Sunday, July 10, 2011

Paying Too Much Attention: Locke and Key Clues and Theories

If you pay any attention to Hideous Energy - or are here because of Alter Ego Comic Cast - you know that "Locke and Key" is my favorite book that is currently on the shelf. I read it with a fervor that harkens back to my earliest days of comic reading, but now the addiction and obsession is spiced with age and an intense love of story, structure, and character development. In comic books those three things are deployed on multiple levels, and Joe Hill and Gabriel Rodriguez have given us a wonderful look into how comics can be any number of things: fun, terrifying, poignant, and all manner of adjectives. It also has to be mentioned that this book is given a tremendous boost thanks to the colors of Jay Fotos. I've somewhat recently become a keen observer of colors thanks to "Stumptown" by Greg Rucka, Matthew Southworth, with colors by Lee Loughridge, and also "100 Bullets" by Brian Azzarrello, Eduardo Risso, and Patricia Mulvihill, who took over colorist duties at issue #15. Within "Locke and Key," Fotos adds gorgeous colors that set off the emotions and locations Hill and Rodriguez give us, and make this book all the more effective and noteworthy.

If you're not reading "Locke and Key" go and do so right now. Not only will this article mean very little to you, but it will contain plenty of spoilers for the series.


"Locke and Key: Keys To the Kingdom" was recently released in hardcover, which means I gave the six issues contained therein another read through. I've read every issue of every "Locke and Key" series multiple times, and for multiple reasons. First, for fun. The enjoyment I get out of these issues - even when I'm witnessing the sadness and destruction the Locke family are going through - is immense. Second, I reread these books for clues. I'm not entirely sure that Hill and Rodriguez are peppering the issues with as many hidden references and clues as I imagine, but maybe that's part of the fun as well. I could most definitely (will?) do an issue-by-issue breakdown of the clues I've seen, and my guesses as to what they mean. Right now I want to focus on the supplemental material contained within the back of the fourth hardcover. The second hardcover, "Head Games" saw the first printing of the supplemental material that has been in each hardcover since then, and is only available (as of this writing) in the hardcovers. There are other supplemental materials in the hardcovers, but I'm focusing on "The Known Keys."

The first are "Presented as journal entries of Benjamin Pierce Locke (1757 - 1799)," these journal entries contain a picture of the key described in the writing, and a picture of the key either in use, or recently used. The entries by Benjamin Pierce Locke have pictures which look like woodcuts, with the initials "BL" in the corner. All of the information presented is interesting, and certainly gives hints as to where the story could potentially be going, as well as where it has been in the past. There are certain similarities between the journals and the story being presented in "Locke and Key," and that is why I'm transcribing some, but not all, of the journal entries here. They are transcribed in modern English, but most of them are written in an affected, old English style. I have altered spelling where necessary, but will keep the formatting of capitalized words. Occasionally I will interject details relating to what is written. Now, let's go pay too much attention to "Locke and Key!"

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"From the journals of Benjamin Pierce Locke (1757 - 1799)"

The Anywhere Key - "Used the key to anyplace again, to return to Boston and gather intelligence for Crais." Here the journal shows the first reference to a man who shows up in "Crown of Shadows" as a statue, Colonel Adam Crais (May 18 1736 ~ June 4, 1780; also of note, the intro to the "Welcome to Lovecraft" hardcover was written by author Robert Crais, but that's just a neat shout-out by Hill, and most likely not a clue to the story...most likely) Also, I'm pretty sure Crais is photo-bombing the cover to "Clockworks" #1, the forthcoming series.

Key description continued..."Tis an act of terrible witchcraft, but better I do it than my sister, who is obsessed with REVENGING herself upon the RED-COATS for their violence against our father and brother and beloved mother: Aye, my dread of being called to account someday by SATAN HIMSELF is a trifling concern when matched with my desire to rid the world of the devils who take the King's coin to do rape and murder..." Note the number of family members mentioned: a father, mother, and brother. The journals are written by Benjamin Pierce Locke, who also mentions his sister Miranda in later journals; which would put their family at the exact same number as Rendell and Nina Locke, as well as having the exact same number of boys and girls. Also, the "RED-COATS" obviously refer to British soldiers, but here a comparison/connection can be drawn with "Welcome To Lovecraft" the first "Locke and Key" series. When Sam Lesser and Al Grubb show up at the Locke's summer home, Sam Lesser is wearing a red hooded-sweatshirt. Later, when Zack Wells shows up, he's wearing a red-hooded sweatshirt as well. Maybe unintentional, but probably not, although this is likely thematic in nature.

