mr__fanboy's Locke & Key: Clockworks #4 - The Whispering Iron review

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A Delightfully Doomed Journey

A study published in August claimed that knowing spoilers for a story doesn't diminish the average person's enjoyment of it, with one possible explanation that the plot of the story matters less than how it is presented. As the saying goes, it's the journey, not the destination that's important.

And Joe Hill is ready to prove it.

In the fourth chapter of Clockworks, set in 1988, Rendell Locke and his friends, the Keepers of the Keys and the Tamers of the Tempest, make their way to the ominous Black Door, in the hopes of harnessing the terrifying beings on the other side to add a new key to the vast array of magical keys within Keyhouse. Knowing that the magic that had come into their lives will vanish as they graduate from high school and lose the right to wield the keys, the six friends decide to seek the whispering iron, in the hopes of keeping some small measure of magic with them always.

They will not succeed. They will make a fatal mistake and it will destroy them all, in one way or another. As much as we might want it to be otherwise, we know this is how things will turn out. Having seen Rendell’s children explore Lovecraft, Massachusetts in the present day, we’ve learned the fates of all of these characters throughout the first four volumes of Locke & Key. Two will die, one will wish they had, and one will become the greatest threat the Locke family has ever known. We know how all but one of their stories end, so throughout the story, there is the lingering question of “Why even bother showing it?” There should be no suspense. We know the broad strokes of what happens, so where’s the tension? Joe Hill artfully answers this question with another: “Have you MET these poor kids?”

Hill packs these kids with such depth, detail and sheer likeability in two issues that you find yourself fearing for them in advance of the doom that awaits them. These kids are flawed, and some of them get incredibly mean and immature at times. But they love each other and what they have together so purely that every step they take towards the Black Door weighs heavily in the hearts of the readers. This trip is not treated lightly, either by Hill or the characters (the phrase “soul tape-worms” is thrown around more than once), but their infectious feeling of teenage invulnerability outweighs any sense of the terrible gamble they are taking, and we don’t question that they’re willing to risk their souls for one last chance at magic, even as we shake our heads with knowledge of the terrible consequences coming their way.

Dodge is truly the star of this issue, as he likely will be for the remainder of Clockworks. Having spent the last four volumes watching this monstrous villain work his evil throughout the lives of the Locke family and everyone they come into contact with, it’s incredibly shocking to see him before his encounter with the Black Door. This entirely human Dodge has all the charisma of his evil future self, but without even a hint of the malice that pervades everything present-Dodge does. Past-Dodge is a cool guy and a kind, gentle soul, which makes his eventual transformation all the more tragic than if he had been a jerk. To be bound for all time to the things behind the door is an utterly terrible fate for an innocent such as he, and it does wonders to add depth to his character, while making his present form all the more terrifying for the humanity he’s lost.

Although Hill’s characters are what make the story work, his words would mean nothing without Gabriel Rodriguez’s fantastic art, which imbues the characters with a life all their own. To see the youthful hope in the faces of the kids, the kindness in Dodge’s face as he tells Duncan about the importance of keeping promises (only one of many lines made ironic by future events), and the panic and terror evident on everyone’s face once the Black Door is opened makes us care for these kids just as much as Hill’s strong script. And as before, his depiction of the world behind the Black Door is horrifying and alien, and does everything to cement just how far these kids are in over their heads.

This issue represents the amazing journey of these friends, and the final pages do a wonderful job letting the audiences know that it’s about to take a sharp turn into hell. We know that the next few issues will be filled with tears for everyone involved (except one…), that much was spoiled for us long ago. I, for one, can’t wait to see it all unfold.

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