It might have taken Joe Hill and Gabriel Rodriguez a decade to get their horror comic Locke & Key to the screen, but the wait was worth it – the Netflix adaptation offers up magic, adventure, and scares in abundance. Fans of the comic might have noticed that although the show definitely channels the spirit of the source material, the team behind it has definitely taken some creative license when bringing the sprawling story to the small screen.
The most obvious change is the tone, which slips between Amblin-style adventure and (mostly) family-friendly horror, a big shift from the genuine horror portrayed in the comics. But woven into the spooky and atmospheric show are plenty of other big changes from the comic that we’re going to break down below.
Warning: full spoilers for Locke and Key follow.
Check out our full breakdown of all the keys in Locke and Key and how they work here.
At the core of both the comics and the Netflix series are a set of magical keys which are deeply connected to the Locke family and their ancestral home, Keyhouse Manor. Avid readers of the comics will know that the show has only just begun diving into the mysteries of the keys and that the ones that are shown are often decidedly different from their representations in the books.
This is exemplified in the creative team’s reimagining of the Head Key, which in the comics is the center of one of Gabriel Rodriguez’s most stunning creations. On the page the key opens up someone’s head, removing the top and allowing others to look in. Yet in the show, the key reveals a door and allows a secondary version of the person whose head is being accessed to go inside. During an interview, co-showrunner Carlton Cuse shared why they made this choice.
“There’s so much incredible imaginative art in the comic and some of those things translate well to the screen and others are impossible. There’s this splash page of Bode’s head that may be the greatest thing in the Locke and Key comic book, but it’s impossible to actually do that on television,” Cuse said. “So we had to figure out how we were going to translate the Head Key to the screen and we thought about it a lot and we decided that really we needed to kind of break down for each character what would be the essential elements that we would see in their heads.”
It’s a diversion from the source material that works surprisingly well on screen and Cuse had a theory why.
“I don’t think you see other shows going inside someone’s head or kind of trying to come up with the metaphorical comparisons,” he said.
One of the other big changes in regards to the keys is the newly-invented Identity Key which Lucas/Dodge/Gabe uses throughout the first season. Though no Identity Key exists within the original comics, this one is more of a mashup of two other keys — the Skin Key and the Gender Key — that do appear in the Locke & Key comics, rather than an entirely new creation.
Speaking of new keys, we see two more that have never existed prior to the show. The first is the Matchstick Key, which gives its user the ability to start fires and is used by Mark Cho, Sam Lesser, and Tyler. The second is The Mirror Key, which opens up a terrifying world inside of a mirror which Dodge uses early on to try and trap Bodie and his family inside. Another small but notable difference is the Plant Key, which does exist in the comics but is used here in a different manner: to trap Duncan Locke’s bottled memories inside of the tree in the garden of Keyhouse. The Music Box Key also appeared in the comics but Kinsey and Gabe using it to puppeteer Eden in the lunchroom is a creation of the show.
If the show gets picked up for a second season, there are a lot more keys from the comics that could potentially come into play. Some of the notable omissions are: the Angel Key, which gives the wearer of a special harness the ability to fly; the Giant Key, which makes the holder a giant; the Animal Key, which allows the user to transform into a specific creature (you can spot a sketch of this key on Mark Cho’s blueprints at the opening of the show), and the Timeshift Key, which allows the user to time travel and plays a large part in the more extensive story of the Lockes and the history of the keys. There’s also the matter of making new keys, which does happen in the comics and will likely come into play in the show.
Another small but interesting choice is that when Dodge gets hold of the Crown of Shadows and the Shadow Key, the shadows that are created are generic-looking monsters, whereas in the comics their forms are very specifically connected to those who cast them.
Watch the Locke and Key showrunners break down the tense Crown of Shadows attack scene below:
The Locke Family
When it comes to the Locke family there are some immediate changes that jump out, the first and most obvious being the general portrayal of Nina, the matriarch of the family. In the comics, Nina is an alcoholic and neglectful parent who is often absent and generally a rather abusive and horrible figure. Her arc is defined both by her addiction and her rape, which occurs when her husband is murdered. The show turns this on its head by not only erasing Nina’s assault but also by making her a recovering addict who has an overtly sympathetic storyline and clearly loves her family and children, with their shared trauma serving as a bond, not a means of distancing them.
