Lestat's Reviews > Locke & Key Slipcase Set

Locke & Key Slipcase Set by Joe Hill
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bookshelves: comic-books, horror

** spoiler alert ** I had heard about this series and had it on my reading list for ages. I finally sat down to read it as part of research for work.

We follow the Locke family, recently mourning the loss of a family member and recovering from the after-effects of a particularly traumatic experience. They move away from their home into Lovecraft and suddenly supernatural occurrences become par for the course.

Volume one was great, pacey and concise. The following volumes made the mistake of expanding on the lore, and it felt like tonally they didn't capture the eerieness of the first volume.

Generally the concept is splendid. The idea that Keyhouse is riddled with keys each of which has a distinctive power is gripping and innovative. It really pushes the limits of your imagination and I can see why so many people absolutely love this series. It even won a couple of Eisner awards, so I shouldn't diss it.

Except I have to. There were problems with this series and they probably grated on me more because I have always found the medium of comic books fun and derogatory all at the same time. We level a lot of criticism on the big two of comics, but when independent or other publishers tow the same line it gives the impression that comics as a medium is problematic and irredeemable.

Gabriel Rodriguez's art is unattractive. There is a cartoonish tinge to the whole thing which detracts from the overall spooky atmosphere that the story is trying to portray.

My biggest problem with the art was how the artist makes the men diverse and cartoony but the women all look exactly the same. I kid you not. Ty is big and burly, his father is tall, big and burly. His uncle is scrawny and freckled, and his uncle's partner is short and chubby. The juvenile murderers are comical and hideous. Kinsey's friend Scot is bald and lanky while Jamal is dreadlocked and round faced. The only conventionally attractive male character is Zack, so of course Kinsey falls for him and a useless romance ensues.

Can't say the same about the women though. Aside from a couple of black women and the homophobic hillbillies, literally every other female character is a copy of the other - the variation is hair/ eye color, height and dress sense. That's it. The moms and teachers look like the daughters and students. It's disturbing. There is no variation in shape and this angers me the most. I know when this series was created we did not have so many conversations about diversity, but would it have killed the creators to give it a try? Each and every female character is drawn to be pleasing to the male gaze, and they're made to act like that too.

The entire series is so damn cliched it is frustrating and blood-boiling. The older women not looking different from the younger ones especially grates because the bad guy keeps telling Ellie Whedon that she's ugly and old when in fact the only difference between her and the other 'prettier' women is coiffed hair and lipstick. It sends a really bad message to those reading it. Though I think this series should be only for adults, I get the feeling it was targeted at teenagers.

Also, the artist relies heavily on low neck tops to ensure the reader knows for sure that these are women! No other way for us to figure it out - it's low neck tops for ALL or that person is a guy.

The violence, gore and profanity is overused in the series as well. Like, no one needs such an abundance of it to know that we're up against some scary bad guys. It's grotesque to the point where you have to stop and look away - yugh.

One thing that I haven't come across many people talking about is what happened to the mom character Nina.

The incident that sparks the series is the murder of the Locke patriarch by Sam Lesser and his friend. The friend is killed in the incident but Lesser is put in juvie. It is evident when Nina kills the partner that she's been raped. But... no one ever talks about it. It came to such a point that I wondered whether I had just misinterpreted her demeanor and ripped outfit when it could have been a result of a fight to save her life. Nina is shown as drinking and drunk constantly after the incident and all anyone talks about is her dead husband. All the kids talk about is their dead father. Of course people will talk about the dead person, but surely the paramedics would have seen what happened to Nina and offered some help and this would have filtered down to the adults around Nina? In Lesser's sentencing this would have been mentioned. Heck, Ty was right there when his mother emerged to kill one of the killers, he could have talked to her or acknowledged what happened. It is literally forgotten and not brought up by the creators until at a convenient time when the sole other woman in the Locke family, teenager Kinsey, mentions the attack as not being a good enough reason for her mother's drunken neglect of her family. And that's it. No one thinks to send her for counseling or get her help. Ignoring an uncomfortable or traumatic incident in public is one thing, but in private moments - the ones the readers are often privy to - people would consider this, weep over it or wonder how to make things better. All the writers care about is the dead father and people's feelings about him. Because Nina liked to drink (a fact that emerges conveniently - like her needing a crutch - when the writers want to give Kinsey more reason to hate her mother) we are meant to believe that no one will consider her excessive drinking as a sign of her trauma? It irritates me that male writers just can't understand how to write women characters - why must rape be used as a plot device or in this case as a necessary and bygone incident to be used frivolously for plot purposes. Why does Nina have absolutely no personality or agency to act on her own? She has no family or friends of her own to turn to? Only her husband's family exist in this world? I'm so mad at this book it's not even funny.

Why there is no sympathy for Nina is beyond me. Kinsey is so hard on her - especially in the final issue when Nina is attacked by shadows and forced to drink alcohol. Pretty sure there would be obvious signs of the attack, but the creators just use it as an excuse for Kinsey to throw a hissey fit and drag her friends to their eventual deaths.

The sexualisation of the female characters is so all encompassing in this book. We never get to see the female characters imagining their hot classmates naked on a desk, so why do we have to see the male characters' daydreams like this about their female classmates?

The villain of the series is a demon-infested student named Luke/Zach. They uses the gender key to change from female to male and back again. As a male, he pretends to be nice to people and hooks up with Kinsey - in the meantime he is busy terrorizing Ellie Whedon at home, to the point where it is suggested that he is assaulting her as well.

