After three issues of characterization-dense prelude and final preparations, “Locke and Key: Omega” #4 by Joe Hill and Gabriel Rodriguez is the beginning of the final battle for this horror story and family saga, as Dodge moves into the open during Senior Prom.
Despite being a standard-length 22 pages, “Locke and Key: Omega” #4 feels quick and too short, but not in a necessarily bad or unintentional way. Hill takes readers to the brink and slightly beyond, but no further, saving the drop and the true crash for next issue. In the real-time of the comic, perhaps only an hour or two passes. The reading experience feels breathless and compressed, but only because Hill and Rodriguez feed the reader only fragments of new information, while flooding every scene with suspense.
Hill has also taken pains to update the status of every important character in “Locke and Key: Omega” #4. His script moves the action rapidly across the Drowning Cave, Rufus on the road to the rescue, Keyhouse Manor, and Duncan’s garage and back again.
Hill’s opening scene, as Mrs. Locke struggles on the kitchen floor, is an excellent and unusual opener. The printed dialogue has just the right balance of slurred speech (to remind readers of how she was assaulted last issue) and easy intelligibility. The dash of humor that Hill pulls off as she spits out “The facking line has been drawn!” is extraordinary, considering that this scene depicts a troubled recovering alcoholic and former rape victim crawling on the floor, brutally attacked by what she thinks is her own son. And yet, Hill can get readers to smile in this scene, or even chuckle at Mrs. Locke, without coming off as cruel or heartless. Instead, the humor adds to the character’s likability and increases the reader’s investment in her well-being.
The scene of Rufus in the bus is another top-notch scene for character development, although it’s not as much a surprise. Rufus is a fan favorite already due to Hill’s characterization. As Rufus confides to his robot toy and makes a solo journey for a mission against terrible odds, he simultaneously inspires admiration and pity, and again, Hill pulls off this unlikely convergence with seeming ease.
Of course, much of Hill’s success rests on Rodriguez’s excellent facial expressions and page-to-page flow of action and composition. Rodriguez emphasizes just the right details, like the single-point perspective and receding yellow road reflectors as Rufus marches towards Lovecraft.
The last page of “Locke and Key: Omega” #4 is a looming view of a steep dark cliff face, sudden and abrupt in appearance, utterly silent and imposing. It’s an unusual, heart-in-the-throat-feeling visual shocker of an ending, capping off a gut-wrenching plot development a few pages back with a metaphorical wall. The visual effect is that Rodriguez and Hill slam a door shut just as the reader is desperate to know what happens next.
“Locke and Key: Omega” #4 will leave fans feeling unsettled and frustrated, but these effects are the results of its strengths. As “Locke and Key” enters the final act of its final arc, it is still consistently one of the best books on the stands.