BookBin2015: Locke & Key: Alpha & Omega

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Okay, this one is going to be very brief, as Alpha & Omega is the last in a series of graphic novels that I already have professed multiple times to love. Joe Hill and Gabriel Rodriguez created a tantalizing, terrifying world in this series of novels that I definitely cannot wait to revisit in its entirety, thanks to the box set I bought earlier this month.

I have to say that this final novel did let me down a bit, but I believe that this was due more to the setting in of the depressing truth that this was the last Locke & Key visit I would get to make to Lovecraft, Massachusetts (yes, that still cracks me up every time I think about it). I think a sliver of responsibility for this disappointment also rests with the fact that so much time passed in between all my forays into this realm. Again, looking forward to re-reading them all at once, rediscovering what made me love this series in the first place, and hopefully discovering some more of the many enthralling ways that Hill and Rodriguez blew me away with their artwork and storytelling.

Huzzah and hooray.

BookBin2014: Locke & Key: Clockworks

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Remember back when I reviewed volumes 2-4 of Joe Hill and Gabriel Rodriguez’s Locke & Key graphic novel series and stated that I loved those volumes so much that I had already added myself to the library wait list for the fifth volume, Clockworks?

Finally.

That’s right, it took almost 8 months to finally receive the fifth volume…and it subsequently took me less than a day to consume it and still be left starving for more.

I’m not going to go into details other than to say that this volume finally provides the full back story for how Rendell Locke and his friends ended up unleashing the demon that has been plaguing his children. More captivating Hill storytelling set off by beautiful Rodriguez artwork. I cannot reiterate enough that if you love well-crafted horror and stunning illustrations, then these books are a must-read for you.

I’m also going to skip the “Final Verdict” section, because I’m getting these novels. No ifs, ands, or buts. IDW has released the final volume already, so technically, I can go ahead and start stacking up now. I’m torn, though. Do I wait to see if they release a packaged set of all six books? Maybe a special edition set with bonus materials? Or do I just start buying the separate books now?

Decisions, decisions. Mayhaps it’s time to e-mail IDW directly to find out if they have anything planned. To the lair inbox, stat!

BookBin2013: Locke & Key 2–4

I can’t believe that it’s been more than a year since Joe Hill welcomed me to Lovecraft. More than a year since I first encountered the Locke family as they began their long emotional journey back from the brutal home invasion in their San Francisco home that left their father murdered and their mother broken in many ways.

It’s been too long. It’s time to catch up on old times, denizens.

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That’s right, I recently succumbed to my need to enter a library and binge on whatever I could find of interest…and part of what I found were the next three graphic novels from Joe Hill and Gabriel Rodriguez’s Locke & Key series: Volume 2: Head Games; Volume 3: Crown of Shadows; and Volume 4: Keys to the Kingdom.

More revelations about the truth behind Rendell Locke’s murder as well as his life in Lovecraft. More keys. More secrets. More discoveries. More darkness.

This is a seriously dark story. I would expect nothing less from Hill—not because he is Stephen King’s son but because he has proven himself to be an incredibly capable storyteller in his own deliciously demented ways. I have to confess, denizens, I am quite in love with Hill’s works. So in love that as soon as I finished these graphic novels, I put myself on a waiting list for his newest book, NOS4A2, as well as the next Locke & Key novel, Clockworks, even though it hasn’t even arrived yet in our library system’s collection (never mind that I’m already third in line on that list!).

Combine Hill’s skills with Rodriquez’s absolutely stunning artwork and add in a dash of connection between these two talents that works in the most wonderful ways and what you have is a story world that pulls you within its gloriously sinister landscape and refuses to let you go. More importantly, you won’t want it to let you go. For all the fear and horror transpiring around you, you’ll want to stay. And when you reach the last page of the fourth book, the true terror will hit you when you realize that now you have to wait for the next reveal.

Oh, the humanity!

For full disclosure, if you don’t like horror or if you don’t like graphic or grotesque artwork, you won’t like the quaint deathtrap town of Lovecraft or any of its demonic delights. Rodriguez unleashes a phantasmagoria of sinister visuals upon you with his art. But it is absolutely beautiful in its abhorrence.

Final Verdict: I am, 100-percent without-a-doubt, going to purchase these novels for my collection. However, I’m going to wait until the entire series is out before I do. Perhaps IDW Publishing will package them all together in one set. Whatever way they market these books, I don’t care. They will be mine. Oh yes, they will be mine.

