Writer: Joe Hill
Penciller / Inker: Gabriel Rodriguez
Colorist: Jay Fotos
Release Date: April 14, 2021
Locke & Key: Hell & Gone #1 is the second issue of the Hell & Gone series and the ninth issue of the Golden Age series. The main Locke & Key story ended several years ago. Both the Hell & Gone and the Golden Age series are part of a new storyline called World War Key that is meant to serve as both a prequel and sequel to the main Locke & Key series. Locke & Key: Hell & Gone #1 is preceded by the …In Pale Battalions Go… series and Hell & Gone #0.
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Hell & Gone also builds on the DC / Vertigo Sandman mythos. The Hell & Gone series is written by Locke & Key’s creator Joe Hill and drawn by Hill’s long-time collaborator Gabriel Rodriguez. Joe Hill has described Neil Gaiman’s involvement as “consulting.”
Whereas the original Locke & Key series focuses on the current generation of the Locke family and the magical keys that are their family’s heritage, The Hell & Gone series focuses on previous generations of the Locke family. Hell & Gone issue #1 takes Mary Locke down the rabbit hole as her quest to save her brother’s soul takes her across oceans, ethical boundaries and planes of existence.
After losing his youngest son to a mysterious and debilitating affliction and later his eldest son to war, suicide and Hell, Chamberlin Locke is grief-stricken and dying of cancer.
Mary Locke, in an effort to relieve her father’s anguish, uses the Anywhere Key to visit Roderick Burgess in Wych Cross England. Burgess is rumored to have something eternal and dangerous trapped in his basement. Devoted Sandman readers will recognize this scenario from The Sandman #1. Burgess’ prisoner is Morpheus, the King of Dreams and titular character of The Sandman.
Mary pleads with the imprisoned Morpheus for help relieving her father’s and brother’s suffering. Morpheus discretely and without alerting Burgess directs Mary to find Morpheus’ helm, the Helmet of Dreams.
Roderick Burgess’ son Alex Burgess has been wearing the helmet and Morpheus’ Dreamstone amulet around the house for fun. Mary makes a deal with Alex to obtain Morpheus’ helm and amulet. When she puts on the helm and amulet Mary is transported to The Dreaming, the domain of Morpheus.
Mary’s exploration of the Dreaming brings her into contact with many notable characters from the Sandman books. Her journey eventually leads her to the Library of Dreams where she is seemingly met by a loyal servant of Morpheus.
In the last panel of the book the supposed servant is revealed to the reader to be The Corinthian, the rogue Nightmare that has taken over the Dreaming in Morpheus’ absence.
Locke & Key: Hell & Gone #1 is a good looking book. Illustrator Gabriel Rodriguez is credited as co-creator of Locke & Key. I can’t find evidence of any Locke & Key story not illustrated by Rodriguez. Rodriguez’ art in Hell & Gone #1 isn’t particularly bold or flashy. The lineart is meticulously drawn and somewhat whimsical with an emphasis on architectural details. Colorist Jay Fotos’ colors are subtle, supporting the lineart well. The color schemes are really good at invoking a sense of time and place.
As a newcomer to both Sandman and Locke & Key I found issue #1 of Locke & Key: Hell & Gone highly approachable. I’m moderately aware of the elements of both franchises simply because they’ve been percolating through comic culture for so long that it would be impossible to be unaware. But Hell & Gone #0 is the only thing I read to prepare for issue #1. Hell & Gone #0 recollects “Guide to the Known Keys” and “Open the Moon” from Locke & Key as well an excerpt from Sandman #1.
It really feels like they nailed this crossover. Locke & Key: Hell & Gone #1 is an example of a creative team at the top of their game playing in two richly populated mythical sandboxes. I was really surprised that the setup to introduce Mary Locke to Morpheus reinforced established Sandman lore and gave extra depth to long-established characters in both franchises. Mary’s journey in the Dreaming may have been rather trivial, but it seemed a proper introduction to the inhabitants of the Dreaming and her final destination seems consequential to the larger story.
I’m really impressed with issue #1 of Hell & Gone. Not only am I interested in what happens next, the story has sparked an interest in learning more about both franchises. Though the previous series aren’t required reading for Hell & Gone to make sense, I’m very curious about these characters and their respective worlds.