“HOUSE OF PENANCE #1” (Comic Book Review)Book and Comic Reviews,Books/Art/Culture,News Svetlana Fedotov
The Winchester Mansion is considered to be one of the strangest, if not most haunted, house in North America. Located in San Jose, California, it was built by the widow of the William Winchester, an heir to the Winchester gun fortune and was meant to give the spirits of the victims shot down by the guns a home. But it’s no mere mansion: Sarah Winchester’s immense wealth allowed for an almost maze like building to be built around the clock for years, with staircases that led to nowhere, rooms that no one could get into, and doors that opened into walls or sometimes, onto a three story drop. There were, of course, standard rooms and at least one working toilet (among 20 bathrooms) because how else was she supposed to escape the spirits that haunted her in her sleep?
If this sounds kind of crazy, that’s because it is and it only scratches the surface of Sarah Winchester’s fear of the dead. Dark Horse’s newest horror comic, HOUSE OF PENANCE, creates a semi-fictional account of Sarah’s descent into madness, starting dead center in the middle of the house’s construction. Seen from the perspective of the men who worked on the building, the comic traces her ups and downs in startling sharp artwork that draws the reader in from the cover onwards. A dark and dismal work, HOUSE OF PENANCE is the ultimate trip into one woman’s insanity.
The comic splits its attention between Sarah Winchester and a new worker, Warren Peck. While the two have yet to meet, they both traverse the work heavy with personal demons. Sarah spends her time grieving the loss of her beloved husband and daughter, going so far as to have their bodies moved and reburied by her own hand, and Warren can’t un-see the face of the last person he shot. As he slowly moves his way west to find shelter from his guilt, the work examines Sarah’s mental state as she orders building renovations by days and whispers madly in the night, clinging to her memories as a last resort to stave off her monsters. But will the arrival of a new worker stir up more evil than even she can handle?
HOUSE OF PENANCE has a beautiful blend of indie horror comic aesthetic with a folklore tale. In fact, Dark Horse bills it as HOUSE OF LEAVES meets Cormac McCarthy’s BLOOD MERIDIAN and it’s not far off from the truth. HOUSE OF PENANCE is a heavy story; there’s a very real sense of not only Sarah’s poor mental health but the illustrated presentation of the house itself as it slowly gets ingrained with her misery. Writer Peter Tomasi crafts a character and a building that cannot survive without each other. He even went so far as to give Sarah strange ticks, such as carefully laying out the bullets from the guns she takes from the workers, to really drive her existence. From her workers ragged existence to the blank-eyed curse muttered by Warren’s last attempted victim, Tomasi takes every aspect of the story and makes a tightly spun web of fear and death.
Of course, HOUSE OF PENANCE cannot be talked about without mentioning the art. Helmed by Ian Bertram, the insanely detailed artwork is a sight to behold. Fans of Richard Corban will absolutely dig what this man is putting down. The characters are stylized with thin, layered inks that allude to an insanity that is hidden just below the surface of their existence. His layout and angles also speak of a professional who knows when to reveal and went to hide aspects of the story, creating a well-paced story that even the pickiest of readers will enjoy. Just a peak at the cover alone is more than enough proof that Bertram is one of the most committed artists to grace the comic scene.
A haunted house story that’s more than it appears, HOUSE OF PENANCE is one work that refuses to be ignored. Luckily, readers can check this wicked work for themselves as HOUSE OF PENANCE is on shelves now.