BookBin2012: Locke & Key: Welcome to Lovecraft

Okay, I’m just going to wait a moment while all you Cthulhu geeks wear yourselves out from your fannish squee frenzy.

All better? Good.

Yes, the subtitle of this first volume of what is currently a five-volume series (the fifth volume has yet to be released, however) is a sly bit of homage to that great proprietor of purple prose himself, H.P. Lovecraft. And, where else would the fair city of Lovecraft be located than in Massachusetts? I’m sure it’s quite close to Arkham and the prestigious Miskatonic University.

For the purposes of this graphic novel, Lovecraft is also the location of Keyhouse, the ancestral home of Rendell Locke, the family patriarch whose brutal murder during a home invasion sends his widow and three children on a cross-country journey from San Francisco back to the East Coast town he once called home.

Of course, any place located in a town named Lovecraft isn’t going to be level in any sense of the word. Keyhouse is vast, twisted, and full of secrets. Believe me when I say that you’ll be dying to learn them all.

Locke & Keye is a collaboration between celebrated genre author Joe Hill and artist Gabriel Rodriguez. I’ve raved about Rodriguez here at the lair already; he’s the artist behind the CSI graphic novels I’ve recently reviewed, the best being Secret Identity. I was so over-the-top happy to see more of Rodriguez’s exceptional art, which is even more impressive when he’s working with original characters rather than ones based on predetermined appearances. His visual translations of Hill’s bleak, unsettling tale spread through the pages of this novel in a rich, haunting diaspora.

I don’t want to go too far into the details of the story itself. Suffice it to say, the crux of the story is discovery…discovery of strength, of secrets, of keys to unlocking all the mysteries hidden within the confines of the Locke family’s new home and new life. Hill is a king among storytellers, and this is a shining example of his royally inherited prowess.

And if you think that last sentence was a little bit leading, you might have something to stand on there. I won’t say any more about it. I’ll just leave this photo of Joe Hill here, for you to ruminate on for yourselves…

Final Verdict: I completely enjoyed the first part of what I’m hoping to discover is a holistically creepy, captivating series. Bottom line is, if the subsequent volumes are even half as amazing as this first part, it’s going to be an awesome ride from here. I’ve already added this volume to my wish list (alas, this was yet another library loaner) and am contemplating whether or not to just dive in and collect them all. I do believe that my graphic novel collection is growing more rapidly than any other part of my library…and, with stories like this one lining up for consideration, I’m very much okay with that.

BookBin2012: Secret Identity

I promise, this will be the last book review for a while. It will also be much shorter than my last two reviews. I don’t want to overload you.

I’m now finished with the stack of CSI graphic novels that I purchased last year, with the fifth in the series, Secret Identity. I thought this was the last one illustrated by Gabriel Rodriguez, but it looks like there might be one more, although it doesn’t seem to be part of the longer serial novels. I think it might be a one-shot novella done back when Ashley Wood was still doing the abstract artwork. More investigating is required.

For Secret Identity, Rodriguez again paired with Steven Perkins on the abstract art. Steven Grant took over from Kris Oprisko as the writer of this story. It’s a shame that this was the last novel Rodriguez and Perkins worked on together, because I believe this is the best of the bunch. Not only did these two artists’ divergent styles merge beautifully for this novel, Rodriguez really came into his own for the main artwork. He invests a great deal of care and creativity into exploring the space of each page, each panel, bringing a sense of grace and artistry to what is also the darkest, and in my opinion, best written story from this batch of five novels.

Steven Grant did a tremendous job writing this story, giving readers something that not only can compete with a television script, but might in some ways surpass what we’ve seen from the show (especially in recent years). It’s refreshing to see such a cumulatively extraordinary effort put toward a medium that, when done in such a mass market style as comic book tie-ins to television series, typically tends to suffer from mediocrity and apathy from all involved. Case in point? Go flip through a stack of hastily written/drawn/published Trek comics and tell me what you think…you know, after you finish peroxide-washing your brain and eyes.

The coloring is again superb, drawing from a palette of soothing to passion-infused, and enhancing the almost cinematic-quality angles of Rodriguez’s cleverly drawn panels. Also, IDW Publishing returned to the standard size for this graphic novel (although it looks like they also offered it in the smaller “New Format” size; avoid this one at all cost), which means larger space for artwork that truly deserves every inch and more.

Final Verdict: Definitely a keeper. I’d vote this the best of the first five CSI graphic novels, hands down. If you’re at all interested in seeing what the comics can offer you, this would be my top recommendation.

