“Locke and Key: Omega” #2 is another sucker punch to the heart. After a tour through the battered hearts of the Locke family and many of their friends in “Locke and Key: Omega” #1, I thought Joe Hill and Gabriel Rodriguez couldn’t possibly raise the stakes any more by yanking on heartstrings. I thought I would feel cheated if the second issue of this final storyline didn’t launch into the details of Dodge’s villainy. I was wrong, because “Locke and Key: Omega” #2 is worth it just to behold the care and focus that Hill and Rodriguez have lavished on the issue’s central character: Rufus Whedon.
Some preparation for Prom scenes in “Locke and Key: Omega” #2 don’t feature Rufus, but they are all kept appropriately short and serve well as a ticking clock and reminder of Dodge’s timeline. Rufus is the star, as a mashup mock cover at the back of the comic reminds us. As Rufus talks with a counselor, Hill takes the reader on flashbacks that show Rufus’ treatment by Zack and his grandmother. Rufus’ omissions are shocking, as his optimism and very literal way of looking at things make him more generous or forgiving with others than the reader is likely to be. This includes his mother, who failed to protect herself and Rufus from Dodge. Ellie’s “you got it where it counts, kid” speech to Rufus would ring hollow and feel over-the-top sentimental, were it not for how she got it exactly right — Rufus is naturally good at “working hard, caring, doing for others,” especially when the world hasn’t done well by him.
With no one to look out for him and with his mental handicap, Rufus fits into the “scrappy underdog” archetype, but the voice that Joe Hill has created for him is unique. Rufus’ bravery in the face of terrifying odds is endearing. His quirks and the enormity of his personal tragedy could be grating if handled badly, but Hill writes Rufus such that the reader cannot help but root for him as he battles clueless adults. Part of Rufus’ appeal is that Hill writes excellent dialogue for him, with lines like, “You don’t have a ding-dong anymore.” Part of it is also Gabriel Rodriguez’s great visuals that show us Rufus’ internal world, where he is imprisoned at the “Evil Place of Evil” with reptilian guards lighting cigarettes for a quick smoke. As usual, Rodriguez’s art has lovely detail in the characters’ expressions and in the settings, from the wood grain of the floor up to the sun and stars in a stained glass window.
Erin Voss’ cameo was very welcome, and it was wonderful to see her character have agency again, despite her current condition. Voss is multiply a minority (black, elderly, mentally damaged), but still an important and fully developed character. In addition to skillful plotting and art, it’s great how inclusive and subversive Hill and Rodriguez are with their character design, with all kinds of character types, faces and backgrounds represented, even in the almost nameless side characters.
“Locke and Key: Omega” #2 is exceptional comic for being creepy, strange and suspenseful like all horror fiction should be, but also just for being the kind of story that can make a reader want to laugh and cry within only twenty-one pages.