only found by children.
  • Cliffhanger: Almost every issue since the comic is made up of six issue story arcs.
  • Cluster F-Bomb: The kids all swear constantly, but none more so than Dodge himself.
  • Compelling Voice: The Music Box Key can pull this off.
  • Cool Key: The magical keys at Keyhouse. An entire page could be dedicated to describing the individual keys and their effects, and that's just the ones we actually see in action. No wonder this series provides the page image.
  • Cool Loser: Scot Kavanaugh and Jamal Saturday.
  • Cool Shades: Scot Kavanaugh.
  • Creator Cameo: Both Hill and Rodriguez appear as paramedics in Alpha & Omega.
  • 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.
  • Death of a Child:
    • Jay Bird. After he figures out too much for his own good, Dodge pushes him in front of a moving school bus.
    • The lighthouse family's daughter. She brings Dodge's use of magic to her parents' attention and all three are immediately killed.
    • Bode spends several months as a ghost, and when his body is freed of Dodge's spirit he doesn't get back to it before he's cremated. Tyler manages to bring him back using the Keys and a little help from a bird Bode once befriended.
  • Decoy Protagonist: Bode is definitely the focus of the first volume and the Locke child who discovers most of the keys, and Kinsey is the focus of most of the school drama. But the last volume makes it clear that Tyler is the true protagonist, closing the series' themes by becoming a man and 'the king of the Keyhouse', and correcting his father's mistakes.
  • Deliberate Values Dissonance: The chapters set in Rendell Locke's childhood show a lot more prejudices — namely racism, homophobia, ableism and sexism — than the present, including between friends.
  • 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.
  • Dying as Yourself: Tyler and co. save those who were possessed in the final volume by using a new key they forge that separates the demons from their hosts. There's one central drawback however: the demons immediately turn into Whispering Iron, killing their hosts. This is the only option, however, as possessed people who die any other way are still possessed in the afterlife, kept from the peace and bliss that awaits them, as it terrifies the demons for some reason. Tyler uses the wellhouse key to bring Dodge back one more time and kill the demon. Dodge, finally back to his original self, thanks him and begs Tyler for forgiveness.
  • 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.
  • Eldritch Abomination: The demons behind the Black Door. People possessed by them call out to Shub-Niggurauth.
  • Eldritch Location: The caves underneath the Keyhouse. As shown in flashbacks to colonial times, the Black Door just appeared there as a drawing which slowly formed into an actual door the more people paid attention to it.
  • 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 that he has locked it inside his head.
    • 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.
  • Fate Worse than Death: Dodge, in 1988. Erin Voss, later.
    • Also, what awaits all of mankind if Dodge gets his way.
  • 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 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: What the Gender Key does.
  • Ghost in the Machine: The Head Key opens up people's heads into a Mental World populated by manifestations of their thoughts, memories and feelings. Kinsey uses it to remove her fear and sorrow and stores them in an empty soda bottle.
  • 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." Although she admits a moment later that she's actually just afraid of getting caught.
  • Gory Discretion Shot: In "Clockworks". Bode!Dodge pushes one of Bode's friends under a bus as it approaches. Subverted later, it's an open casket funeral.
  • Grand Theft Me: Any "empty body" from using the Ghost Key can be re-entered by anyone else who is out of their body from it's use. Eventually, Dodge uses it on Bode.
  • 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.
  • Humanoid Abomination: Dodge, through and through. He's remarkably good at hiding it though.
  • Idiot Ball: Rendell grabs tightly a hold of this when he suggests that he and his friends open the Black Door.
  • 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’’.
  • Important Haircut: Kinsey gets two in the first volume.
  • Incredibly Lame Pun: [[spooiler:"Black-currents" jelly. Dodge instantly figures it out.]]
  • Inspirationally Disadvantaged: The mentally impaired Rufus is able to see ghosts and has preternatural knowledge, even if he doesn't fully understand it. He's also immune to having the Head Key used on him.
  • Intangible Time Travel: The Timeshift Key allows the user to visit the day set on the clock this way.
  • 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.
  • Jigsaw Puzzle Plot: We don't learn why Dodge is after the Omega Key until late in the story, nor do we learn who he is until a flashback in the later volumes.
  • Karmic Transformation: The "Grindhouse" one-shot has a rapist get turned into a woman.
  • Kick the Dog: Sam Lesser gets several moments in the first volume, most of them involving killing innocent people at random.
  • 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.
  • Killed Off for Real: Played straight, subverted, averted, take your pick.
