BEST: LOCKE & KEY: ALPHA #2 — Two Funerals & Three Characters Saved From Fates Worse Than Death. That’s maybe even more than I feel like I should say but is as specific as this will get. It’s still too soon for me to really talk about the end of this series, which has been my favorite book on the rack since I finally started in on it almost two years ago. I’m grateful that I came in at least when I did because, like everyone else who had to catch up at any time before or since, it was impossible not to gobble down the first couple of volumes almost on the spot. It was then really a serious matter of discipline to dole out the next two volumes issue by issue until finally striking up pace with the singles of Volume Five, but the reason for my gratitude is because this is one of those stories that takes up residence inside of you, its characters inhabit your heart, you find yourself thinking about them and rooting for them or mourning them in surprising and seemingly random places that turn out to be perfectly appropriate once it all really starts coming flooding out of you again. And I’m glad I had to wait for The End, if not as many years as most diehards. If only because every Wednesday that a new issue arrived was an event unto itself. Which has probably been made clear here before now.
As fully developed and engaging as Joe Hill and Gabriel Rodriguez have rendered this entire ensemble, this story of family has always at its heart had Tyler Locke as its protagonist and he takes center-stage in this epilogue as a Keeper of the Keys who has learned much from his journey, grown into a man who gives every indication of being a wise and even enlightened Last King of Keyhouse. But that’s the thing. And actually you know what, never mind what I said before, really do, stop reading here if you’re one of those people who thinks it’s okay to be reading a review of the last issue of a nearly six-year-old series but who hasn’t actually read the issue because that is just the worst thing, but the plot-specific business I really do have to get into is this: This was the Ultra-Mega-Happy Ending, right? I mean, we stopped just short of Twilight Sparkle and her crew roaring up over the hills of Lovecraft to tell us that now at long last everything is going to be fine, Bode’s been in Canterlot this entire time eating ice cream and working on stand-up bits with Pinkie Pie. This issue consisted of exactly one opening and hilarious knock-knock unjoke and then the two aforementioned funerals, amidst which Ty runs around and, man the name puns just never quit with these guys, do they? but he really does motor around tying up loose ends all over the place. Dodge gets as much redemption as he possibly can. Which isn’t much, anything higher up on the dial I’m not sure that people would have hung with, but Tyler does save him as well as he can. And Erin Voss only gets two pages, eight panels in all, but they are paced to perfection and send her on her long deserved way at last. There’s a nice little coda with Jordan’s dad and her motorcycle and ghost that leads right in to our final trip back up to Keyhouse (I guess really the last time we’re ever going to see it out here in the world in panels and pages) in which Bode does indeed make his return, which was the one aspect of this that everybody should have seen coming (even with the eyebrow-raising exposition with Dodge re: cremation, which was, yeah, pretty unfortunate). But, as ever, the greatness to be found is in the telling of the tale. Bringing in the sparrow as the vehicle about crushed me with the elegance of its resonant narrative perfection, the beautiful architecture arcing all the way back through the series.
All right, and so everyone freaking out about Bode, I was totally with that, all played to perfection, of course Nina questioning her sanity would be the knee-jerk reaction. I started to get a little bit suspicious on the next page, though, when Bode told Rufus that he could come live with them, because that right there is almost over the line, like Hill is now fucking with us and about to drop the hammer on these people at the very next turn of the page. I mean, things are like Really Turning Out Well Now for like EVERYbody, wouldn’t you say? To the point that it’s like Hill just had some horrible shit go down in his personal life and suddenly just cannot bring himself to take out these people he’s given birth to and transcribed and of course fallen in love with over the years and so suddenly they get a pass. I want to say that happened with Fraction not killing Zephyr in the first volume of CASANOVA. But the very instant that it’s like Rufus is going to move in with the Lockes now and he and Bode are gonna run around and work them magic keys and help Uncle Dunk rebuild Keyhouse and everything is going to be peaches and rainbows, then right there, not even hidden or tucked away but out of the mouth of the brightest most optimistic character of the series so that maybe it will fly right by, the road to inevitable ruin is made explicit. “It’ll be great?!?” Have you people learned NOTHING? Get off the land! Run! Don’t even sell the property because the money will be cursed and the things that you buy with it will kill you. Get out of Massachusetts. Get out of New England/the East Coast altogether. Absolutely stay the fuck out of Maine. Run. Run and dodge closed doors and locks and keys for the rest of your mortal lives. Find another way inside wherever you think you want to go or just don’t go into that place because behind that locked door, there will be a well or a portal or something leading to an alien evil that does not appear to be hampered by time and space and knows your names and wants to kill you.
