At long last, Bryant Has Issues #42 is upon us. The primary focus of this column will be the final issue of Joe Hill's Locke & Key, and since months often passed between issues of that comic, perhaps it is fitting that it has been nearly eight weeks since the last comics column 'round these parts. What can I say? Time ain't what it used to be.
In any case, the final issue of Locke & Key (Alpha #2) finally arrived on December 18, and to show how much they love their customers, IDW did what they had also done with Alpha #1: set the price at $7.99. Which, guys, seriously, is too much for a single comic. Even an ostensibly double-sized issue like this one. And to hammer the point home, they produced approximately 1,473 variant covers. The seven primary covers were collected inside a custom slipcase and the set sold for $49.99 each.
So of course, that was the one I bought. Plus an eight copy, the Retail Incentive A cover. Because hey, why not.
Let's have a look at that slipcase:
Nothing special, but that's typically what you get with slipcases. I didn't buy this sucker for the slipcases, anyways; I bought it for the cover. So let's have a look at all seven:
|Cover A, art by Gabriel Rodriguez -- got to have the Rodriguez cover!|
|Cover B, art by Simon Bisley -- pretty cool; is that a Crimson King eye?!?|
|Cover C, art by Glenn Fabry, colors by Ryan Brown -- not sure who's being depicted there, but it's creepy and I dig it|
|Cover D, art by Michael Kaluta -- lookit all them keys...|
|Cover E, art by Bill Sinkiewicz -- he of Big Numbers infamy|
|Cover F, art by Dave Sim, colors by Jay Fotos -- random Spider-Man tribute, check; reference to my favorite Hill short story, check; HAD to have this one|
|Cover G, art by Bernie Wrightson, colors by Jay Fotos -- BERNIE WRIGHTSON!|
And, for the sake of completion, here's the other one I bought:
|Retail Incentive cover A, art by Shane Leonard|
If I were a good blogger, I'd run down images of the many other variant covers and post 'em here just for the sake of showcasing them all. But I'm too lazy, and the others I've seen are mostly boring. So you're on your own with those.
Doing the math reveals that I have spent roughly $60 on the final issue of Locke & Key, and for that expenditure, one would hope that the result would be one of the best series finales in the history of comics. Is Alpha #2 that? It's hard to say. I don't think it's a flat-out triumph, like, say, the final issue of Watchmen is. But it's solid. I'd compare it to the final issue of Alan Moore's run on Swamp Thing, and I'd compare it favorably.
Initially, I was a bit confused by a particular plot point involving the fate of a certain character. I even hinted at that in a comment on one of my other posts recently. And actually, when I say I was "a bit" confused, I am underselling it; I had no fucking clue how this plot development happened.
It's going to be impossible to talk about this without being at least a bit specific. So if you want to remain unspoiled, this is your chance to run away. I'm going to insert the spoilers between a couple of photos of a monkey riding a dog rodeo-style. So scroll down with your eyes unfocused, and when you see that image a second time, it's safe again.
Alright, so . . . Bode comes back to life. I was happy for this to happen. I mean, I didn't want Bode to have to remain a disembodied spirit for the rest of eternity, so his returning to life was one of the things I had on my checklist of Things I Wanted From The Final Issue.
What confused me is the means by which it happened. Hill doesn't explain it as explicitly as might have been a good idea. Once it's pointed out, it makes sense; but I could have used an extra page or two spelling it all out.
So, here's the prevailing theory on how it worked: in his spirit form, Bode talks the bird -- the one that visits Tyler and summons him -- into giving up its life so that Bode can enter its body. Rodriguez cues us that this is what has happened because as soon as the bird returns to life, it has eyes similar to the ones Bode had when he temporarily took on the body of a bird (through use of the Animal Key) way back in Keys to the Kingdom #1! That was the issue that featured Calvin and Hobbes-inspired artwork from Rodriguez.
So what happens is that Tyler recognizes that the bird is in fact Bode, and uses the Animal Key to, essentially, give him a new Bode-body.
It makes complete sense. But it probably only does so if you've read the entire series several times, or (at the very least) quite recently. Or have a much better memory than the one I have. I get the desire to not overexplain things, and generally I applaud the effort to keep things subtle. In this instance, though, I think maybe a bit more was called for.
That said, now that the answer has been presented to me, it changes my perspective on the entire issue. Initially, I was so confused by this that it colored my perceptions and bit and caused me to be disappointed; but with the answer in place, skimming back through the issue causes me to feel much more positive about it. It's a solid finale. Not, I would have to insist, a home run; not for me, at least. But it has enough genuine emotion, enough great art, and enough closure that it works.
I suspect that Locke & Key will also benefit greatly from being read cover to cover, as one would read a novel. At some point down the line, I plan to do just that, and to write a fuller exploration of the series for this blog. It definitely deserves it, and I suspect the finale will read a bit better when taken in proper context like that. A break of weeks and months between issues is not always conducive to seeing a comic in the proper light. My guess is that this has been a good example of that.
Let's move on, but stick within the Joe Hill canon for a bit.
Here we have Wraith #2, which is subtitled Welcome to Christmasland -- Chapter 1: The Get-Away.
You are pardoned if you look at that cover and assume it is Charlie Manx. That is not Charlie Manx, however; it is a prisoner named Sykes, who is one of a trio of inmates being transported somewheres by the California Department of Corrections.
The entirety of this issue is devoted to that trip, and to the complications that arise during it. Charlie Manx makes exactly one appearance, and if you guessed that said appearance is in the final panel of the comic, you would be 100% correct.
I was a little thrown by the seeming lack of connection between this issue and the first, which was all about the Manx family's long road to Christmasland. However, I assumed that things would eventually connect; if not in this issue, then in subsequent ones. And I still assume that will be the case.
Either way, I was immediately interested in Sykes, his two fellow inmates, and the two guards in charge of their transport. C.P. Wilson III brings them to life with his art, which I am more impressed by this issue.
Let's have a look!
Pretty nasty stuff, fellas. And it only gets nastier.
My favorite thing in the issue comes in this panel:
Booth Dolan, as you might recall, is a notable character from the Owen King novel Double Feature. Which makes this a pretty sweet shout-out. And technically-speaking, it links Double Feature to the works of Stephen King himself. Here's that daisy chain: Double Feature connects to Wraith, which connects to NOS4A2, which connects to Doctor Sleep. Taken farther, Doctor Sleep connects to It, which connects to The Dark Tower. So Double Feature now counts as a Dark Tower novel. Very, very loosely.
It'd be silly to put much thought into that, but either way, I'm all about spreading the cult of Booth Dolan. And I hereby nominate Joe Hill to write a Gooch and McMasters comic series. It needs to happen, Joe; it needs to happen.
I'm looking forward to seeing where the rest of Wraith takes me. It'll be to unpleasant places, I'm sure, and I wouldn't want it any other way.
And with that, I bring the curtains down on this installment of Bryant Has Issues. I've still got more catching up to do, with new issues of Saga and The Wake and whatnot, but those are going to have to wait for the next one.
See you then!