  • "Knock Knock" Joke: Rendell seems to have been fond of them.
  • Lighter and Softer: The one-shots "Open the Moon" and "Small World" are decidedly more whimsical and comedic than the main series.
    • The one-shot "Dog Days" is this as well: it features children playing with their dog-turned-child thanks to the Animal Key.
  • Living Shadow: The Crown of Shadows grants the ability to conjure these under the user's control with the Shadow key.
  • Loads and Loads of Characters: The Lockes of each generation, and then their friends, and then their family's friends.
  • Loophole Abuse: The keys work the way they're designed to with limits discovered after the fact but there is still some wiggle room to these limits:
    • Echoes disintegrate when they cross the Well House's threshold to the outside. This can be circumvented by using the Anywhere key to make an echo not actually cross through the Well House's threshold while still leaving it, essentially resurrecting someone.
    • At the end of the series, Bode is dead but still exists as a ghost. A sparrow is willing to give up its body for him to possess, and using the Animal key they transform it into his human form.
  • Lovable Jock: Ellie was this back in high school (and is coaching track as an adult). Downplayed with Brinker Martin the hockey Captain who is fairly nice to Tyler after he comes, hangs out with him often and after making out with Jordan while stoned is apologetic towards Tyler and angry at her for doing that to Tyler.
  • Lovecraft Country: Lovecraft, Massachusetts is essentially an expansion of the real town of Nahant, with the Drowning Cave based on Swallow Cave.
  • 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.
  • Matricide: Ellie Whedon comes really, really close to pushing her horrible mother off a cliff after she puts a cigarette out on her son's neck, but can't go through with it. However, the evil spirit she unwittingly unleashes a few pages later has no such hesitation.
  • 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.
    • In "Small World" the Locke family uses the Crown of Shadows for household chores like serving dinner or cleaning up after a giant spider attack.
  • Near-Death Experience: Basically, everyone who survives anything in this series gets to claim this.
  • Ominous Owl: Dodge sends a metal owl monster after the Lockes at one point.
  • Or Are You Just Happy to See Me?: Naked in his female form, Dodge asks a visibly aroused Mark if he has a key in his pocket or if he's just happy to see her.
  • 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.
  • Pairing the Spares: While there is a brief love triangle between Kinsey, Jamal and Scot, there's barely any chemistry between Scot and Jackie (save a couple of weird moments) before they suddenly become a couple, and end up dying in each others' arms and having their funeral service together.
  • Pet the Dog: Sam Lesser's backstory. It illustrates how Dodge could manipulate him so easily.
  • 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: In the first issue, Nina is raped by Al Grubb. This is hinted to be one of the reasons she is having such a hard time recovering emotionally.
  • Rape 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 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 torn, and there are four long parallel wounds in her hand as though she had been grabbed violently and scratched her hand with his fingernails. This is clearer if you read the script book for the issue, and we see some hints that Nina Locke was raped off-panel. This was confirmed in ''Crown Of Shadows’’ #6.
    • In ‘'Head Games,'' it is implied that Dodge rapes Ellie. She is sitting in the shower in her underwear when he enters, says some creepy lines, and removes her bra.
  • 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. And then there's the creatures locked behind the Black Door...
  • Shoot the Shaggy Dog: Sam's ultimate fate at the end of Keys to the Kingdom make his story an example.
  • Shout-Out: For starters, the comic takes place in a town called Lovecraft.
    • Tyler is shown reading Peter Pan to Bode in Crown Of Shadows.
    • In Keys to the Kingdom #2, the patient directory at McClellan 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.
    • 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 modern "cage" helmet.
    • The older kids attend William Gaines high school.
    • At the prom, Jamal and Scot recreate the prom queen scene from Carrie... which probably not coincidentally was written by Hill's dad, Stephen King.
  • 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.
    • In the second, Ellie is angsting in the shower as well.
  • So Happy Together: "I think I feel pretty shiny right now" and "Because it's your name for me."
  • Summon Magic: The Shadow Crown allows the wearer to summon an army of shadow-creatures.
  • Super Strength: The Hercules Key makes whoever uses it much stronger.
  • 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.
  • Trash the Set: Keyhouse gets set on fire during the fight with Dodge's shadows during the final arc, and ends up completely burning down.
  • Waxing Lyrical: In Crown of Shadows when Dodge finds the titular crown and summons the shadows.
  • 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, though technically the key doesn't transform you, it animates a harness that you wear.
  • 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.


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