I had a copy of the first volume of this series since two years ago, but I finally only got to read it this year. Much like the first two volumes of Brian K. Vaughn and Fiona Staples' SAGA, I managed to finish this one under an hour, but it's equivocally a different experience. Granted, it was still a very good one because I was invested the entire time I read it. Writer Joe Hill brought a great horror story to life in graphic novel form with Locke and Key, there was denying it. It has all the right elements of the genre, and the storytelling is well-balanced enough to even warrant a possible movie adaptation.
I'm aware that it even got an unaired pilot which sadly never got to see the light of day. I think clips of its tailer are still available online. It's also worth noting that Joe Hill is the son of no other than prolific horror fiction writer Stephen King, and it's great to see he's following his father's steps while being completely unique on his own as a writer in the same genre.
That being said, Locke and Key's first volume plays more of a psychological thriller in narrative with fantasy elements thrown in there as well, but I would still characterize it as a horror story because of the scope of its drama and characterization. I genuinely enjoyed this graphic novel. I wasn't exactly stimulated intellectually, but the mystery aspect of the story did get me interested enough to look forward reading the second installment of the series.
A family was recovering from a home invasion experience after the brutal murder of the father committed by the eldest son's school acquaintance. The mother, a rape survivor of the crime, decides to move her three kids to Lovecraft, Massachusetts so they can live in her late husband's family house called the Keyhouse. The three kids all try to cope from the loss of their father by dealing with conflicted feelings regarding their respective roles during the invasion. The eldest son Tyler tries to come to terms of how much of a failure he feels for perhaps indirectly causing his father's death in the first place while the daughter Kinsey suffers an identity crisis where she loses a sense of her individuality that she gradually kept shrinking away from social ties. Meanwhile, the youngest Bode finds a mysterious key that can open a door that could apparently turn him into a ghost.
What I like about this first volume is not so much as the story (which was good) but really more of the groundwork for the main characters. It's very easy to sympathize with the family as the victims of a crime, but also still view the potential growth of these characters in an objective way such as what roles they could contribute to an ongoing supernatural storyline that is still on its initial stage. Tyler, Kinsey and Bode are well-rounded enough, but both teens are still defined by their tragedies while Bode--the supposedly more central character since he was the only one aware of the supernatural (at least until we get to the end)--is not yet compelling to hold his own weight against the adult characters. I'm actually very curious about the mother Nina since she had been victimized with rape, and yet we never get to tackle this here. The first volume focused more on the kids and their inner conflicts. I think Nina may have her own issue in the next volume. I hope that's the case.
Now, the story itself did fine on it own; the alternating scenes between the past and the present (before and after the home invasion) were well-executed, maintaining a seamless transition. The inner monologues and the dialogues never clash, and Hill truly utilized them well in establishing the conflict and building up the suspense nice and slow until the climactic events in the last two issues collected for the volume. The villains of the series are composed of the mysterious 'girl in the well' who has compelled a boy named Sam Lesser to commit horrible crimes for the sake of having a second chance to restart his life. I found Sam Lesser really fascinating as a character himself, and his antagonistic role for the story is one that is chilling yet also still sympathetic. He's a rotten egg but one whose motivation is clear, and whose methods are as methodical as they are violent.
All in all, Volume 1: Welcome to Lovecraft is a solid debut for the series itself. The pacing is remarkable; only a few stories I've read and reviewed are as careful and as precise as getting that perfect balance of narrative, character exposition and suspense, and the first volume of Joe Hill's Locke and Key was definitely one of them.
I look forward to reading the next installment!