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Locke & Key/ Sandman Gone To Hell #1

Locke & Key/Sandman: Gone To Hell #1
Joe Hill, writer
Gabriel Rodriguez, artist
Jay Fotos, colorist
Shawn Lee, letterer

A rain began during the night and a cold wind came as its company. An overcast sky gradually brightens and fails to deliver any sunshine. Row upon row of bags stuffed with fallen leaves line streets. If not for vividly green grass one might mistake the day for late November rather than April. A cup of Egyptian licorice tea politely insists to be sipped. Rain and wind having conspired to set a mood for the day as I read the first issue of this story in which two storytelling realms and their inhabitants meet. A bit florid of me, yes? Well.

If memory serves, and it does so less well these days, this venture was intended for last fall. The work inside promises the waiting will have been worth it.

October, 1927. A young woman inexplicably travels in a matter of minutes from her family home in the United States to an estate in the English countryside for a meeting in which one’s overconfidence shall be sidestepped by the other’s urgency. The principal players are Mary Locke, whose youth masks an intrepid nature and sly skills of persuasion, and the aging Roderick Burgess, a scholar of a sort, nattily eccentric, libertine, and a poor father. Oh yes, and sorcerer. Young and enthusiastic Alex has an important role while disaffected older sister and self styled flapper Esther reinforces her father’s ego and plays the role of questionable eye candy. Locke and Burgess each have something the other want. Burgess covets one of the whispered about magic keys forged by her family which open up perception. Locke seeks redemption for brother Jack and believes the being enchained by Burgess has the means to do so. Sandman readers will know that Burgess is the sorcerer who managed to trap an exhausted Lord Morpheus, Dream of the Endless, and imprison him for seventy years. Mary’s desperation intensifies when matters don’t play out as she’d hoped. Not one to give up easily, Mary distracts Alex with the ruse of a gift and unwittingly finds herself transported to Lord Morpheus’ realm. The journey is quite beyond the fetch of her experiences using the family’s keys. How will she make it out of the Dreaming?

Hill and Rodriguez seamlessly bring these two distinct fantasy worlds together for a story that seems both fresh and familiar to this longtime reader of Sandman (and the various series that followed in its wake) and a slightly less intimate follower of Locke & Key. Hill sends Mary off on a heroic journey though one fated to end diasterously. What better way to plumb human emotion as a catalyst for storytelling and Hill certainly seems to enjoy himself in the process. I don’t want to give away more of the plot than I already have. Instead I’ll talk about Hill’s handling of various characters. Young Alex so admires his father – or his perception of the man – that I empathized with Alex when he became heart breakingly disappointed by some news. In the realm of the Dreaming I laughed at the black comedy of Cain and Abel locked in their eternal brotherly relationship and the scene of the monstrous Brute and Glob brought a smile. As fun as these scenes are, nothing at all is well in the Dreaming during Morpheus’ absence. It’s all about to go to ruin as one of the Dreaming’s nightmares made into flesh is on the verge of usurping control.

Gabriel Rodriguez’s art is his usual top notch, grounded in realism and detail while delighting in decorative flourish, ranging from the garish to grand to grisly and seasoned just so with mundane elements. The artist is never bored with a variety of perspectives in his panels nor is the eye overwhelmed by the same. Rather, it’s a consummate display of how art can add to the plot’s flow and move the reader along with it. His naked and imprisoned Morpheus is both intriguing and foreboding. Rodriguez’s ability to convey emotion in such a deceptively simple fashion is admirable and worth study by any aspiring comics artist. Jay Fotos’ palette with its subdued colors and diffuse lighting is a perfect complement to Rodriguez’s line art. The style evokes for me the coloring found in vintage illustrated novels which seems appropriate given the date of the story. The work of letterers is largely ignored by both reader and reviewer. Shawn Lee does the epitome of comics lettering by clearly conveying dialog and underscoring emotion while neither calling attention to itself nor obscuring the art.

Hill, Rodriguez, Fotos, and Lee are the perfect collaborators for this story and I’m very excited it’s finally here and to read more!

The audience for Locke & Key/ Sandman Gone To Hell is already there from its fandoms. If by chance you’ve read neither before today and love horror and fantasy, then you might want to consider either this mini or look at your comic shop for any collected volumes of either franchise and purchase this later as a trade.

April 13, 2021
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