'Locke & Key' vs 'Locke & Key': How the Netflix Series Compares to the Original Comic
Joe Hill and Gabriel Rodríguez’s Locke & Key is one of the most celebrated horror comics of recent years, a story that’s equal parts gruesome terror and an emotional tale of grief and coming to terms with your legacy. It is also a story that has gone through multiple attempts at adaptation for the screen before finally landing on Netflix.
Now that the show is out, fans of the comic are realizing that even if the show captures the essence of the original, it features some substantial changes to the source material (for more on that, here’s our review). Below, we’re going to go through both versions and compare notes.
Major spoilers follow.
Rendell Locke’s Death
Both versions of the story are kickstarted by the death of Rendell Locke at the hands of his former student Sam Lesser. After his death, the rest of the Locke family grieves, and they move to Rendell’s ancestral home in Massachusetts.
But where the Netflix version shows a quick confrontation where Sam shoots Rendell in the gut and is quickly knocked out by Rendell’s wife Nina, the comic plays out way more violently (a constant throughout the series). The comic has another guy called Al join Sam, who shoots Rendell in the head while Al assaults Nina Locke, who later kills Al by driving a hatchet to his head.
New and Changed Magic Keys
The Netflix show adds an entirely new prologue in the first episode. After hearing about Rendell’s death, one of his childhood friends, Mark Cho, takes a new “matchstick key” and stabs himself with it. The key then causes Cho to immolate, burning down the entire house with him.
Later in the episode, Bode Locke discovers the “mirror key” which apparently opens a pocket dimension inside one of the mirrors of Keyhouse, trapping whoever dares go inside. This key was never a part of the source material, but serves as a first introduction to magic for Nina Locke. Additional keys include the “flower key” or “memory key” (they don’t really name it) that accesses a garden by the Keyhouse cemetery where a giant tree storing memories in jars appears.
Other keys are changed. The head key, which is an important plot device in both the comic and the series, allows its user to literally open their head as if with a lid, while a phantasmagorical double of themselves appears in order to peek inside. The show changes this and instead adds a full body double that can freely move around, and instead of opening a head, the show adds a door that magically appears, allowing the user to go inside their head and wander around different locations that represent their mindspace (like an arcade for Bode, a shopping mall for Kinsey).
Likewise, the “skin key” and the “gender key” are combined in a new “identity key” that allows the user to change their image into whatever other human shape they want, allowing Dodge to become Gabe.
Adults Not Aware of Magic
In the comic, it takes some time before we realize that no adult seems to know about the magic keys, or the evil Dodge, or any of the weird things going on at Keyhouse. We see that Nina Locke pays no attention when her son’s head is wide open thanks to the head key, and Duncan Locke seems to have a very fuzzy memory of his childhood. But it is not until late in the game that we get confirmation that a member of the family back in the ‘40s created a special key that prevented any adult who stepped into the house from remembering magic.
The TV show places a bigger focus on this, as from the very first episode the kids realize that their mom doesn’t remember or acknowledge the weird things happening. Already in episode 2, the youngest, Bode Locke, suggests that adults simply can’t remember. The one exception, which is entirely absent from the comic, is Ellie Whedon. We learn that Rendell and his friends found a way to make themselves remember the keys and magic, though we don’t find out exactly how. This is why Mark Cho remembered to kill himself with a magic key during the prologue.
Duncan is Basically a Non-Character
With Rendell gone, the one person with a connection to Keyhouse is Duncan, Rendell’s younger brother and uncle to Bode, Kinsey and Tyler. In the comic, Duncan’s past is a big part of the mystery of the keys and Keyhouse itself. Duncan doesn’t really remember his childhood, but he sometimes gets glimpses of memories, and he instantly feels something familiar about Tyler’s friend Zack Wells (more on this later). In the comic, he is accidentally responsible for a demon infecting a friend, and is often seen at Keyhouse offering words of wisdom or comfort to the Locke kids.
In the TV show, he is largely absent, being there less than one scene every two episodes. Though he still doesn’t remember anything, the mystery of his memories is quickly done away with, with Ellie Whedon explaining that he simply saw too much so they took away his memories. He was seemingly never even involved with their antics in the first place.
Nina Takes the Spotlight
Where Duncan got a downgrade in the transition from then page to the screen, Nina Locke got a really big upgrade. Joe Hill and Gabriel Rodríguez used Locke & Key to explore grief and trauma through the lens of a horror/fantasy story, but at times it came at the expense of Nina’s character. After it is implied that she was raped by the people who killed her husband, she spends the majority of the comic as a crippling alcoholic, unable to realize the danger her kids were in, unable to help them, and just suffering insults from Kinsey who feels anger at her handling of the situation. It isn’t until almost the end of the story that she overcomes her trauma and joins the fight against Dodge, but by then she is mostly “the whiny mom” to many of the characters in the story.