The other big change that affects the Lockes is the arc of their main antagonist, Dodge. Whereas the comics saw Dodge take on the shape a young boy named Zack Wells as a way of ingratiating his way into the Locke family, there’s no Zack Wells in the show — though one of the Savini Squad is named Zadie Wells in a slick homage to the source material — and we see Dodge take on the form of the Well Lady far more often than they ever do in the comics. There’s also the matter of that massive final act ending twist that reveals Kinsey’s boyfriend Gabe was Dodge all along. That never happened in the comic; Gabe was created for the show to essentially replace the Zack character, in order to keep both comic readers and new viewers in the dark about his true intentions and identity.
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Sam Lesser’s story is also shifted with the character being given the persona of a class clown, which was not a thing in the Locke & Key books. He’s far less threatening here in looks and attitude, and he also has a moment of forgiveness with Tyler. There’s also the matter of Sam’s defeat, which goes down quite differently between the comics and the show, but both end the same: with Sam’s ghost trapped in the spirit realm, his body deceased.
Moving on to Kinsey, in the comics the fear that she removes from her head is a small mouse-like creature that can be easily hidden in her room inside a bottle. The creative team behind the Locke & Key show went a different route, with her fears taking on the shape of a full-sized, zombie-like monster that can actually harm her and others in the real world.
Flashbacks play a large part in the Locke & Key comics but early on in the Netflix series we’re introduced to a character who only appears via flashback in the book. Chamberlin Locke is an ancestor of the Lockes who plays a vital role in their history. In the show, Bodie meets him in the graveyard as a ghost and the pair have a conversation together where Bodie learns a bit of information about his dad. It’s easy enough to imagine that we’ll see Chamberlin again, perhaps during a potential Season 2, in order to learn more about the history of the Lockes and the keys.
Keyhouse holds many secrets and the biggest of all might be the Black Door. In the Season 1 finale, the strange and mystical gate to another world is finally opened, revealing a swirling space-scape which is quite different from the Lovecraftian hellhole shown in the comics. There are no demonic eyeball monsters and even the representation of the demons is changed with the new addition of the shining metal bullets that shoot out and possess those who open it.
There were two major plot points from the comics that didn’t come to pass in the show. The first is how, through some shenanigans with the Ghost Key, Dodge’s ghost takes over Bode’s body, leading to a scary arc with huge ramifications. The other big omission is the dual timeline aspect of the story centered on the history of Keyhouse, the Lockes, and how the magical keys were made. While these things never came to pass in the show, they could, of course, be utilized in a later season.
Ellie & Rufus
Bodie’s best friend Rufus takes a backseat in the series compared to his major role in the comics, but he also gets a far more enjoyable life due to the erasure of his abusive grandmother, Candice. In the comics she’s killed by Dodge but in the Netflix series she’s nowhere to be seen. There’s also the matter of Ellie’s interactions and manipulation by Dodge, who in the series presents as Lucas in order to control Ellie. In the comics, Dodge lodges a fragment of themself in Ellie’s brain, making her a vessel for the evil spirit.
Ellie’s role was shifted and expanded in the Netflix series and that looks to continue, as in the comics she was killed by Dodge in Lucas’s form. However, in the series she was thrown into the Black Door by the kids in a case of mistaken identity.
Friends and Neighbors
Locke & Key opens with one of its biggest changes. Not only does the creative team immediately introduce a new creation with the Matchstick Key, but they also change the fate of Mark Cho. One of the original key finders, Mark never makes it to adulthood in the comics but here he lives and kills himself to protect the location of the keys and his old surviving school friends.
Joe Ridgeway plays an important role in both the comics and the show but in the new iteration he’s much older, and due to Dodge not creating the persona of Zack Wells who resembled Lucas, Joe never suspected anything until he saw Lucas and Ellie at his home.
It’s not just the adults who were changed in the show, though, as Kinsey and Tyler’s friends look very different from what readers might have been expecting. The Savini Squad is a new creation, and whilst Kinsey’s first love interest Scot still exists, here he’s a cinephile and not an outspoken tattooed punk, and his BFF Jamal is nowhere to be seen. The series introduces Gabe, a new invention who takes the place of Jamal in the love triangle that readers will recognize from the comics.
Another new creation is Eden who plays a vital role here but never appeared in the Locke & Key comic books. One classic Locke & Key character who does appear is Tyler’s girlfriend Jackie, but whereas there she was Kinsey’s best friend, here she seemingly takes the place of a character named Jordan and is never friends with Kinsey.
If you want more on the show, check out our Locke and Key review and watch the video below to hear the showrunners’ plans for Season 2.