Out this week, Joe Hill and Gabriel Rodriguez are tying their beloved Locke & Key series into the Sandman Universe to the delight of fans of both properties. It has been a bit of a wait, but most will confirm it was worth it. If there exist two fantasy series from different publishers that would jell better together, I haven’t found it. The comic book crossover is a major facet of most of our lives, especially if you’re older than 30. Blending the world Neil Gaiman created with the magical keys Hill and Rodriguez developed, these two properties will break barriers and boundaries in the first issue.
If this issue was compared to a race, it feels like you’ve taken at least an entire lap by its end. It gets a lot down, has its protagonist explore different realms, and doesn’t hold back in the slightest. It’s a breath of fresh air as it supplies readers with a lot of content, so much so you might wonder if the cliffhanger was coming on the next page. But it goes on.
The protagonist of this book is Mary Locke, who seeks to save her brother’s soul from Hell. She finds herself in the presence of a man with a very powerful item who only seeks to meet with her because she, of course, has in her possession many magical keys. It’s important to note, Hill has Locke give up some incredibly powerful items to get what she wants. This helps solidify the fact that she’s willing to do whatever it takes to get her brother back even if she’s at a loss for some incredibly powerful keys.
Running 25 or so pages of content, this issue sets up her character, has her converse with a key figure in the Sandman universe, has her set another character off on their own adventure before she delves into magical realms where she runs into many familiar characters. There’s a lot here to enjoy, especially if you’re familiar with Gaiman’s wonderful world of creatures and personalities. By extension, if you’re unfamiliar with the Sandman Universe, or Locke & Key for that matter, you might feel a bit lost. The weight of who is on the page isn’t always apparent or spelled out for readers. But given this is a crossover, that should be obvious when you pick up this book.
The art by Rodriguez is exceptional, with a deft hand on pacing, world-building, and character acting. Key scenes are aided by the brevity of the spoken words on the page so as to allow Rodriguez’s lines and set to be taken in. Much like with Locke & Key, this world is detailed and filled with life. From a random leaf on a floor as a man falls backward, to the detailing on a glass dome prison of a key Sandman universe character, there’s so much to take in on every page. Colors by Jay Fotos add good texture and volume to each page which adds to the realism of each scene. Given Mary is on a quest to magical realms, these little details go a long way in creating believable scenes.
Letters by Shawn Lee are also great, capturing the verve in a character’s voice, and the emphasis just right. A “Deeee-light-ful” only adds to character element in one scene, for example.
Locke & Key/Sandman: Hell & Gone is everything you’d want from this crossover and everything you expect from its creators. It’s incredibly clear a lot of work, planning, and time went into this project. There is certainly a learning curve if you haven’t explored one, and especially both, worlds, but that is likely a factor readers will take into account when considering this book. All told, this is a good melding of both worlds and even better execution in comic book craft.
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