BookBin2011: CSI Graphic Novels

No, that isn’t a mistake, denizens. This will be the final book entry for my 2011 reading endeavors. Even though I was in the process of reading several other books (my attention span seemed to shrink significantly toward the end of last year), I decided I wanted to end the year on a fluffy note. Therefore, the stack of CSI graphic novels that I picked up from Amazon Marketplace a while ago seemed like a great place to go. Besides, as I mentioned in my last post, there was road-tripping to be done this past weekend, and since I wasn’t driving, I chose to entertain myself with reading.

Okay, so here’s the deal: After reading the first CSI graphic novel, Serial, I decided that—true to my obsessive nature—I wanted to read more CSI graphic novels to see if they improved upon what I considered to be a relatively sturdy foundation. I purchased the next four novels. There are more graphic novels beyond five; however, these are the only ones illustrated by Gabriel Rodriguez. I mentioned in my review of Serial that at some point the artwork for these CSI novels turns quite mucky. However, Rodriguez’s artwork in the first novel was impressive enough to assuage my fears that he might be the tainted artist.

In all honesty, it’s Rodriguez’s art and coloring that compelled me to continue reading these comics. His grasp of illustrating our favorite band of Vegas criminalists continued to improve throughout each of these three novels. The disproportionate appearances that I noted in my review of Serial continued through Bad Rap and Demon House, but definitely began to diminish.

[Loba Tangent: If the cover art for Demon House looks a little familiar to regulars here at the lair, it’s because I used it as the inspiration for my CSI: Bajor spoof cover, Blood Prophecy. You’re welcome.]

By the time I started Dominos (yes, I know the title is misspelled; yes, it did irritate the hell out of me), I was noticing a definite balance in proportions. Also, the likenesses became even more refined with each effort (with the continuing exception of Greg Sanders…I don’t know what it is about our favorite Lab Rat, but Rodriguez simply cannot get him right!). In fact, the only nitpick I can come up with is a minor one and really only something that would bother me: In all three novels, Rodriguez gave Sara Sidle long, sharp fingernails with a dark red polish.

Er, no.

Seriously, find me three instances on the show of Sara Sidle wearing any kind of nail polish and I will send you cookies.

The real beauty of each of these novels, however, is in the coloring. I think Rodriguez did the coloring, but I might be wrong. Fran Gamboa is listed as being responsible for colors in Bad Rap, but that’s the only time someone else is listed. Regardless, whoever did the coloring for these graphic novels did an amazing job. The attention to shadows and lighting gave the panels a gorgeous dimensionality that often is missing from mass-produced comics. The lighting closely mimics the lighting as seen in the television show, which adds a nice connection between the printed and televised worlds.

The flashback and speculation scenes for all three novels were still done in a different, more abstract style than the primary artwork. Ashley Wood continued to do these watercolor renderings for Bad Rap and Demon House. Steven Perkins took over for Dominos. I appreciated Perkins’s abstract style to Woods’s work. Woods’s take on these scenes seemed to degenerate throughout each story, becoming more abstract and less interesting with each offering. Toward the end of Demon House, it seemed as though the abstract artwork became nothing more than scratched-out stick people over a sickly mottling of drab olives and browns. Perkins brought back a more refined level of artistry with his take on the flashbacks, keeping them stylistically different from the rest of the story while imbuing them with an appealing sense of sophistication.

As for the writing, Max Allan Collins stuck around after his first crack at graphic novel storytelling to write the stories for Bad Rap and Demon House. They were acceptable stories, but nothing that would push the boundaries already established by the show. One thing that I’ve always liked about the Trek universe’s forays into comics and novels is the fact that the stories there tend to stray from the canonical path. With few exceptions, nothing shown in either written world is ever viewed as “truth” to the filmed Trek universe. I guess that’s not the case with the CSI universe, because not a whole lot new is revealed in these graphic novels.

Kris Oprisko took over the writing from Collins for Dominos. Again, nothing too different, although Oprisko enjoyed invoking a darkness in his tale that Collins very seldom embraced. Dominos had a much more brutal feel, which inspired equally brutal imagery from Rodriguez and Perkins. It was in these aspects that I felt the graphic novel finally started to reach beyond the boundaries of the show…although that’s not really the case anymore. Ever since CSI switched to a later time slot, they’ve definitely been exploring the reduced level of restriction in what sort of gore they can show their audience.

