Tales From The Crypt Door: Locke & Key: Grindhouse One-Shot Reviewon September 2, 2012 at 5:34 pm
I’m gonna have to start out this review by admitting that I haven never read Joe Hill’s and Gabriel Rodriguez’s Locke & Key series, which is a point of shame for a serious comics fan… particularly one who’s read and enjoyed Hill’s novels Horns and Heart Shaped Box… and before you start: yes, I can read books without pictures, smartass. I simply generally choose not to, which means that Hill’s novels must be pretty fucking good for me to break that habit. Either that, or I didn’t feel comfortable waiting for job interviews with a big Howard Chaykin trade paperback. But I’m getting off point here.
The point is that I knew nothing about Locke & Key other than its good reputation when I picked up the Locke & Key: Grindhouse one shot. I imagined that there were probably locks and keys involved, but whether they were of the door or the canal transit and-Florida-homosexual-mecca varieties, I had no fucking idea. And for all I know, the original story arcs are about either, both or all of those things. But this story is a period piece about criminals on the lam with nothing to lose, which is an effective and engaging throwback to EC Comics horror and crime stories from the 50s. And it’s really pretty damn cool.
Meet Phillipe, Michael and Louis: three armed robbers in town to rip off a resort hotel, which seems like the kind of master criminal heist I see people try to perpetrate when I get hammered and watch World’s Dumbest Criminals on TruTV, but it’s apparently more lucrative than you’d think, since these three guys walk away with 200 large… and considering we see Louis mooning over a new Buick Eight, which would have been new around 1935, we’re talking real money here: more than three million of today’s dollars, or about 322 modern Euros.
Anyway, these three representatives of the finest that the French Canadian underworld has to offer (other than Michele “Le Frog” Poulet-Coeur, best known for his record-setting 18 second standoff with police before surrendering, and who I just made up) decide to let the heat cool off after the robbery by holing up at the mansion on the hill. Of course, the family’s still at home when they arrive, and the Terrors of Toronto have certain… appetites. But the family has other ideas, and the house has certain… defenses against intruders…
If it sounds like I’m making fun of the underpinnings of the story, it’s because I am, a little. But I’m doing it because I’m used to reading modern comics, and this obviously isn’t meant to be one. While Hill includes plenty of more modern elements, including plenty of profanity, gratuitous violent sexual content and gore a-plenty, the criminal part of the story is clearly meant to be reminiscent of the old EC crime comics, like Crime SuspenStories and Crime Does Not Pay, where the criminals’ motivations were usually simple and broad-stroked, with just enough motivation to keep the lurid plots moving forward. So some French Canadian gunsels with overly-broad tastes for sexual violence and bloodshed makes perfect sense for an EC-style story.
And this is an EC story, right down to its bones; letterer Robbie Robbins even mimics the old fonts from EC Comics. What Hill has done here is actually very clever and entertaining: take the elements from the EC crime comics, and mix them in with the best elements of the EC horror comics: women in peril, with all the heavies meeting their ends in horrific ways, including one great, ironic twist comeuppance – let’s just say if Louis really likes tits as much as he says he does, he’s gonna spend the rest of his life as happy as a pig in shit. Hill gets all the broad strokes of an EC Comic down, and he does it in an entertaining manner.
I don’t know if this book represents Gabriel Rodriguez’s normal style, but regardless, it is a pretty decent recreation of EC style art. The criminals often have big, caricaturish faces of pure, depraved evil; we have a blonde femme fatale named Mary who could have stepped from the pages of Tales From The Crypt, all legs and cigarette, convincing some poor dupe to do something against all better judgment (in that book, it would have been to kill her husband; here, it’s just to go through the wrong door); and we even get a couple of first-person views of someone performing violence, that is reminiscent of those old comics. Still, the visuals aren’t a straight lift; while some of the faces and are simply-lined and colored like those older books, others are finely-lined and packed with detail. In short, Rodriguez gets the general look of an EC Comic down, without aping it shamelessly. It’s a good-looking comic.
Overall, I really enjoyed this book, and if you’re into old horror or crime comics, you should give it a whack. And don’t be offput by the fact that it occurs in the Locke & Key universe, even if you’re not already familiar. The key thing for me to recommend this book is that, as someone who had no knowledge whatsoever about Locke & Key, I didn’t find myself particularly confused or lost at all. My understanding is that Locke & Key has a ton of backstory and mythology tied up in it, but none of that is necessary to enjoy this book. All you need to know to understand this book is that there is a house, and there is a family that lives there, and there are doors… and if you open them with the right keys – keys with symbols that would be right at home on the car key of a Norwegian Death Metal singer – bad fucking things happen to you. Let’s just say that if I ever see a housekey with a scrotum with teethmarks on it, I’m telling the realtor I think I’ve decided to fucking rent.