Netflix’s Locke & Key does away with the rape subplot, and begins the story with Nina already a recovering alcoholic who is six years sober. Her kids already know the pain of having to see her suffer through the addiction, so when she faces Sam Lesser again and starts drinking, it comes as an understandable yet emotionally devastating relapse for both the audience and the characters. Additionally, as early as episode 2 we see Nina starting to figure out that Rendell hid his past from his family, and she starts to dig into what happened in his high school days and why some of his best friends died under mysterious circumstances.
It is Nina who investigates the death of teacher Joe Ridgeway, and she’s even the first to discover the connection between Sam Lesser, her husband, Keyhouse and the omega symbol. She also takes the role of Duncan from the comic in being more involved in her kids’ lives, offering council when they need it.
Ellie and Rufus Whedon Become Tragic Heroes
One of the first people Nina Locke befriends when she moves into Keyhouse is Ellie Whedon, a childhood friend of Rendell and one of the few people who knew about the keys. In the original comic, Dodge (taking the form of Ellie’s former boyfriend Lucas) rapes Ellie and keeps her scared, forcing her to do Dodge’s bidding.
Ellie’s son Rufus is a young boy with an unspecified mental disorder. He is often belittled by Zack and by Ellie’s abusive grandmother, but sometimes hangs out with Bode. Though he is one of the first to discover that Dodge can change shape, he is powerless to help.
In the TV show, we see more of Ellie’s story from her perspective, as she is seen actually snooping around and looking for the keys on Dodge’s command, even aiding him in killing Joe Ridgeway. However, she doesn’t have feelings for him, at there is no indication Dodge raped Ellie. Instead she is always seen scared of Dodge, and looking for a way out. By the end, she is convinced by Rufus into helping the Locke family fight back, and even tries to shoot Lucas (she fails, but she does try) which she never gets a chance to do in the comics.
Rufus also gets more agency in the Netflix adaptation. Now a much older boy, and also adopted for some reason, he works at Keyhouse as a groundskeeper, and offers Bode advice in taking care of enemies. Rufus also doesn’t hesitate to tell Bode about the weird Lucas guy who has been living with him and Ellie, and offers to help when Body concludes that Lucas is Dodge. Due to big changes towards the end of the season, it remains to be seen how Rufus’ story will be handled in future seasons, if at all.
Chamberlain Locke, Welcome to the Resistance
When Bode plays around with the “ghost key” for the first time, he passes by the Keyhouse cemetery, where he meets a man named Chamberlain Locke, who tells Bode he’s his great-great-grandfather. Though Chamberlain doesn’t appear in the main Locke & Key comic, he does show up in the standalone issue “Open the Moon” in which Chamberlain has a key made that allows his sickly son Ian to gently pass to the afterlife as if going through a door. His addition to the TV show is intriguing, as it could hint at the show adapting some of these one-off stories or even make spin-offs down the line.
Dodge Has a New Ace Under Her Sleeve
The biggest changes in the Locke & Key TV show have to do with Lucas “Dodge” Caravaggio. In the comic, we first meet Dodge as the “Well Lady,” an evil entity hellbent on getting the keys for no concrete reason. We don’t really get many scenes alone with Dodge, unless one of the main characters is around. Dodge’s plan is to turn into her previous form, that of Lucas, befriend Tyler Locke and find the “omega key” (more on that later). Oh, and along the way he starts dating Kinsey. When that fails, Dodge finds a new way to infiltrate the family, involving taking over one of their bodies.
In the TV show, Dodge never turns into Lucas/Zack in front of the Lockes. Instead we get extended scenes of her just walking around and enjoying life, while trying to intimidate Bode into giving her the keys. Turns out, in a new twist for the show, that Dodge can’t physically take the keys from the Locke family, and she seemingly can’t touch them, forcing her to threaten others instead. Another big change is that, because there is no Zack, Dodge tries to seduce Tyler in her female form instead.
The other big change is that, though the show skips Zack Wells, Dodge does change gender and try to befriend a Locke kid. We discover that the new kid in school, Gabe, a film fan that starts dating Kinsey is actually Dodge using the “identity key” to change her entire appearance.
The Past and Future Keepers of the Keys
The story of what happened to Rendell’s friends in the ‘80s is the central mystery of Locke & Key. We slowly start discovering bits and pieces about his life in Keyhouse and about his friends, seeing pieces of flashbacks throughout the story. So when we finally see the tragedy of how Lucas became Dodge, and how their friends Mark Cho and Kim Topher were killed, it becomes an emotionally devastating flashback because we saw the repercussions of this moment in time.