The Head Key - "Of all the keys I have forged from the WHISPERING IRON..." This is one of many mentions of the "whispering iron." "'s the key that opens the human mind I most regret. Miranda has a perverse fascination with the key and has used it to fill her head with all there is to know about WAR and the SLAYING of MEN, and she carries an arsenal with her wherever she goes. Yet I am less in dread of what she has put in than what she has removed. Sometimes it is as if she is now without FEAR and indeed s herself more man than I!" Here we get another comparison for the story we're reading and what has happened in the past. Benjamin Pierce Locke mentions his fear over what his sister has "removed" from her head, which is something Kinsey Locke does in the "Head Games" series.

The Shadow Key - "Oh wicked night! Damned be Crais and damned be the Redcoats and damned be my own fool self. Miranda is grievously hurt and lingers on the threshold of death! The Redcoats pursued her and the tattered remnants of Crais's company into the caves..." The caves featured in "Crown of Shadows" I assume. "...but I drove them back with the aid of the living shadows. If she dies I wouldst rather be a shadow myself than remain in this diabolical world, knowing she would never have been at risk if not for me!"

The Mending Key - "The Iron whispered to me last night and I worked in a fever all day, making a cabinet and forging a new key out of that dreadful metal that is not metal." Here is another mention of the "whispering iron," and the first mention of the "metal that is not metal." I assume Benjamin Pierce Locke is referring to the material he used to forge the Omega Key, which has a journal entry of its own, sort of. Also, there is a door within the caves, mentioned earlier, in the shape of the Omega symbol, which is adorned with a 1; this door shows up in "Crown of Shadows." "Yet if the devil may pervert Holy Scripture to serve his purposes, so may the righteous at times turn the DEVIL'S TOOLS..." Which I'm guessing is a reference to how he feels about the "metal that is not metal," and what its purpose may be. "... to do the work of SWEET JESU! For the key and cabinet I fashioned could be used to mend fractured objects - shattered plates, cracked eggs and broken sisters. Blessed be THE LORD, Miranda has recovered! I only wish she would remember her place and become the demure and modest girl she once was, but fear her love for Crais will imperil her again soon enough." Could there be some sort of cyclical timeline at work here? The relationship between Crais and Miranda sounds reminiscent of that between Kinsey and Zack Wells, which is itself most likely a slightly altered version of the relationship between Ellie Whedon and Lucas "Dodge" Caravaggio. 

"Excerpts from the journal of Harland Locke, 1851"

These keys first show up in "Crown of Shadows," and their supplemental journal entries first show up in the hardcover of that collection. They are written in a different style than the 8 and 1/2 keys listed previously. I present one journal entry, as it addresses a theory I've had since "Welcome to Lovecraft" and "Headgames."

The Animal Key - "...Ulysses said he would fly all the way to Hell if he had to, to find Delacorte for me. Clint said he would probably only be required to fly to Georgia, but that the two places were much alike, except Georgia is a bit hotter. We have fought a thousand times, my brothers and I, but this morning I felt I could not love any living souls more. Ulysses stepped through the door and emerged on the other side, a golden eagle. He gave me a short, lordly look, and took to the skies..." 

It took me 12 issues to develop this theory, but as soon as I grabbed hold of it I haven't let go, and Joe Hill and Gabriel Rodriguez have continued to support my theory, accidentally or otherwise. On the very first page of the very first issue of "Locke and Key" ("Welcome to Lovecraft #1") we see a Death's Head Moth. It also reappears on page 11 of that issue. Later, it shows up in issue two, when Bode enters the Death/Ghost Door, and it is easy to see this moth as a thematic touch, as it showed up when death was near to a character or characters. 