As a female, Luke is always sexually alluring and uses her appeal to get her way. I would one day like to read a comic series where the male version is sexually alluring and the female is the go-getter.

I am surprised it took till volume 4 to draw the female version completely naked and then fighting naked. The male gaze loves it when a woman does a regular act sans clothes. This crops up later with another character. Ty's girlfriend, who is literally there just to be a love interest, takes off her seriously adult looking dress in the middle of the empty quad and proceeds to spend severally pages holding a conversation in her underwear. How did she not freeze to death? I don't think male writers have ever actually tried wearing less than jeans and a tee anywhere beyond their own four walls - if they had I'm pretty sure they would stop drawing women in the tiny excuses they call clothes.

The women characters are also written as being supremely stupid. Most dumb things happen because a female character is made to act impulsively or unthinkingly. Ty on the other hand is virtually invincible - he's the saviour from beginning to end. He caught Lesser and in the end, Kinsey has to wait for him to come save her. And he does. Of course. Nothing can stop the unbeatable straight male protagonist.

There are so many issues with how the women are portrayed and drawn in this series that I can't understand how come no one else has mentioned it. I think my anger comes from the fact that every time I pick up a comic I will find the women to be drawn and written exactly the same way and this series unfortunately did not surprise me.

Other miscellaneous grouses follow:

In the 80s storyline, the black girl, Erin, is in love with Rendell Locke, but he's with the hot, white girl, Kim. Noticeably, both father and son get the hottest girls in their schools because both these guys are such catches, like wow. Rendell is not at all attractive but he may be intelligent. No one points out to him how lucky he is to have got such a catch; Ellie, on the other hand, is made patently aware that she is too unattractive to have Luke and man is she lucky he's into her. The only difference between Ellie and Kim is that the former is a sportsperson with no interest in doing her hair or wearing make up. That's it.

Back to the original point. Rendell does not see Erin's love but at the fag end of their storyline it is suggested that maybe the two are getting close. Kim even says she's been shipping them - good job, since you didn't actually step aside to let that happen. Kim isn't even a nice person, no matter what hogwash the writers make Rendell say - he's so obviously into her because she's conventionally attractive. Anyway, all this talk of inter-racial romance comes to nought because he goes and marries another hot, white girl, anyway.

There are convenient plot devices thrown in to fix some problems and that is poor writing. In book six, suddenly Erin's thoughts appear in the cave and help save the day. Where were they all this while - why did they emerge now?

Duncan is gay, so the writers make him love using the gender key - because of course all gay men just want to be girls actually. I call bullshit to this stereotyping.

Duncan is the reason Luke is infected by a demon and so many people's lives are ruined. What the heck? How come the Locke family don't have to pay for the damage done. Why should we be happy for them after they destroyed so many lives.

The Locke family get the best deal of the series. Aside from the death of Rendell and the attack on Nina (which, as I've mentioned, is really seen as no big deal for some reason) the entire family is together and whole and happy. In both the 80s timeline and the 2000s, they come off fairly unscathed. The writer should have stuck with letting Bode be dead - or as a ghost that turns malicious and comes back to haunt people.

In the 80s storyline, Luke becomes a demon, Erin loses her mind for 30 years, Ellie is a nervous wreck bringing up a mentally disabled child and he one whose boyfriend comes back to assault, terrorize and kill her; Mark and Kim are killed. Rendell goes on to have a happy and successful life till his stupid ass son suggests to a deranged school mate that it would be best for him to kill his father. Deed is done, why the mother had to be raped in the bargain I don't understand.

Oh, and Ellie's kid is sent to a foster home and then a psych ward before he's adopted by the Lockes. Who's to say there won't be trauma from all that happened to him.

In the noughties timeline the family are okay. All the kids' friends (bar one) are killed, as are another 100 unknown kids. The book fails to mention how many are maimed or permanently affected by this - but there are plenty there too.

Can writers just stop equating fantastical attacks with rape. When Luke becomes a demon, they take his memories out - this actually makes no sense but anyway. When they do this Ellie says what they've done to him is worse than rape - what on earth, why would she equate the two? They're nothing like each other. Only stupid male writers would write this.

Why is it that the moment Luke's memories are removed he becomes a cruel misogynistic creep? How does that work? Why isn't he cruel to everyone, why only women. It often feels like the writers have something against women in general, because the violence done to them in the series is all pervading.

Kinsey is the hot chick that everyone wants to get with. Her two friends Scot and Jamal only start talking to her as a way to get in her pants and their sexualisation of her never ends. It continues to be a tussle for Kinsey. Why does she even get with Jamal in the end - it makes no sense aside from the writers not knowing how to write a female character as anything other than hot and a desirable object to be coveted and won by warring men.

I think this series could have been particularly great had it stayed away from the mountain of cliches that it decided to incorporate. Also, the writing became really choppy near the end and ruined the fluidity of the story. Three stars is right for it, but were it not for the creative idea, any other comic would have got one.

I am so concerned about the tv adaptation for this series. I'd love it if they cast a genderqueer or non binary person for the role of Zack, but undoubtedly they'll go with an androgynous woman and then lay claim to representing the LGBTQIA+ community to perfection. If the tv writers can remove the sexist elements of the comics and instead involve valid conversations about sexual assault and it's repercussions on the culprit we may have a better show. Or else, leave that out and just make a ghost story. I'm down with that.
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Reading Progress

August 20, 2017 – Started Reading
August 31, 2017 – Finished Reading
September 1, 2017 – Shelved
September 1, 2017 – Shelved as: comic-books
April 6, 2018 – Shelved as: horror

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