In the comic, we get flashes to Rendell and his friend’s last night as members of the drama club, as they mount a production of Shakespeare’s “The Tempest.” After graduation, Rendell suggest they go down to the Omega Door and let a demon out so they can make a key to let them remember all about magic. But when they go down, Lucas realizes Duncan is there with them, and in an attempt to get him away, he becomes hypnotized by the power of the door and then infected by a demon. Lucas convinces them that everything is fine, but a few days later he gives himself away after he threatens to kill Rendell if he doesn’t get the “omega key.” The others lock all of Lucas/Dodge’s memories away, but after Ellie visits the Wellhouse and calls for Lucas, Dodge finds her, realizes what happened, knocks her out and starts killing his former friends in order to get the key and open the Omega Door. The scene plays out for much longer in the comics, as we see Dodge use his friends’ memories against them, using personal attacks against them before brutally killing them. Lucas dies by accident after the cave system collapses on top of him.
The Netflix adaptation shows of the flashback play out before the season ends (everything except the moment Lucas gets infected). The show also turns the emotional connection to the past on its head. Where the comic made the past seem an exciting and happy time for Rendell, a contrast to the dangerous and traumatic present for Tyler, Kinsey and Bode, Netflix’s Locke & Key has the first thing we see about Rendell and his friends be a foggy memory of Rendell bludgeoning Lucas to death with a hammer. This completely changes Tyler and Kinsey’s emotional connection to his dad, as they are now trying to deny their legacy and rejecting their father’s past because that’s not how they remembered him acting.
In episode 9, Ellie tells the story of how, when they tried to go down to the caves and open the Omega Door because Rendell became obsessed with it, Lucas got infected by “a glowing bullet.” A few days later, Lucas became enraged and started demanding the “omega key”, even killing Kim by throwing her against a bookshelf and breaking her skull, as well as killing Jeff (an addition to the show) by breaking his neck with his hands. Tyler then kills him out of self-defence, and they hide all the bodies. It is here that they see Duncan spying on them, so they remove all his memories, and later decide to divide the keys between them (also something new to the story). It is not until much later that Ellie visits the Wellhouse and, out of grief, liberates Lucas. Though the scene focuses on Ellie in a way that the comics didn’t, it does at the cost of much of the emotional payoff of the scene. At this point the audience doesn’t really care about the Keepers of the Keys because we barely know of them, we don’t know much about Dodge, or Lucas or how much he meant to Rendell.
The Door to Leng
As told in the comic, the Black Door is a portal to another dimension, where the demonic Children of Leng dwell, a reference to H.P. Lovecraft’s Plateau of Leng. The door is said to be irresistibly hypnotic, causing anyone who comes in eye-contact with it to feel an instant urge to open and come into contact with the demons, fusing their souls together. When a demon leaves the portal but doesn’t attach itself to a human host, it becomes a kind of iron that can be used to make the magic keys.
The only time we see the door be open is via flashback, when we learn bout the Locke’s history with the keys, when Rendell opens it, and towards the end of the story
In the show, the hypnotic power of the door is completely absent, as several characters approach it, look at it directly, and never feel any kind of temptation. The show also has Kinsey and Tyler open the door by the end of the first season, in order to push Dodge into it and get rid of her forever. Of course, in a twist new to the show, Dodge used the “identity key” on Ellie, changing her appearance so that they both look the same. So when Tyler pushes Dodge through the door, it is actually poor Ellie being condemned to a terrible fate.
A New Threat
The original comic only has one demon walking among us, Dodge. Towards the end of the comic, Dodge reveals that her plan changed from simply opening the door and let the demons take over, to allowing just a handful of them to cross over, as demons naturally fight amongst themselves to the death and it would make chaos out of Earth.
The Netflix show changes this, at least by accident. The moment Tyler opens the Black Door and pushes Dodge/Ellie in, we find out that a demon crossed over and attached itself to Eden, a friend of theirs. We don’t know how this will change Dodge plans to open the door again, or if they will fight for power, but it certainly makes for a more dangerous combination if there are two powerful demons out and about.
Ultimately, Netflix’s Locke & Key takes a “remix” approach to the story much in the way Watchmen did last year. The end result is mostly the same, but the way there turned out surprisingly different, offering a new experience even to long-time fans. Though some of the changes dampened the emotional impact the comic had, it will be interesting to see how the bigger changes open the doors to new possibilities going forward.
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