I think Hill and Rodriguez are using it not only as a thematic mechanism, but also as a very important component to the overarching storyline of the keys, the characters they have affected, and the entire plot. The moth reappears in "Headgames" practically as the centerpiece of the two-page spread showing Bode's headscape, and also in the last issue of "Keys To the Kingdom" as Detective Mutuku is contemplating the murder of Joe Ridgeway; in the background a child is flying a Death's Head Moth kite. The kite is more obviously a thematic detail, and Bode's memory of the moth is most likely shown simply to have the pieces of the puzzle be present from the beginning. 

In "Crown of Shadows" Kinsey and her friends go down into the caves near Keyhouse. While they are down there an accident occurs, and Kinsey and two of her friends (Jamal and Kavanaugh) are thrown into the water and trapped. A rat jumped onto Jamal, scaring him. His fear translated into him screaming and hopping around, breaking the staircase which lead to and from the water, and stranding his friends in the freezing water. I think it was more than a simple accident, but an occurrence that was hoped for and organized by...the rat! 

On page 35 of the "Crown of Shadows" hardcover (page seven of the second issue, I think) you see the first glimpse of the rat in the upper right corner of the second panel. It has the strange appearance of a rat who is actively watching the kids enter the caves, specifically right as they pass near the Omega door. Later it crawls from a pipe, leaps onto Jamal, and boom, the kids are trapped; this happens five pages from the rat's first appearance. Also, the rat has red eyes, which isn't necessarily too odd, as some white rats have red eyes. This is a brown rat, however, so its red eyes are somewhat unsettling. This would be a minor detail if the Death's Head Moth didn't also have red eyes visible at the end of issue two in "Welcome To Lovecraft." 

My theory is that the rat and moth are following/associating with the Locke children, perhaps trying to protect them. I believe two of Rendell Locke's friends - specifcally Kim Topher and Mark Cho, who are mentioned by Joe Ridgeway as having "disappeared" in the first issue of "Head Games" - were changed into a Death's Head Moth and rat, respectively, by Lucas Caravaggio. At some point we will discover they have been living as these animals for some time, most likely because they are trapped.

"Excerpts from the diary of Hannes Riffel and correspondence of Jean Locke 1942"

These next keys were first shown in "Keys To the Kingdom," and mentioned in the supplemental material in the corresponding hardcover. They don't contain any great hints or clues, but were written in German, and sparked my curiosity. Since I don't speak German I consulted Hideous Energy friend Andi Preller, and he was gracious enough to translate the passages for us. Here are the English translations!

The Angel Key - "Oh my God. Oh my God! At dawn I was outside looking for little Joe. There was a storm and it was pouring rain. Everything seemed sick and unreal to me – like in a nightmare. I ran and ran, totally desperate, and I didn't give a fuck what he was telling Jean about me. If he was dead I wanted to die as well. And then I saw something unbelievable – something that could not actually be in existence, and my knees went soft from surprise and wonderment. I saw Jean fly upwards through the rain, her brother's shattered body in her arms. She carried the harness with her wings, and in the back was the key. I swear she was flying! And she looked as beautiful as a mourning dove."

The Hercules Key - Half of the 8th army and a seemingly endless bunch of SS-Men were waiting there for me! I hurled Eric against the wall and heard his ribs break, as if someone had jumped on a bundle of twigs. I have to admit it sounded like music to my ears! With the other hand I hit the soldiers and they flew through the air like matchsticks. The Hercules-Key released all the power in me that I had not possessed as a goddamn cripple. But the Sturmbannf├╝hrer (a military title in the 3rd Reich army - Andi Preller) knew how to wear me down/ finish me off!"

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Gabriel Rodriguez presents some of the journal entries on his personal blog, so hop over there and check them out, along with all the other gorgeous art.

Thanks for paying too much attention to "Locke and Key" with me. Hopefully you have as much fun reading these books as I do, and hopefully my theories have sparked the desire to go back and read these issues again. They are without a doubt some of the best comics around.

-Austin Wilson

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