So, all of this is running through my head when Ty heads back into, where else, the wellhouse. In just those first two panels alone, I am already thinking that my man is nothing but meat even before he utters the name of who he is summoning. And now it is perfect, everything comes together. Who else to send Ty and all of us faithful—and I believe one may sensibly argue Constant—Readers on our way than the nameless alien evil wearing this face of all faces and doing the deed, smashing Ty’s face up into jelly against the stone well. I’m not sure I have ever been gripped with as much dread as while reading that final exchange. And then, it just ended. Everything was all right. Ty saved, like, everybody and all’s well that ends well. But if we’ve learned anything from this series, isn’t it that the power of the keys always eventually corrupts? I mean, Bode’s going to grow up into a teenager, right? And saying that Rufus has some issues with reality is a pretty gentle way of putting it. Even allowing for Ty and Kinsey to gracefully cross the threshold into maturity, which we have every indication is exactly what will happen, are we really supposed to believe that everything is going to be hunky-dory now that we’ve got the team of Duncan, Bode, and Rusty hard at work raising Keyhouse back up from the ashes? It WAS a happy ending, to an almost freakish extent. I can actually see a sizable majority of readers a bit put off to seriously pissed that there wasn’t more bloodshed here at the end, that everything turned out so well on the surface. But did it? Really? What is the last detail we get? In a series with hundreds of examples of minutiae that always either pay off much much later or call back to something that has happened several volumes ago, what’s the last detail Rodriguez puts in? At first, I thought it was a butterfly, fluttering into the panel for our last shot of Tyler. But then on the last page, we get a slightly better look. That little fellow appears to belong to genus Acherontia, a species that achieved mainstream popularity over twenty years ago courtesy of Thomas Harris. That is the Death’s-head Hawkmoth from SILENCE OF THE LAMBS, no question. Even if I’m hallucinating the human skull, the color scheme is a perfect match. Now, whether this was placed as our final image of the series in order to portend seriously ominous tidings for all of our as-of-yet-surviving Lockes or was just a cute allusion to the river in Hades that keeps Charon in obols, I certainly can’t say. But it casts a bit of shade over all of this perfect resolution spilling out all over the place, there is no question about that.
All I know for sure is that I loved this story as hard as I could and will for the rest of my life be grateful to Joe Hill, Gabriel Rodriguez, Jay Fotos, Robbie Robbins, and Chris Ryall for ushering it into this world. Knock Knock.
YOUNG AVENGERS #14 — And here we come to it. A pitch-perfect opening scene between Kate & America before we get the bad news in the jukebox credits on Page Six that McKelvie/Wilson have left the building. That certainly damages my imagined ideal of a just-this-once-PHONOGRAM-issue-reconfigured-in-the-616 but we’ve got to roll with it. And of course, all is well. Emma Vieceli give us a lovely coda to the whole Billy/Teddy/David triangle that was almost trying to come into being and then Christian Ward gives us nothing less than the secret origin of Miss (Princess) America. But the sweetest thing is of course Annie Wu & Jordie Bellaire on the final section with Kate, which is a really slick idea and sets up ideal visual continuity with her other book. And that vignette really did the trick from a narrative standpoint, moved us right past Marvel Boy, definitely Marvel Boy with just enough pages left for a real surprise and heartstopping kiss. A very happy New Year, indeed.
DAREDEVIL #034 — Javier Rodriguez is back to illustrate exactly what a beast he is all by himself as Waid seriously ratchets up the status quo. Right in the middle of this one, there’s a perfect panel. Matt does a reverse-dive off the roof while quipping all cute with Kirsten and ends the exchange with “I love this city,” and that’s really all it takes. Waid gets this guy So Much. Which has been apparent since the very beginning, but it’s still nice to see on display all this while later. And then of course serious shit at the end, down to the very last panel. Month in, month out, these guys show you exactly how mainstream corporate comics ought to be done.
