In The Run Through, we’ll be looking at completed comic book series, one volume, one week at a time, from the critically acclaimed to the virtually unknown. The goal is to provide our readers with something new to bite into. This isn’t a review, it’s barely a recommendation. It’s an informal glance at comics that made it to their final issue, and we want to read the stories arc by arc, as they were ultimately intended to be consumed. While there may be minor spoilers, any major developments will be vaguely referred to, so don't worry. No stars, no bashing, just what we did and didn’t like. And yes, we want to hear from you too.
We’ve probably all had the same thought during finals: what if I could just shove the entire textbook into my head and learn everything at once? Tests would be easy, researching would be instantaneous, and you could be the asshole who quotes famous people in casual conversations. Alternatively, what if you could take things out? Fear, anxiety, mental illnesses. You could make yourself feel better in a moment. Or, what if someone else decided to take things out for you, against your will? Maybe he removes your confidence, disables your motor skills, or erases a traumatic memory, one where he was the offender. In Locke & Key: Head Games, these such things are possible, and they're used as a platform for character exploration.
Bode is the first one to find the Head Key. He shows his siblings its ability, and how you're able to remove ideas and insert, in this case, a cookbook. The horror of an open head isn't lost on Tyler and Kinsey, but they see it as an opportunity to fight back against whatever it is that keeps haunting them (spoiler, it's the dude with the early 2000's bangs).
What Joe Hill's script does so well in this volume is utilize the Head Key's ability to carve out the backstory of some of the characters, while also exploring the Locke children's reactions to their second encounter with Sam Lesser, their father's killer. The first character we meet this volume is Dr. Joe Ridgeway, a professor who teaches Shakespeare, and is tied to Dodge from his old life. While he isn't in the story for very long, Joe Ridgeway is accessible as a pained, grieving widower, who notices the ghost that is Dodge. We understand where he comes from, giving us a beautiful arc for such a short lived character, and simultaneously showing us what Dodge is capable of doing to keep his secret hidden.
We get plenty of motivation when it comes to every character in this volume, including new, supporting characters, but the star of the book is the malevolent Dodge. Instead of hanging in the shadows like the first book, we see him take an active role in completing his goal. When he's not torturing Ellie in her own home, in front of her mentally handicapped child who speaks through his toys, he's manipulating the Locke children and befriending them. He becomes the offender I spoke of before. Tampering with the mind of Uncle Duncan, and making it pretty damn clear that killing isn't a moral dilemma for him.
With so many characters it'd be easy to expect a bloated, dialogue ridden book, but Joe Hill is able to keep things concise, and even puts aside two issues for two different characters, yet it doesn't feel like a departure. It can be argued that it still feels like a setup for the rest of the story, and for Dodge it may be, but the amount of character building that Joe Hill does in this volume is fantastically executed. Even Ellie's son, Rufus, has a revelation at the end. Hill is answering many questions in this session, and leaving some more in his wake, just so the reader doesn't get bored in between reads.
As for Gabriel Rodriguez's art, what is there to say? I love the way he handles body communication and facial expressions, showing how unnecessary Joe Hill's words are at times. Throughout the second chapter of this arc, we're treated to a bevy of foreshadowing. Keys, doors, and rooms are spilled like a sack of marbles, and you can't help but feel anxious about them. The panels are placed, delicately at times, making them nearly invisible. Grammar, panels, they're not something you want to see, but they are something that need to move you. Images of Ellie freezing in the shower, creatures plucked from the heads of the characters, and the fantastically imagined space inside the heads of Dodge and Tyler are enough to satisfy the appetite of any art aficionado.
The colors, by Jay Fotos, are something that must be mentioned, as well. Initially, the bright colors through me off because of the subject matter. Greens, reds, and blues pop off the page like rubber bands, and I felt like it wouldn't work. Once I saw the magic of the world being built, even in the first volume, I realized how important Jay Foto's work is. He doesn't slack on his colors, making the vibrant mansion of keys and murderers as fantastic as Japanese animation, bringing the scenes to life in an otherworldly way.
With so much character development, I was saddened that Nina didn't get much airtime. A few humorous passings, but nothing in terms of character. I can't complain too much, though, considering how many other character Hill was able to fit into the arc.
I'll be reading the next volume soon, so expect that next week! Join the conversation below, and read along with me. It gets lonely on here, ya know?