There was a time where I was so emotionally invested in Locke and Key that I struggled to articulate my thoughts into a review. I genuinely believe that it remains a glaring omission in the back catalogue of the House, until now. Given the love and passion adorned by fans and a potential second pilot, Hill and Rodriguez are to release spin off Golden Age one shots. Small World is the second of such comics and it encompasses all of the themes and emotions of the ever so loved series, all in twenty-four pages. It is set over a century ago in the Keyhouse with the Locke family beautifully announced in a double page spread depicting the family dinner table. It captures that awe and wonder in detail that Rodriguez brings to all his landscape pages. Not only are the plates laid out uniquely to each dinner table guest but each family member is engaged in an emotional pose. Once you appreciate the subtlety Fotos brings to the candle lights illuminating the table, you are aware of the shadow creatures who are the waiters and waitresses of the scene. The darkness of these characters almost makes it hard to appreciate the variety in forms such as the animals and centurions. But it bears a deliberate dedication to the central part of the scene, despite the shadows being the most wonderfully rendered characters, they are merely the dark backdrop. In fact, they are utilised so well throughout the book and are recognised as the background of the Keyhouse. Most importantly this is the scene where we meet Chamberlin, Harland and the children Mary, Jean, Ian and John.
In classical Locke and Key fashion there is ingenuity in the concepts of the comic, especially as Chamberlin presents his daughters with their presents. A toy which depicts
the keyhouse in its actual state, including little figures that represent the family, but once you twist the key, it becomes an interactive playground. Demonstrated delightfully by Mary poking her toy brothers in the dollhouse with a pencil, only to have them being attacked in the room next door by said object. Her younger sister Jean smears the fruits of her nose picking into the room Harland is sitting, to give him a fright from a large green snot deposit. Gabriel manages to show the figures in the dollhouse as actual dolls from that time, complete with expressionless faces and blushing cheeks but in the postures of the real residents. It is an important distinction in order to keep track of the events occurring in the actual Keyhouse and the dollhouse which, in actual fact are the same. The ideas are expressed just wonderfully in the opening pages and set the scene for the shenanigans certain to follow.
Locke and Key has always caught the imagination but kept it very grounded to the Locke family. Where Bode was a playful innocent child, his mother suffered with depression after the loss of her husband. These feelings permeated through all the imaginative moments of the book which is an impressive feat of writing given how easy it is to indulge in the Head key for example. Small world provides a similar balance because the dollhouse is such an interesting idea in itself that the heart of the book could easily be lost. Instead we have terrified children running for their lives in moments of terror. There are glimpses of bravery embedded in moments of real life tragedy, such as an injured arm or an epileptic fit. It is here that Rodriguez truly plucks at the heartstrings as he renders the most poignant of emotions: determination and fear. His characteristic oversized eyes and fluid movements impress the drama with brevity, as well as the ghastly monsters.
There have been more colonial issues of Locke and Key and Small World reminds us of how the dedication these creators have for an accurate environment. The dresses and waistcoats go a long way to reproduce the feel of the time period as well as the reliance on candlelight. This comic has a beautiful look and harks back to the themes of the original story in a heartfelt way. Above all else the single most important aspect of this book is the Keyhouse, looking the same as it has always done, in modern and more classical times. It is the one constant that Hill, Rodriguez and Fotos have created that is the foundation of one of the most impressive of modern comic books. It is the place of love, pain and the eternal struggle but with all its secrets and gifts, it is where hope resides and a house where the Locke family and all the loyal readers will call home.