“Locke & Key: Grindhouse” is another one-shot from the regular “Locke & Key” creative team of Joe Hill and Gabriel Rodriguez. The last time the duo did a one-shot was the “Guide to the Known Keys” issue, which was breathtakingly emotional and poignant. This issue speeds off in the opposite direction in a stolen car with the loot by its side. Hill and Rodriguez create a standalone story that is a very direct homage and valentine to iconic classics like “Crime Doesn’t Pay” and the EC crime books. The outcome is something very different from the many issues of “Locke & Key” that came before, but still builds the world further out and up.
We don’t see the usual Locke family members in this flashback issue. Instead, it focuses on a car full of jaunting criminals as they finish one score and head off to Key House to cap the end on their good time run. The dialogue feels different, which may be jarring at first. It’s okay, the creators ease in softly with an exploding head and pair of exposed breasts right on the first page. You did read the title of the issue, right? This is most definitely a Grindhouse tale.
It doesn’t take long for our foolish antagonists to arrive at Key House thinking things will work out. Needless to say, as is the custom, things do not work out at Key House. There is no way I would spoil how these terrible men meet their just desserts — to do so would be a criminal act in itself — but each time they are dispatched, you can’t help but smile to see Hill’s genius plot turn that builds to a great pay off. Hill balances the line between aping the older fare from which he draws inspiration and seeds in some modern moments. The structure of this issue is fantastically tight.
Gabriel Rodriguez’s artwork brings to mind a mixture of the old classic crime comic masters with a touch of some of the more modern guys. There’s as much EC house style floating on these pages as there is a brotherhood with Sean Phillips’s “Fatale.” If the world hasn’t realized Rodriguez is one of the best artists working today, then now is the time to finally acknowledge it as loudly as possible. These pages drip with schlock, dread and the kind of fun you don’t tell others you have alone in the dark. As an homage and something new, Rodriguez pretty well nails this about as spot on as you could ever hope or dream.
A very special mention is needed for Robbie Robbins on lettering as he subtly uses the exact same style of the old comics. It almost isn’t noticeable at first because everything works on the page in unison to transport the book into the ’50s, but upon closer inspection the work, Robbins stands out loud and proud. This is a bold move and Robbins pulls it off with aplomb.
“Locke & Key: Grindhouse” is the sort of thing every fan of great horror/crime comics needs to get their hands on. There hasn’t been anything on the stands like this at this level of quality in far too long. This is salacious, dirty, exploitative and titillating, making it exactly perfect. If you want to know how good Hill and Rodriguez are, pick this one-shot up. Even if you haven’t read the rest of the title, this will sell you on what these creators are capable of.
Also ensure you read and loiter over the back matter as the building specification blueprints and artwork are fascinating. “Locke & Key” is world-building of the highest caliber. May Hill and Rodriguez never find their boundaries in this world.