Best Shots review - Locke & Key/Sandman: Hell & Gone #1 is essential for fans of both franchises

Locke & Key/Sandman: Hell & Gone #1
(Image credit: Gabriel Rodriguez/Jay Fotos/Shawn Lee (IDW Publishing/DC))

The best prequels, spin-offs, and crossovers swaddle themselves in the comfort blanket of an existing story, pulling at its edges to uncover the extra tale hiding within its folds. Joe Hill and Gabriel Rodriguez prove themselves deftly capable of finding that fresh story with Locke and Key/Sandman: Hell & Gone #1, an elegant melding of The Sandman and Locke & Key's universes that retains integrity and respect for both properties.

Locke and Key/The Sandman: Hell & Gone #1 credits

Written by Joe Hill
Art by Gabriel Rodriguez and Jay Fotos
Lettering by Shawn Lee
Published by IDW Publishing and DC
'Rama Rating: 9 out of 10

For the uninitiated, here's a quick primer of Hell & Gone's premise: In the first quarter of the 20th century, Jack Locke, a young boy with ambitions to single-handedly end the first World War, uses a magic key to begin a tragic series of events that ends in his and his poor mother's deaths. His spectre remains to haunt the living members of the Locke Family. Across the pond, a British socialite named Roderick Burgess accidentally traps the Lord of Dreams (Sandman), who sits in silence deep within the bowels of his mansion. Mary Locke seeks an audience with Dream in the hopes he can free her family from her brother's dark shadow.

(Image credit: Gabriel Rodriguez/Jay Fotos/Shawn Lee (IDW Publishing/DC))

Both The Sandman and Locke & Key are premises that lend themselves well to new stories. The flexibility of Hill's whispering iron unlocks unlimited potential, and the sheer expanse and imagination of Gaiman's universe offers a wild playground of possibility. Hill exploits two little gaps in each property, hooking them together with a mutual curiosity for the occult.

Hill's script unravels like a fever dream, rolling from dreamscape to dreamscape and shifting from horrifying to spellbinding images on a dime. He uses The Sandman's characters with thought, retaining Gaiman's voice with familiar situations and characters from the opening chapters of that epic series. Hill's story is one of adventure and torment, a slice of dark fantasy that occasionally veers into gory horror. Throughout, Hell & Gone is filled with demonic character. Hill and Rodriguez's Roderick Burgess is a rotund beast of a man, capable only of cruelty and single-minded in his pursuit of hedonism. Their Mary is a sharp, aristocratic woman, charismatic and shrewd. This is very familiar ground for Joe Hill, delivered with the polish always present in his work.

Rodriguez's ordered lines and clean shading reflect a thoughtful approach that places storytelling as the number one focus. His Dream is a lithe creature with a permanently smoldering gaze. Rodriguez changes up his rendering style for Dream, offering up a realistic life study accentuated by soft shadow and completed by colorist Jay Fotos' thoughtful application of pearlescent white.

Colors throughout the issue are similarly detail-focused. Fotos' muted, dusky tones punctuated with bright highlights prompt greater scrutiny of Rodriguez's neatly inked lines. The recurring background bookshelves become bejeweled wallpaper in Fotos' eye. Letterer Shawn Lee has chosen a font consistent with past issues of Locke & Key, its curved letters owing a little to Klein's hand-lettered work on The Sandman.

The idea of a Sandman crossover in 2021 seems sacrilegious at worst and unnecessary at best. Joe Hill, Gabriel Rodriguez, and Jay Fotos work overtime to justify its existence, reaching back to the beginnings of both series to build a strong case for this two-part limited series. And hell, while all its intricacies would be lost on newcomers, there's enough context given that this is a perfectly readable introduction to both worlds. Compelling in story and style, Locke & Key/The Sandman: Hell & Gone #1 is essential for fans of both franchises.

Delight in all 22 covers for Locke & Key/Sandman: Hell & Gone #1.

Oscar Maltby

Oscar Maltby has been writing about comics since 2015. He has also written comic book scripts for the British small press and short fiction for Ahoy Comics. He resides on the South Coast of England but lives in the longbox.