Welcome back to the reread of Joe Hill and Gabriel Rodriguez’s dark comic series, Locke & Key! The third installment, “Crown of Shadows,” picks up very closely on the heels of the second. This reread contains spoilers, so proceed at your own risk.
What Happens: The Locke family is still a mess. After all, dealing with the murder of your father and also having the murderer follow across country is something that would unsettle the most unshakable of people. Dodge-as-Zack is still trying to get closer to the family through Kinsey, but Kinsey makes some other friends at school in Scot and Jamal. Tyler and Bode do some more snooping around Keyhouse Manor and find what looks like a very large key embedded in the floor. Nina continues to drown herself in alcohol.
A brief scene between Nina and Tyler, wherein Nina explains that she needs to go to Providence to check on Duncan, segues into a ghost battle between Sam and Dodge. Sam is angry that Dodge used him, and he notices something is lodged in the spine of Dodge’s ghost. This something is mostly black, has eyes and is clearly not something of this world. During their struggle, Sam finds Dodge’s body (Zack) and chokes him until Dodge returns to the body. In the scuffle, the bag around Zack’s neck falls off, scattering the keys inside of it. Their struggle wakens Nina, who arrives just after Dodge escapes using the Anywhere key—but she does find the Echo key he left behind.
Tyler tries to make good with Jordan after accidentally scaring her with the Head key. After Jordan indicates she hasn’t completed the assignment due that day, Tyler gives her his own paper, figuring he still has the excuse of his father’s death to allow him to skate by. Kinsey’s new friends Scot and Jamal urge her and Jackie to go the Drowning Cave mentioned in “Head Games.” Scot tells Kinsey he knows her father’s name is Rendell because it is written on the lower levels of the Drowning Cave. The four companions make their way to the cave, but soon get stuck in the water when the steel staircase leading to the lower level breaks. Kinsey is unafraid—she removed the fear from herself using the Head key in the previous volume—so she dives down to find her father’s name on the wall. After some chattering teeth in the water, the companions escape, but the closing panels of this issue show the light stick Kinsey was using settle near a drowned corpse.
In the next issue, Detective Mutuku visits at Nina’s request; she wants to know more about the attack on Duncan and specifically whether or not it could be linked to Sam Lesser. Mutuku assures her this isn’t the case, and she shows him the Echo key. Kinsey and Nina then get into an argument about Nina’s drinking, before Tyler breaks up the fight.
Scot and Kinsey start chatting again and as a nod to the Drowning Cave, Scot sends her a life jacket. When Nina calls to check in on her kids, she says she missed the last ferry but is actually in a bar getting drunk. Again. While Nina and Tyler are on the phone, Zack/Dodge arrives via Anywhere key searching for something in the basement. He finds a jar labeled “Black Currents” (as opposed to Black Currants) and smashes it, revealing the Shadow key, which he inserts into the nearby door with the same emblem engraved on the handle. He descends more stairs into a chamber known as “the cave of living shadows” where a crown rests on an altar. Zack places the key into the slot made for it which gives him power over shadows. He commands the shadows of the house to find the key to the Wellhouse and the key to the Black Door.
The shadows begin attacking the Locke children and because he’s the oldest, they secure Tyler and torture him, asking him about the two keys. The main shadow takes the form of the Lady in the Well, whom Bode conversed with in “Welcome to Lovecraft.” Kinsey struggles against her shadow captor and realizes that a flashlight (or any light) will chase them away. Detective Mutuku arrives in the midst of the Shadow attacks, but one of them uses the Head Key to pull the memories from his head and send him away. Tyler eventually escapes and uses the Giant key to grow and fight the giant Shadow, which is all of the shadows combined into one giant canine shadow.
Much of the fifth issue focuses on Tyler ’s fight with the large canine shadow, with a number of glorious two-page spreads. Ty maneuvers the battle to the shore and throws the giant shadow into the lighthouse, dissolving the shadow and allowing Dodge-as-Zack to escape, clutching the evidence bag containing the keys. Bode grabs the Crown of Shadows, then Tyler grabs his siblings in his large hand and shows them his view of Keyhouse Manor and the grounds on which it sits, declaring this to be their home.
