Locke & Key remains Joe Hill's best known comic series, a high-bar for the prolific author of stories like Heart Shaped Box, Basketful of Heads, and Horns to name only a few, and with this trip to the past of Keyhouse, the author once again reveals exactly why as the long running franchise provides an engrossing setting that can be adapted for nearly any scenario. Taking place in the early 1900s, the story follows the young man of John Locke as he does his best to enlist during World War I using the supernatural keys to achieve his goal by any means necessary.
One of Joe Hill's strengths is that the writer is able to not only concoct uniquely terrifying scenarios, but his character work is impressive, to the say the least. While fans of Locke & Key may already possess an encyclopedic knowledge of Keyhouse's secrets by now, taking the magical environment and showing how it operates in a past era is a smart move and able to reset expectations for the story of Chamberlin Locke and his brood. The dialogue here is punchy and the characters themselves breathe independently of one another, making this read go far faster than you might expect (in a purely positive fashion).
The major surprise of this story from the past is that rather than walking through this Locke family discovering the keys for the first time and slowly exploring the abilities of each, the family already possesses a deep knowledge of the magical items and are using them them for their own benefit. That could mean using a cadre of raccoons to clean their home's exterior or reading unpublished novels from Mark Twain; the allure of the keys and the family's mastery of them make for an interesting tale, as well as some very humorous sequences on the page.
In Pale Battalions Go also offers a prequel to the upcoming crossover with DC Comics' The Sandman, though there are only scattered elements to be found here in Locke & Key's opening salvo. John Locke functions as our protagonist and it's hard not to love the devilish imp who has no issues in using the keys to get to the "last great war," according to his father, while also manipulating his family should the need arise. As is the case with most protagonists like John, he bites off just a bit more than he can chew and the final page goes a long way in hammering that fact home, leaving readers clamoring for the next installment.
Rodriguez's art in this issue is stunning, not just with the characters, but the amount of detail that is put into the many moving pieces of Keyhouse. I'm reminded of Kevin O'Neill's work in League of Extraordinary Gentlemen here, and In Pale Battalions Go would certainly be missing something without Rodriguez's line work.
Locke & Key: In Pale Battalions Go is an excellent "welcome back" for fans of the original series while also providing an independent story that easily introduces new readers to its concept without ever missing a beat. Joe Hill and Gabriel Rodriguez are firing on all cylinders in this issue and it shows on every page.
Published By IDW
On August 26, 2020
Written by Joe Hill
Art by Gabriel Rodriguez
Colors by Jay Fotos0comments
Letters by Shawn Lee
Cover by Gabriel Rodriguez