All that being said, if you’re a fan of the show, you’ll enjoy these dalliances. Are they worth purchasing? Again, if you love CSI, then they’re worth owning if only for the enjoyable artwork. That reminds me: Here’s a more objective nitpick, not necessarily about the artwork but more about the skimping the publishers did to the artwork. Whereas Serial was printed in what has become a “standard” size for many graphic novels, these three were printed in what IDW Publishing called the “New Format.” Reduced size, which means: A) The artwork was skimped the way comic strips get skimped in newspapers; and B) these books now look ridiculous on my graphic novel shelf. All the other books there are a relatively standard size. Even the fifth CSI novel, Secret Identity, went back to the standard size. Guess they realized their mistake and corrected it.

Oh, and if you’re interested, I’m nearly finished with Secret Identity. I promise my comments on that one won’t be nearly as long as these comments.

Final Verdict: I’m keeping these three for now. I like my obsession-related collections. Prophets know I have plenty of Trek-related books. While my CSI collection will never grow to that level of insanity, I’m having a fun time collecting for a new obsession…at least until the Buffy collecting bug kicks in…

BookBin2011: CSI: Serial

So remember when I was in Toronto a few weeks ago and we met up with a bunch of my groovy ImagiFriendsTM to go to this used book store that specializes in geeky books?

Yeah, so while I was there, I stumbled upon their graphic novel section, which was kind of small but still decent. And what, dear denizens, should I find but a CSI graphic novel! After quickly perusing it, I realized that it wasn’t one of the collections that I’d seen before, which, to be brutally honest, had some of the most horrifying and amateurish artwork I think I’ve ever seen in a comic book. I need to figure out which collection that was, because I don’t want to have anything to do with it or the artist behind it.

CSI: Serial, however, was drawn by Gabriel Rodriguez, with flashback and “speculation” (think those moments on the show where the CSIs speculate about what they think might have happened based on evidence they’ve just collected or testimony they’ve just heard) artwork done by Ashley Wood. I have to say, this was one of my favorite aspects of the art in this collection: the delineation of styles, with the main story presented in more traditional comic line art and the flashbacks and speculation moments done in rough, abstract watercolors. I also liked how the lettering was done in the flashback sections, with the text captured in boxes that looked like little manila folders. The extra-nice touch? Each CSI had a different “tabbed manila folder” design for their dialogue during these abstract sections. For example, Grissom would have a folder with a green tab all the way to the left of the box, while Sara would have a folder with a red centered tab. Subtle, clever way to help us keep track of who was providing the exposition.

As for the main artwork, Rodriguez did a laudable job of bringing our favorite band of Vegas investigators into the two-dimensional comic book world. They were passable but not precise duplications; there was always something just a little off about each of the comic depictions. I think it might have been that all their heads were slightly too big for their bodies. Made them all look a bit like bobble heads. However, with the exception of his depiction of Greg (which looked nothing like Eric Szmanda), Rodriguez’s renderings were easily identifiable, including those of secondary and even tertiary CSI characters. Plus, I finally discovered the origin and meaning of this panel, which I found a while ago and has made me laugh every time I’ve looked at it:

Image courtesy of Jorja Fox: Online

Yes, I really am that juvenile. You have to admit, though, out of context? You know you laughed, too. Nice eyebrow arch, though, right? Right.

So what about the actual story behind CSI: Serial? Written by Max Allan Collins (who is probably best known for: A) his graphic novel The Road to Perdition; and B) looking like an Elton John clone), the primary case is all about a Jack the Ripper copycat killer, with a secondary case that’s not terribly difficult to figure out but was run by Sara and Nick, which is a pairing that we don’t see that often on the show anymore. It’s admittedly not the most original or creative storytelling for the very first CSI comic arc, but I will say this in this collection’s favor: A lot of times when production companies decide that they want to saturate the market with as much merchandise as they possibly can pertaining to their show, in an attempt to ride the coattails of popularity for as long as they can, what you often get is something rushed and inferior. With Serial, IDW Publishing gave CSI fans a solidly drawn comic with a story that, while not earth-shaking in originality, is thoughtfully crafted, well-written, and an enjoyable ride.

Final Verdict: Not only am I keeping this collection, I’ve done a little research and discovered that Collins, Rodriguez, and Wood teamed up for several other collections, which are supposedly superior in story and presentation to this one. I perhaps may have sought some of these out for further investigation. Analysis may soon be forthcoming.