Crossovers are nothing new in comics, whether it’s a meeting between characters you don’t normally see together or even a collision of two different publishers’ universes — but there’s something unusual about the forthcoming Hell & Gone, a crossover between IDW Publishing’s Locke & Key series and The Sandman, the legendary DC Vertigo title that made Neil Gaiman’s name in comics back in the early ’90s.
These two worlds meeting is an intriguing prospect — and, at a digital New York Comic Con panel, Locke & Key creators Joe Hill and Gabriel Rodríguez teased a little of what we can expect from the crossover.
Despite coming out two decades apart, and from two different publishers, the two books do have a lot in common — and not just because both are being adapted by Netflix. The second season of Locke & Key is currently filming, while an 11-episode Sandman series is in development with Wonder Woman writer Allan Heinberg, Batman Begins writer David S. Goyer, and Gaiman himself as showrunners.
For now, at least, this crossover is strictly comics-based. The more important connection here is that The Sandman and Locke & Key are both excellent fantasy comics that work by taking a recognizable version of our world and then laying a mythology just beneath its surface.
In the case of Sandman, that’s the world of dreams — and of Dream, gothy embodiment of all things oneiric, who tries to keep the dreamworld, and his godlike siblings, in check. Meanwhile, Locke & Key’s fantastical elements all stem from the discovery of whispering iron, a metal from another dimension that grants otherworldly properties to anything forged from it.
Namely, keys. Keys created, lost, and later discovered by assorted generations of the Locke family that give their user command over the shadows, turn them into an animal, or let them (literally) get inside someone’s head.
Sandman is no stranger to sharing a sandbox. The comic technically takes place within the DC Universe, though that was downplayed over the course of the series.In more recent years, it has been spun out into an entire line of Sandman Universe comics, including this year’s excellent John Constantine, Hellblazer.
For Locke & Key, though, this is a first. Every single issue has been written by Hill and drawn by Rodríguez — something they’ll continue as the creators of Hell & Gone — and it exists firmly in its own world, away from any other stories. “It’s probably our last crossover, too,” Hill said on the panel, “because it’s very hard to imagine justifying a crossover where, say, Tyler Locke meets Howard the Duck.”
He’s joking — but, then again, that’s also how this crossover started life. “I have been obsessed with doing a story that could be like our version of Dante’s Inferno, of the Divine Comedy,” Rodríguez said. “I thought that one of the Locke characters should find a way to visit Hell. And then I remember, [Joe] said: ‘What if it could be the Hell from Sandman?’” It wasn’t an entirely serious suggestion, but it stuck.
In Season of Mists, one of the most famous arcs of Sandman, Lucifer abdicates his throne in Hell, and hands Dream the key to the realm. “I thought to myself ... don’t you think it has to be made out of whispering iron?” Hill said. “And from the seed of that came the whole idea of doing a crossover.”
The pair are very aware of the risks of doing a crossover just for the sake of it. “As a kid, I could never resist a great crossover,” Hill said. “If the DC characters were going to meet the Marvel characters, I was there. But grown-up me knows that most of those comics actually weren’t very good.”
Their aim with Hell & Gone is to honor the spirit of Sandman, a book that Hill and Rodríguez agree was a formative influence on Locke & Key, while also telling a new story with “emotional weight” of its own. And they might actually be able to pay it off, because Hell & Gone isn’t just a throwaway spinoff — it’s actually paying off the last decade of Locke & Key comics.
The original series told the story of the modern-day Locke family — Tyler, Kinsey, and Bode, who you might recognize from the Netflix adaptation — and wrapped up in 2013. Around that time, Hill and Rodríguez started releasing one-off stories that filled in the history of the Lockes and their keys. These have been rather sporadic, to put it mildly (the first short, “Open the Moon,” came out in 2011) but they’ve gradually come into focus as part of a larger story, The Golden Age, which tells the story of Chamberlain Locke and his children in the early 20th century.
“We told a complete story with the original six books in Locke & Key — but it’s kind of my home away from home,” Hill said. “I’m always thinking about the house and the families that have lived there. And there’s a lot of history in that house, and a lot of stories we’ve never told that I feel are interesting in their own right. So we have been dabbling.”
The latest installment in this saga is Locke & Key: …In Pale Battalions Go, a short miniseries whose second issue was released just last week. Set in World War I, the new tale is the first time there have been consecutive issues of a Locke & Key series since 2013. If you’re looking to get prepared for the Sandman crossover, this mini is a good place to start, because Hell & Gone will act as a capstone to this chapter of Locke & Key stories.
But this isn’t the end for the series. Quite the opposite, in fact.
Hill and Rodríguez have been teasing a whole new Locke & Key saga, titled World War Key, with The Golden Age acting as its prelude. And once Hell & Gone is wrapped, it looks like they’re finally ready to get started.
“Keith Richards has this thing he says about the Stones. They’ve been around for 50 years, and he says, ‘We’re just getting started.’ And I kind of love that,” Hill said on the panel. “Sometimes I think with Locke & Key that the first six books were just the prologue — that we’re just getting started.”