IDW’s Locke & Key: …In Pale Battalions Go… #1 is a wonderful welcome home to Keyhouse. Writer Joe Hill, artist Gabriel Rodriguez, colorist Jay Fotos, and letterer Shawn Lee capitalize on the lesser-known parts of this big world they’ve created, and it’s both fresh and familiar at once.
It’s hard to review In Pale Battalions Go #1 on its own, because one gets the sense that so much elegant groundwork has been lain long before this issue. Hill has created a fully fleshed out world in the pages of Locke & Key, and in Pale Battalions he reels us back in. We become reacquainted with characters like John and Chamberlin Locke, only briefly touched on in the parent series. Despite their lack of “screen time” previously, they feel like old friends. Perhaps because they take on almost mythical proportions. The rosey homelife Hill presents us with is like something out of a dream, and so each character feels bigger than they ought to. Chamberlin is not just the father, he’s every father, just as John is every son and Fiona is every mother. It’s hard to pin down what gives Hill’s writing this quality, but it’s just as hard to deny that the quality is there.
There are a few moments in this issue that suffer from clumsy exposition. John explains his actions in one scene, almost seeming like a supervillain monologuing. Chamberlin and Fiona speak of their children, but their talk goes from conversational to primarily informational. Hill’s mythical tone in Locke & Key makes it so these moments don’t stand out too much, but they’re still peppered in. It’s a natural pitfall in a first issue, and Hill has proven in the past he will not get bogged down by the details going forward.
Rodriguez’s art has always been sensational, but something seems to have happened between the original Locke & Key run and now. There’s a nuance and subtlety to Rodriguez’s art we didn’t even know we were missing until now. In the original run of Locke & Key, Rodriguez’s style is unmistakable. You know it’s him drawing it and no one else. But on rare occasions, Rodriguez could fall into making his characters look a little too similar. Like they were related, even when they weren’t. Somehow, in …In Pale Battalions Go…#1, Rodriguez keeps his style but overcomes his weaknesses. Every character looks unique and fresh, even compared to their depictions in this initial run. It’s just so wonderful to see. It’s like having a treasured memory of a place, and when you go visit you find it’s even more beautiful than you remembered. Rodriguez is doing some of the best work of his career.
Fotos subtly makes us feel at home in Keyhouse. John, who is itching to go off to war, doesn’t understand what he’s wanting to get into. But Fotos understands. Fotos allows us to see the warmth of Keyhouse visually. When John is trying to enlist, the office he’s in is slightly paler than the scenes in Keyhouse. And when John is trying to get into the Vault of Shadows, we see it too is colored in greys and blacks. Fotos, in his own way, is begging John to be content with what he has. A warm home, a family who loves him. But John is lured in by the colorful purples and greens that come from using the keys. He wants a more vibrant life than Keyhouse gives him, even though war is not where he’ll find it.
Lee does a great job of showing us the cadence of each character. Fiona and Chamberlin are as verbose as they come. Their big, fat word balloons are stacked on top of each other, allowing for as little break in their monologues as possible. Yet when we see John speak, though he’s trying to appear confident, Lee creates more “pauses” than with the others. When he says he wants to go to war and get in on the action, he sounds confident. But when he’s faced with the actual realities of war, we can visually see him second guess himself. His word balloons are connected by a long line in between. It’s John trailing off and wondering what he’s gotten himself into, before saying a simple “Oh.” In small moments like these, Lee brilliantly gives these characters their voices.
If you love IDW’s Locke & Key, you won’t be disappointed by Locke & Key: …In Pale Battalions… #1. It’s a fun, nostalgic, nuanced welcome back to the familiar halls of Keyhouse. Plus, it has couple easter eggs thrown in to get everyone psyched for an awesome upcoming crossover. Pick up Locke & Key:…In Pale Battalions…#1, out from IDW August 26th, at your local comic book shop!