Welcome back to the reread of Joe Hill and Gabriel Rodriguez’s dark comic series, Locke & Key! The fifth installment, “Clockworks,” joins Kinsey and Tyler on a little (okay, maybe not so little) trip through time as they observe the history of their family and those magical keys which led to the events that have been unfolding in the series. Hill and Rodriguez focus the majority of the story entirely in the past of the Locke family; how the keys came to be created and how Lucas Carvaggio, Rendell Locke’s best friend came to be the antagonist of the series, the creature known as Dodge.
In other words, after learning about the Locke children of the present in the previous four volumes, we get the origin story of why things are going bad for them now. This reread contains spoilers (both for the past and the present) so proceed at your own risk.
What Happens: The story begins with ancestors of Locke family, Benjamin and Miranda, witnessing their parents’ hanging in 1775 when Keyhouse Manor and the grounds are hosting British troops. Hosting is a lenient term since the Lockes have little choice in the matter. The Lockes are also hiding a number of soldiers, traitors to the Crown, in the Drowning Cave. The siblings Miranda and Benjamin make their way in secret to the Drowning Cave where the Black Door is discovered, opened, and a Demon enters our world. The demon possesses one of the men and drives him to murder before the door can be closed. Benjamin, a locksmith, fashions the demon corpse into a lock and key (the Omega Key) which keeps the Black Door closed. In the very last panel of this issue, Tyler and Kinsey appear as ghosts/spirits to observe this intro.
In the present, Dodge is inhabiting the body of Bode, which provides a terror the reader alone holds. Well, and also maybe Bode’s friend who is quickly pushed in front of an oncoming school. For remainder of the issue, the Locke siblings deal with Kinsey’s escaped emotions, which were released to escape by Bode-Dodge. The escaped emotions enter Tyler’s head and start to ‘fight’ with Tyler’s symbolic memories, which drive Tyler to think he needs to burn down Keyhouse Manor. Kinsey saves the day and the siblings unlock Tyler’s head, picking out Kinsey’s memories and placing them back inside her head.
Kinsey and Tyler discover the Timeshift Key during the struggle to set things right when they crash into a grandfather clock and the key falls from atop it. Once inserted into the clock, the key allows them to travel through time as ghostly observers. Ty and Kinsey discover the most recent date they can visit is 1999, since the key was not made to account for the Y2K bug. More importantly, they learn more about their father and the Keepers of the Keys (Mark Cho, Lucas Caravaggio, Kim Topher, Erin Voss, and Ellie Whedon) when they travel to the 1988. Rendell and his friends call themselves the Tamers of the Tempest after using the keys to stage a grand production of The Tempest, reveling in the powers the keys can impart. Mark Cho’s friend—a critic—who promised to show up, does not appear. Kim is angered as she saw this play as her way out of Lovecraft; she lashes out by demeaning Mark and the situation in general. Luke tries to play peacemaker and get his friends under control.
The Keepers learn is that once they become adults, they forget about the power of the keys and even the keys themselves. This is called the “Riffle Rule,” named after Hans Riffle. Rendell plans to craft a key that will circumvent the rule, which requires opening the Black Door to free a demon and claim its Whispering Iron. Of course this does not go well. When Rendell and his friends initially attempt to enter the Drowning Cave, Duncan tries to go with them. Lucas makes the young boy promise not to follow, which Duncan does…sort of. As the Keepers arrive at the Black Door, Duncan appears after using the Anywhere Key.
When the door opens, Lucas is mesmerized by what he sees inside and is possessed by a demon from the other side of the Black Door. His friends notice a difference in the young man; his demeanor, which was once carefree, affable, loving, and warm, has become cold, biting, and mean-spirited. They soon realize very little of the person they knew as Luke remains and aim to kill him, first removing many of his memories, including the memory of the Black Door.
Commentary: Taking a look at the past in order to finally reveal the beginnings of the Locke family and their Keys is a masterstroke here in “Clockworks.” That quote from Dodge I like to throw around about joining the story mid-stream is an illustration of why Hill and Rodriguez’s choice to begin the story in-media-res is so brilliant. Empathy for the Locke children is built up in the previous volumes, providing a great foundation for not only them, but for the character of Dodge. Dodge’s actions make him a very hateable character, but by revealing Dodge’s past, an empathy factor is added for the character once known as Luke Carvaggio. For as much tragedy as the 21st Century Locke children have experienced, the tragedy of Luke’s plight is nearly as high. By all accounts and depictions of the young man, he was as likeable and affable as a character can be without being too saccharine. For me, this is why we’ve seen Dodge struggle with what to do with the people who Luke once cared about, such as Erin Voss, Ellie Whedon, and the teachers at Lovecraft—a bit of Luke is still surviving in Dodge. Does this hint at redemption for Luke? I don’t know, but just providing a possibility of it for a character whose been the focal point of a majority of the enmity is evidence of what great storytellers Messrs. Hill and Rodriguez are.
I’ve tried not to compare Joe’s story with his old man’s work, but that is a nearly impossible task. For starters, Joe has chosen to write the same type of stories (dark, fantastical) so on that count, just about every writer who pens dark tales gets compared to Stephen King. Secondly, I suspect Joe is intentionally trying to evoke some of the same things his father tries to evoke in his stories; pulling from a similar creative well / collective unconsciousness. In “Clockworks,” I felt a very strong resonance between Lucas as peacekeeper for the group and of Chris Chambers from King’s The Body. Towards the end, as the Keepers of the Keys unite against the creature that was once their beloved friend, I felt some resonance with Stephn King’s It. “The Body” and It also happen to rank very highly on my personal list of King favorites.
While the story focuses on the past, the knowledge that we the readers possess about Dodge inhabiting Bode’s body increases the tension in every scene Bode appears. Especially when Dodge-Bode is watching Kinsey and Tyler’s inert bodies as their ghosts travel through time.
“Clockworks” gives us everything to set the stage for the final act that will be “Alpha & Omega.”
Timeshift Key: Allows the users to observe moments in time between 1775 and 1999, when used in conjunction with the Grandfather Clock
Rob Bedford lives in NJ with his wife and dog and only has keys to his house and car. He’s thought about traveling through time for a while, but hasn’t found a TARDIS, a Timeshift Key or a DeLorean. 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.