The next day, Nina returns to a very disheveled home and the children return to school. Jordan is furious at Tyler because the paper he gave her earned her an “F,” while Zack is unhappy that Kinsey is being much more friendly with Scot and Jamal and all but ignoring him.
In the epilogue, Nina discovers the Mending key when she bandages up a bloody Bode, who fell and cut his chin. She had accidentally placed her broken cane in the box earlier, but now finds it perfectly repaired. She juggles plates, as Rendell was doing in the video she was watching earlier, and realizes she can keep practicing because the dishes will always be repaired. Things take a turn for the worse when she places Rendell’s ashes inside hoping to bring him back. When it doesn’t work, her drunken tirade draws the attention of her children, and she and Kinsey have another heated argument. She slaps Kinsey, Bode starts yelling, and Tyler breaks it all up, taking charge. He tells his mother to stop putting Bode through the wringer.
As the argument settles down and the Locke children clean up their mother’s mess, Tyler discovers a black key in the ashes in his father’s broken urn—the Omega key.
Commentary: Hill and Rodriguez continue to give equal time to Dodge and the Lockes, making Dodge’s search for all of the keys as compelling a plot thread as the Locke children’s adjustment to life in Lovecraft. As “Crown of Shadows” moves on, the children come to realize they have only themselves to trust as their mother is spiraling drastically. To that end, Tyler begins to take over a fatherly role to his two younger siblings, showing more responsibility than his own mother to the point of being the most responsible Locke in the family. His distrust of Zack grows, and Kinsey begins distancing herself from Zack as well. This does not sit well with Dodge-as-Zack. Kinsey’s removal of her emotions has great affect in this third act of the Locke & Key storyline—it nearly gets her and her friends killed.
While Kinsey, Bode, and Tyler are continuing to adjust to their lives, more hints are dropped about their father and his past, including his time at Keyhouse Manor and Rendell’s friendship with the being currently known as Dodge. Hill and Rodriguez are doing a fantastic job of building up anticipation for what came before in the previous generation of youthful Lockes.
The Shadow key is indeed quite powerful, and like all of the keys it has a finite, yet vast power. So far, the Shadow key is the first key which has two additional elements, as opposed to a singular additional element like a door/lock in order to manipulate its magical powers. The Shadow key opens the door to the sub-basement, and also works in concert with the Crown.
The fifth issue, wherein Tyler utilizes the Giant key and fights the shadows, was reissued on Free Comic Book Day in 2010. Rodriguez’s art has been spectacular throughout and here specifically in the fifth issue which contained splash pages (a page with a single, large illustration), you get the sense he was having an absolute blast revealing the battle. His art is clean, beautiful and perfect.
“Crown of Shadows” is the exact midpoint of the series and it is here in the final panel of this storyline that we see the most-sought-after key of them all—the key to the black door: The Omega key. It is not yet revealed exactly what is behind the black door, but with the deaths that have taken place leading to Dodge’s acquisition of the Omega key, we can only speculate that it is far from good.
Shadow Key: Allows the bearer, once inserted to the Crown of Shadows, to control and manipulate shadows.
Giant Key: Allows the bearer to grow to giant sized, kaiju-like proportions. Must be inserted into the Giant Window, when used, the giant climbs out of Keyhouse Manor.
The Mending Key: Allows for any broken object to be repaired, once placed in the Mending box.
The Omega Key: Its powers are not yet revealed, it is only shown in the very last panel of the storyline.
Rob Bedford lives in NJ with his wife and dog and only has keys to his house and car. He reviews books and moderates forums at SFFWorld, has a blog about stuffand writes “The Completist” column for SF Signal. If you want to read random thoughts about books, TV, his dog, beer, and hockey you can follow him on Twitter: @RobHBedford.