Crossover events are one of the signature joys of reading comic books. Seeing characters who you never thought would interact suddenly collide can be an unexpected delight, especially when the heroes in question come from different publishers. The latest entry in a long tradition that includes the Justice League fighting the Avengers and Batman meeting Fortnite is Locke & Key/Sandman: Hell and Gone, which kicks off this month and brings together two of the most beloved dark fantasy comics of the last few decades.
Written and illustrated by the Locke & Key creative team of writer Joe Hill and artist Gabriel Rodriguez, with the blessing of The Sandman co-creator Neil Gaiman, Hell and Gone is set in 1927, during the opening sequence of The Sandman in which Morpheus, the King of Dreams, is held captive by the human sorcerer Roderick Burgess. Mary Locke, an ancestor of the Locke children who populate the main Locke & Key story, reaches out to Burgess to see if his occult society can help her save her brother's soul from hell.
EW caught up with Hill and Rodriguez to discuss how this crossover came together. Check out that interview below, watch an exclusive trailer for the new comic above, and stay tuned for Locke & Key season 2, set to debut later this year on Netflix..
Gabriel Rodríguez for IDW
ENTERTAINMENT WEEKLY: When we last talked, about the Netflix adaptation of Locke & Key, you guys mentioned that DC's darker Vertigo comics in the '80s and '90s had been a big influence on you. Since Sandman was one of the flagship comics of that era, what has Sandman specifically meant to you both?
GABRIEL RODRIGUEZ: I started buying Sandman from the newspaper stand near my house once they started selling the Spanish edition here in Chile. They started publishing from the eighth issue, in which they introduce Death, and from then on they did the entire run. I remember reading that very first issue and was immediately hooked by the storytelling. And then when we get into the Doll's House story line, I immediately realized it was going to be something really big and cool, and I ended up collecting the entire series. At the time I was reading Sandman, I was just daydreaming about eventually making a comic book myself, but living in such a small country where we don't have a huge publishing industry, especially back then, it felt impossible.
I remember when I read the first issue in which Lucien appears with his Library of Dreams, and they talk about how it has all the books that were ever dreamed but never written. The first thing I thought was, "Oh all my comics must be there!" After having found a way to make a living off this craft and having the chance to collaborate on amazing books with people like Joe, getting the chance through Locke & Key to return to our love of Sandman has been a dream come true.
JOE HILL: I was turned on to Sandman by my younger brother almost as soon as it started, so I was pretty much reading it as it was published. I think I read the first couple issues and dug it, but was going off to college or something so I didn't follow along for a while. Then my brother reached out to me again when "Dream of a Thousand Cats" came out and said, "You're going to love this. This is the beset single issue I've ever read in my life." So then I went back and got everything and was completely obsessed.
One of the great pleasures of my professional life is that Neil has been a friend and something of a mentor to me. He kind of took me under his wing after my first novel came out. Once upon a time he workshopped my pitches for the Doctor Who TV show. He's just very generous with his time and with his imagination. So it's been this tremendous professional pleasure for him to open the door to us and let us play in his sandbox for awhile. It's our goal to make the most of it and do something that's satisfying for readers that avoids the pitfalls of crossovers, like fan service as opposed to telling a story that has emotional weight and stakes.
Speaking of avoiding crossover pitfalls, something very interesting about Hell and Gone is that it's set in the past of both stories. This is the Locke family a couple generations before the one from the original series, and from what I can tell, it all takes place over the course of the very first issue of Sandman, when Morpheus is imprisoned. How did you come up with that setting?
RODRIGUEZ: Basically, the way in which we developed the different generation of Locke & Key stories have a different flavor than the first six books. The original stories with Tyler, Kinsey, and Bode are more set up like a horror/mystery story. But then when we started exploring the Locke & Key mythology with a different vibe through Chamberlin Locke's family, it ended up feeling more like straightforward fantasy stories. So we thought that the universe of Sandman would hold hands in a more natural way through Chamberlin's family. It actually all started from an idea of what we wanted to do with the story of Chamberlin Locke and how we wanted to end it.
It started as a sort of ping-pong of ideas. We were meeting when they were shooting the failed pilot of Locke & Key that Fox tried to set up. We had just worked on the "Open the Moon" short story, and I think I told Joe, "We already sort of visited Heaven in a Locke & Key story, what if we visit hell with the same family?" Joe said, "Well, and what if that hell is the hell from Sandman?" I think I replied to that, "And what if the key that Morpheus gets from Lucifer is made from whispering iron?" And then everything clicked.
HILL: One of the many things that plagued the Fox production of Locke & Key was that it was filmed in Pittsburgh during the winter and there was a massive snowstorm. A lot of people don't know that the pilot director was only able to film about 70 percent of Josh Freedman's great script. If not for the weather in Pennsylvania in 2010, there might have been a very different development process for Locke & Key. So we were snowed in at this hotel: Gabe, Chris Ryall, and myself. We spent a lot of time in the hotel bar talking about Locke & Key. The original series with Tyler, Kinsey, and Bode was very much still ongoing at that time. I believe in the same conversation in this one night we were snowed in, Gabe came up with a solution for the ending of the original series, and we had this conversation about a Sandman crossover. It's amazing that both those things actually happened. We never thought we would actually make the Sandman story, it just felt like an idle fantasy.
Gabriel Rodríguez for IDW
Gabriel Rodríguez for IDW
I have to say that this feels like something that would happen in Sandman. It's like the At World's End story: trapped inside during a storm and you just start talking stories.
HILL: Yeah, the bartender's forked tail kept appearing, it was very peculiar. And they ran out of beer, so we had to drink mead…
I love that. One of the things that's very much excited me about this crossover is the idea of tying in the Key to Hell with the Locke & Key keys, because Season of Mists is my favorite Sandman story, so I love the Key to Hell and all the mythology that goes with it.
HILL: I don't really believe in a Judeo-Christian hell. That's not really a version of the afterlife that I find terribly plausible. But Neil's interpretation of hell has this tremendous folkloric power to it. It feels like hell as envisioned in a Grimm's fairy tale. There's also something psychologically powerful about the idea that the people in hell chose to be there, whether they're conscious of it or not. I've never forgotten that scene in Season of Mists where you see this guy crucified with chains peeling apart his skin, screaming about how he ate babies and slaughtered thousands. And Lucifer's just like, "Um, that was 1,200 years ago, nobody cares. You've been completely forgotten." In a way, that's the most terrible punishment of all.
RODRIGUEZ: This is one of the ways in which The Sandman and Locke & Key universes found each other, because there's a very interesting remark about that which Joe writes very masterfully in the script of the second issue. I'm not going to spoil it here, but it reflects something that is mentioned in the initial visit to hell, when Morpheus is talking to Lucifer and Lucifer says, "I've never sent anyone to do anything against their will." That's a topic we've explored over and over regarding family relationships in Locke & Key, about responsibility and guilt. So it feels very natural to throw both these worlds together in this particular story to end the Chamberlin Locke family saga.
I really enjoyed how the Locke & Key TV show changed things up in season 1 so even longtime fans like myself were kept on our toes. Can you guys tease anything about season 2?
HILL: Season 2 is so great. It's so much fun. To compare it to MCU, season 1 was a little bit like Iron Man or Captain America: The First Avenger. Season 1 was the setup, and season 2 is the adventures.
RODRIGUEZ: One of the things that the TV creators did, especially in the season finale, was find their own way to do the same things we did in the comic, but in a completely different form. In addition to giving it a new life, it gives the people that read the comic new surprises. The other thing it did was introduce the two hottest paramedics ever seen on screen. People are crying out loud for them to get their own spin-off series!