UNCANNY AVENGERS #015 — Stone-Deaf Cap & Havok ride again! All was right in my world until it turns out Steve was just having fun. Which was almost even better. And oh, but a big important double-page Hickman title! We can still see that this is an important issue, even if Hickman wouldn’t let them use the white background. If Janet was going to call the Sentry out on a cliché, maybe he should have said “a finer world.” Metatextual! It will be interesting to see how Remender writes them out of this one. When Uatu tells you that there is nothing to be done about a Celestial executioner using an axe that Thor enchanted one thousand years ago to now kill all the humans on Earth, it seems like the options are becoming a bit thin and maybe we want to think about maybe Johnny-quick-on-the-spot inducting Reed Richards as an Uncanny Avenger?
ALL-NEW X-MEN #020 — Haha, expecting X-23 to be cool when she wakes up inside the Weapon X facility. Teenage Jean Grey telling Professor Kitty Pryde that Teenage Scott Summers fancies the female clone of Wolverine is, yeah, close to the weirdest shit I have about ever seen from The House of Ideas, at least since the turn of the century. Shudder, indeed.
FANTASTIC FOUR #015 — This was as good as it could have been under the circumstances. Solid scripting from Kesel, though he betrays us/pulls a Sebela in the penultimate panel, and this Raffaele Ienco is turning in strong work.
FF #15 — Allreds amok! Worth it alone for the multiple pages of Darla wrecking shit across the bottom of every page, and that’s before the real business even starts kicking in. The conclusion next month should be something fierce.
BATMAN AND TWO-FACE #26 — Of course Shannon was the better twin, I should have figured that one out already. I’ve got to say Boo on invoking the recent hit Netflix prison series, though, it does not enhance this reading experience to invoke those ladies. Immediately mitigated by that escape, though, those ladies are hardcore. This is turning into quite the lengthy arc with Harvey! Still digging it but wondering about all of the other irons these guys have in the fire.
WONDER WOMAN #26 — Terrific slam-bang greatness right up to the point that Orion tells Diana, “No duh.” Excuse me, but “No duh” is a product of fear on the lifeline!
ANIMAL MAN #26 — Cully Hamner is absolutely the guy you want to come in and blow it up on a single fill-in issue. Buddy makes a deal that will have far-reaching implications and in all likelihood lead to his title’s cancellation in a very few months, I just bet you.
BLACK SCIENCE #2 — Wow, so that first one was all the action science pulp bluster and then here, a scant three weeks later, they really sink their teeth into us with much more character work all the way around the ensemble, dials us in to three or four times’ greater effect than the first issue. Which, it should be said, I loved. But this one’s already cranked so much harder up. Like, I was impressed by the the blistering of #1. But now, I’m much more into these characters. The first scene alone, instantly iconic. There are too damn many modern-day classics unfolding before our eyes, it’s getting to be too much taking them all in at once.
EAST OF WEST #8 — A New Lady President-centric, which I enjoyed a hell of a lot more than the guy last time with the alien monster for an arm. Only five pages with Death but I have to tell you that is plenty of hook, I am real curious exactly what he’s going to be up to on his next page. Can’t believe there have already been eight of these, these people are slamming these slabs of quality out at an impressive pace. I think this one is going to be a lot more crushing binging on the trades, but with the packaging of the singles, there’s no rational argument to be made for not picking them up on day of release.
PRETTY DEADLY #3 — Now, this was a hell of a way to program it here, these last three. Already knew that this series would make a very complementary companion to the immediately preceding and it did not disappoint. I’m not sure if the ladies are finding their groove and more precisely channeling the voice of this story or if maybe I’m just getting better at listening. Image is just throwing damn thunderballs here at the end of the year, every one of theirs this week is Such A Special Issue!
CONAN THE BARBARIAN #23—This is pretty phenomenal work here, Wood & Burchielli are firing on all cylinders. A stunning bit of business, this, the type of cataclysmic fare that you only see at the end of a run. They are ending with a hell of an arc, going out swinging as hard as they can.
SECRET #4 — All right, it was a slow burn complicated by the serious delays between issues, but we’ve finally come far enough to get the revelation that’s more than enough to get everybody who’s still hanging on fully invested in the situation, here. I have got to go back, #s 1 and 2 are going to be much better, I’m thinking. Ryan Bodenheim once again has his tight controlled linework on display while Michael Garland’s extremely limited palette is a good fit for this genre. Old Rus Wooton keeps on with the hard-italic bold emphases, though, takes me out of it every damn time.
SAGA #17 — Pretty much GoTime business here, as well. Just a metric shit-ton of things going down this week, I tell you what. No less than three major characters appear to all bite it in perfect and of course achingly poignant ways, and I’m thinking at least one of those is going to stick, terrible terrible news.