I'm going to admit something right of the bat here: I don't like scary stories. I don't care for scary movies or books or comics or TV shows. It's not because I find them "too scary." I have the opposite problem: I don't find them scary at all. This is due, in large part, to the fact that once you know it's a "scary story," there are very few surprises. Even the shock endings and "twists" are tropes by now. Or maybe that's not it, maybe I'm just not wired to "get" these kinds of stories. The bottom line is that I'm not scared by scary stories.
Or, rather, I wasn't until I read Joe Hill's and Gabriel Rodriguez's "Locke & Key." I've never encountered such a finely-balanced story of this type. The setup ensures that the balance of power between the heroes and their antagonist shifts in unpredictable but nonetheless true-to-the-story ways. I won't give anything away here, I've never had that "I can't wait to see what happens next month" feeling from any book, not even "Sandman" at its peak. The pacing and the art are pitch perfect, and, well, just go read the books.
I finally bought the last of the trade collections so I decided I'd re-read the whole story, start-to-finish. I wasn't sure if a scary story would survive multiple readings since I already knew all the twists and the conclusion.
I needn't have worried. "Locke & Key" not only continues to work as a scary story, but the emotional arcs of the characters are even more touching the second time around. Knowing what's going to happen, it's a little easier to delve in to the setup and marvel at how shocking but inevitable the twists and turns are. The villain of the piece is a genuinely worthy opponent, one who deserves everything they achieve. There's nothing remotely cardboard about any of the characters, but by having a bad guy who seems to have real agency, who has the ability to counter setbacks and come up with new plans, Hill created something approaching timelessness.
The villain felt real, the heroes felt real, and the sacrifices and losses felt especially real the second time around. I am not sure I cried the first time I read "Locke & Key", but I can assure you I did so tonight when I finished it for the second time. If you haven't read it for yourself, I encourage you to do so. If you have read it, read it again...just have a tissue or two handy.