Kate’s Review: “Locke & Key: The Golden Age”

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Book: “Locke & Key: The Golden Age” by Joe Hill & Gabriel Rodríguez (Ill.)

Publishing Info: IDW, April 2022

Where Did I Get This Book: I received an eARC from the publisher.

Where You Can Get This Book: WorldCat | Amazon | IndieBound

Book Description: Unlock moments from Keyhouse’s long history, expanding the saga of the Locke family in this collection of stories, which includes the epic crossover with DC’s The Sandman Universe!

For two hundred years, the Locke family has watched over Keyhouse, a New England mansion where reality has come unhinged and shadows are known to walk on their own. Here they have guarded a collection of impossible keys, instruments capable of unlocking both unparalleled wonder and unimaginable evil. Take a glimpse into the lives of Chamberlin Locke and his family in the early 20th century as they use the keys to fight battles big and small. From the killing fields of Europe during WWI and the depths of Hell, the Lockes are in a constant struggle to keep the dark forces of their world at bay.

Collects three standalone tales, “Small World,” the Eisner-nominated “Open the Moon,” and the never-before-seen “Face the Music,” along with the 3-part …In Pale Battalions Go… and the epic 80-page crossover with The Sandman Universe, Hell & Gone all from the co-creators of Locke & Key, Joe Hill and Gabriel Rodriguez!

Review: Thank you to IDW for sending me an eARC of this graphic novel!

It wasn’t so long ago that I wrapped up my “Locke & Key” re-read, and just as it was finished I was delighted to receive an invitation to read “Locke & Key: The Golden Age”. As someone who had never really gone back to read the expanded Locke Family stories that serve as stand alone prequels of sorts, this was a great opportunity to finally do so, especially since the original story was so fresh in my mind. But what made this all the more tantalizing? “Locke & Key: The Golden Age” not only has the supplemental expansions on this universe, but it also has the “The Sandman” crossover that has been tempting me ever since I heard about it.

IT’S HAPPENING! (source)

I will admit that I read this in the exact wrong order (as the collection was sent to me in their individualized sections), mostly because I was so damn eager to get to “Sandman” that I started there, which was like starting at the end. So I’m going to save that for last and start with the Locke stories that lead up to it, but also stand on their own two feet. We meet the Locke family that is living in Keyhouse at the beginning of the 20th Century. We have patriarch Chamberlain, his wife Fiona, his brother Harland, and his children John, Mary, Ian, and Jean. I liked getting to know this new Locke Family through the stories in this collection, which include “Small World”, where Chamberlain gives his kids the Small World Dollhouse key, which can bring anything into their actual house in scale sized form. Problem is, a black widow spider gets into the house when young Jean isn’t paying attention. This is a nice introductory tale that plays with a generally innocuous key, though clearly it has other issues. The other standalone story I want to mention was the most emotional of the bunch for me, called “Open the Moon”. In this story Chamberlain realizes that son Ian, who has a brain tumor and is getting sicker and sicker, is not long for this world. So he and Harland decide to construct a new kind of key to give him peace, taking him on a hot air balloon journey around the world with a magical conclusion. Hill made this short tale so bittersweet and moving, it had me weeping by the end, while still being full of whimsy and joy. These standalones were a good way to introduce a new Locke Family and to make you understand them with limited pages. Which is essential for the next two sections.

The next tale (and, of course, the one I read last because again, out of order!) was the collection called “In Pale Battalions Go”, which bridges the whimsical stand alone Locke stories with the “Sandman” crossover. I will have to spoil a bit in the next section, as the way this one plays out sets the scene for the “Sandman” story. World War I is raging, and even though Chamberlain has the keys and all the powers that they hold, he refuses to use them to turn the tides of war, as he feels they are too dangerous to wield in such ways. His son John, and idealistic early teenager, thinks that the keys should be used to help defeat the Germans, and uses the Age Key to age himself up, takes the keys, and goes to enlist. So we have a World War I tale, with some good ‘horrors of war’ and ‘great power comes great responsibility’ themes. As one can imagine, it does not go well. I liked this story for the most part, as it’s bleak as hell and it does a great job of showing the dangers of hubris and unintended consequences (something that is seen in other “Locke and Key” arcs). I also liked getting to follow John, even if I didn’t particularly care for him as a character because of his jingoistic zeal and terrible decisions. But at the same time, I think that Hill made him a fully realized and realistic character, being an impatient teenage boy during a World War that was unleashing unspeakable horrors.

And now the big event: “Hell and Gone”, the crossover story with “The Sandman”. Taking place a decade after “Battalions”, John’s twin sister Mary has a mission. Chamberlain is on his deathbed, haunted by the fact John killed himself at the end of “Battalions”. Using the Wellhouse portal, Chamberlain knows that John is in Hell because of his suicide, and Mary is determined to go and find him and bring him peace so that her father can die at peace as well. She hears of rumors that in England there is an otherworldly being that could be the key to getting her answers, and when she arrives to meets a boy with a strange helmet and amulet… You can see where this is going. I went into this thinking that there would be a fair amount of opportunity for Morpheus, but then when I realized the time period was during his capture, I wasn’t certain WHAT this story was going to do. But fear not, because this “Sandman” crossover instead utilizes other well loved “Sandman” characters, as Mary teams up with Lucien and Fiddler’s Green to confront Lucifer in Hell over John’s soul. I actually loved this even more because Fiddler’s Green is such a joy of a character, with his mild anxiety and caring heart. I also really loved Mary, as this is very much her story to shine in and SHINE SHE DOES. Her loyalty to her family and love for her twin means the stakes are VERY high for her, and it makes perfect sense that she would be down for tangling with Lucifer himself. And I believed every bit of it. And look for cameos from other “Sandman” characters, like the Corinthian, and yes, even Morpheus himself. And it’s done in a way that works for the timeline of his story combined with this one. Hill did a great job with the “Sandman” characters and mythos, it all felt like it combined perfectly and that he had true reverence for that comic and its characters.

And yes, Gabriel Rodríguez comes back to illustrate these stories and I still love his style. And he is a great artist to add to the great artists who worked on “Sandman” tales over the years.

Isn’t Mary just great? She’s great. (source: IDW)

Overall, this is a fantastic collection that both “Locke & Key” and “The Sandman” fans really need to check out if they haven’t already. I’m so happy to return to both Keyhouse and The Dreaming in this way. “Locke & Key: The Golden Age” met all my high expectations.

Rating 9: Fantastic backstory, fantastic fantasy, and a fantastic crossover with “The Sandman” Universe.

Reader’s Advisory:

“Locke & Key: The Golden Age” isn’t included on any Goodreads lists yet in this format, but it would fit in on “Best Horror Comics/Graphic Novels”, and “WWI: Speculative Fiction”.

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