The Run Through- Locke & Key: Keys to the Kingdom

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. 

I hate cliffhangers. More often than not, they rely on threatening the characters with something we know won’t happen. A gun is held to Samantha’s head, will she die? Probably not. Even deployed to bookend commercials in a TV the cliffhangers are worthy of a groan. Now, I don’t hate all cliffhangers. Some are smart, not allowing the reader to easily predict the next page, or raising the stakes so that, while you may not be worried about the character’s ultimate fate, you’re worried about how he or she will be affected. And Joe Hill and Gabriel Rodriguez do just that with splitting-arrow accuracy in Locke & Key: Keys to the Kingdom.

If the end of this volume had ended with Dodge holding a knife to Tyler’s throat, or ready to toss Kinsey off a cliff, I would’ve been angry. Instead we get Bode, a seemingly unscathed child (for now) involved in a…less fortuitous situation. We know he’ll be okay; he’s just a kid, but what will this do to him? Tyler and Kinsey have mentioned using the Head Key to remove all the memories of fights with the Dark Lady, but are they still doing it? Bode seems well aware of everything that’s going on, and does more than he should during these fights (he becomes a mini Hulk, minus the green), and even asks to be readily included in the upcoming conversations. Bode isn’t shying away. I’m really curious about his state of mind at this point. If his siblings have been removing those memories, how has he been able to deal with the situations every time they pop up? It’d be new to him. Or, alternatively, if he remembers it all, how damaged is he? Tyler and Kinsey are both pretty fucked by now, so what about Bode?

I use to look like that. 

I use to look like that. 

The structure of this volume differs heavily from the previous ones. While every arc has had a distinctive format, volume four was a torrential downpour of events, tough it didn’t feel like a burden. One chapter actually encompasses a full month, showing the Locke children, day by day, and includes a few boss battles. This pace allowed for a multitude of keys to be introduced, a few too many murders to be committed, and even some freshly baked cookies. You get everything, really.

And out of all of these, the most major even has to be the revelation concerning Dodge. The kids now know who he really is, which may seem early to some, but this will let the children actively fight against him in the next two volumes, even if they think he’s been defeated.

If there was a focus this volume, it was Tyler’s growth. He’s still taking the expected journey of the family’s protector, but it seems to be wearing him down. Ty has always seen his father’s death as his fault, but now he’s verbalizing that sentiment. And also using it (as well as the Hulk Key, as I’m calling it) to fuel his rematch with the hockey team that left him limping.

I mean, at least there was some social commentary along with the black face. Otherwise, uh...

I mean, at least there was some social commentary along with the black face. Otherwise, uh...

Ultimately, this arc feels like Kinsey and Tyler are coming to terms with their pain, and that their attempts to fix themselves haven’t been fruitful. Kinsey wanted to lose her emotions, but instead found solace in a group of friends. Tyler pleads for strength, but focuses on schoolwork instead. But then, their original wishes become their downfall. Kinsey’s lack of fear pushes her friends away, and Tyler’s bid for strength and want of justice leads to Bode’s capture and…well, something not so great.

Like with Joe Hill’s script, Gabriel Rodriguez is pushed to provide an immense amount of work, though he doesn’t lose any steam. I’m sure he wasn’t completely excited when asked to draw about one million birds (I counted). As intense as the opening chapter was, especially in thanks to the layout of the panels, it was the contrast of Gabriel’s usual art with his tribute to Calvin and Hobbes creator Bill Waterson that pulled a blanket of appreciation over my face. Not only for how flawless the work was, but how it gave us some insight into how Bode might view things.

There are animals in this too! Not as happy as Calvin and Hobbes, though. 

There are animals in this too! Not as happy as Calvin and Hobbes, though. 

Bode is in his Calvin and Hobbes world, while his siblings are in the Rodriguez realm. Does Bode see this as a game? As playtime? It could be a stretch, but maybe Bode isn’t entirely frightened by the situation with Dodge because of how ridiculous it comes across. He seems to have more of a reaction when Sam Lesser killed his father—a much more realistic situation—and when his family begins a shouting match. Is the idea of living plants and giant people more like a movie than a tragedy to him?

Regardless, this plethora of scenarios is a testament to how good Gabriel Rodriguez is. Mechanical owls? Sure. Dive bombing, soldier birds? Okay! He even creates another, pulpy army world that lives inside Rufus’ head, which is heartbreaking in its own. I hope the series continues in this direction, because it’s obvious that Gabriel Rodriguez can handle anything that’s thrown at him.

We’re getting close, folks. Two more weeks, two more volumes, and we’ll be finished. Sweet Tooth will be out this upcoming week, so check that out as well. As for now, say something down below and we can argue whether Dodge looks better as a man or woman, or if the Hulk Key should get me sued for naming it.  

Chill, dude. It ain't happenin'.

Chill, dude. It ain't happenin'.