The Evolving Symmetry of Locke and Key

If there is one thing just brutally asymmetrical to the series Locke and Key is how overwhelmingly overlooked it is. This is a book that, art and story wise, beats anything on the stands currently, yet it’s numbers are low compared to the X-books or the higher tier DC fare.  Selling around 6-7K per issue is not bad, but compared to a book like Marvel’s Fear Itself which sales around 96K in May of last year it pales in comparison.

So, why should anyone pay attention to this little comic book that gets stocked in either the indie section or horror section of your comic shops racks?  Because it is goddamn beautiful.  It is a symphony played by Beethoven.  It is a painting by da Vinci.  But so much more.

It is everything you wanted to do as a kid put into comic form for everyone that had an imagination growing up.  Maybe you didn’t want to have a key that could open people’s heads, letting you rummage about and loot it like a criminal, but perhaps you were weird.  Maybe you just wished you had the ability to fly.  Or that shadows could come alive and their will was your toy.

But, what is Locke and Key about exactly?  At it’s core, it is the story of good vs evil.  Demons of some variety want to get into our world via a Black Door in a cavern near the Atlantic Ocean by the Keyhouse estate.  The Locke children are another generation somehow put in or near the house, searching out the 100 special keys that are hidden in the house.  But, even that isn’t quite getting at what Locke and Key is, which is one of the finest comics ever made.

But what makes it the finest are the things often overlooked in comics this rich in imagination.  The horror aspect of Locke and Key is phenomenal too, but even that isn’t what it is about.  Instead, the most accentuating detail to the fight of good vs evil is found in the overall design and spirit of the book.  That is to say, it is masterfully symmetrical.  You have a series that is broken up into 6 volumes.  Each volume is broken up into 6 issues.  And those can further be broken down into panel variety, panel usage and even characters – 4 mains ones being Bode, Kinsey, Tyler, and Luke/Dodge.

Even the number of keys has a symmetry to it: 100 magical keys hidden throughout the house.  Perhaps symmetrical is underselling it.  It is symmetrical, but as you can see this is not an easy balance that Joe Hill and Gabriel Rodriguez are making with Locke and Key.  Rodriguez is an artist that does not allow himself to be pinned in by the page.  Like the master artist he is, he has such a deep understanding of layout, design, and fun that he crafts these minuets that collapse and grow, just constantly evolving as the story goes on.

In the third volume Crown of Shadows: issue#5 Light of Day, the kids Bode and Kinsey are about to be killed by the shadows, but Tyler discovers the giant key and a monumental battle between giants ensues.  Now, most artists would adequately sell the fight in smaller panels for most pages with perhaps a splash page here or there.  Rodriguez crafts panels from the whole page, but never are they splash pages.  They are panels that just happen to comprise the whole page.  And not once does Rodriguez cut it short.  He takes the battle on for several pages, the size of the panel just accentuating the battle perfectly.  Once again, symmetry, there is a balance struck with every aspect of this series.

In the back of the graphic novels carry an appendix of keys as if written by men of the Locke family throughout the ages.  Even in the minutia of the keys there is a rich, deep history that shows these men were thinking through everything when creating this series.  The keys made/found around 1757-1799 all seem to represent a time in humanity when the sciences were really coming forth and being developed by Francis Bacon and others.  The all have a certain physicality to them.  Where as the keys made/found around 1851 seemingly are all of an aesthetic variety: changing your color/gender, etc.  Then in 1942 we see keys that develop more of a power/truth/spiritual nature to them.  The angel key while granting wings seems to be more of a spiritual light that grants hope.

But, not everything is giant panels or keys.  There is the way that Rodriguez is not afraid to use every type of storytelling available to craft his elegant pages.  While there are big pages and half panel shots, these are balanced out by the use of smaller panels, close up shots that carry the emotions of his faces that is so nuanced.  These are people emoting.  Carrying their emotions as Bode bites his lip, sobbing rivers.  Tyler trying to hide how obviously horny damaged girls make him.  But, there is also Rodriguez’s near perfect use of decompression too.

For instance when Dodge shows up at the psychiatric hospital to kill Erin Voss, Rodriguez has the page set up with 6 panels that show more action that an X-men comic shows in 3 pages.  The first panel shows the man mopping only to get curious and look into Erin Voss’s room.  Then the next panel we see him running out as Dodge is chasing the man out the door, knives in hand.  In the panel just below we see the man almost make it away, but Dodge caught him and is jamming the knives into the mans back.  Then an empty shot just the same as the others which just adds the horror of it.  The man was alive, now he isn’t.  He is gone, and these creators want to make sure the reader understands the profundity of his death.  Not that he was an important character, but Hill and Rodriquez do not treat death as a cheap way to craft a story.

Perhaps detailing how beautifully symmetrical Locke and Key is still to undersell its grace.  There is something unrelentingly elegant that just evolves and collapses together like gorgeous stars in dying constellations.  After all, like stars and organisms, so to must stories end.  But there is a part of me that wishes it could go on forever.  Go read it, tell me you don’t wish the same.

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Kevin Thurman is a writer based in Chicago. He blogs about comics, life, and music at

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Also by Kevin Thurman:

Warren Ellis: The Captured Ghosts Interviews


Voyage in Noise: Warren Ellis and the Demise of Western Civilization


Shot in the Face: A Savage Journey to the Heart of Transmetropolitan


The Devil is in the Details: Examining Matt Murdock and Daredevil


a feature-length documentary film on celebrated comics writer Warren Ellis

creative consultant

Keeping the World Strange: A Planetary Guide


1 Comment

  1. Miguel Rosa says:

    Holy Moley, Diabolik just stabbed a poor janitor in the back! That’s cold, even for the King of Terror.

    Seriously, excellent review. The series has been under my radar for a while; I will read it soon.

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