by Arpad Okay. House of Penance has managed to stay quite fresh with each new issue. You never know what to expect in the constantly reconstructed world of the Winchester house, the titular place of impossible redemption. The horror ebbs and flows, an eerie tension filling the void once the visions of corpses and gore fade. Penance strikes at us anew with its most unsettling change to date: clarity.
Widow Sarah Winchester is normally frantic, plagued by specters. But behind her pinhole pupils rests a mind more sound than the series would lead one to suppose. (“What you define as fanatical,” explains Sarah, “I define as passionate.”) House of Penance has the best unreliable narrator there is right now. The reader must decide what is a façade and what is for real. Vile acts are either the work of monsters or of madmen. Either the house is haunted or its residents are.
And although Sarah Winchester’s eyes are unclouded, it is from the heat of a fever. She isn’t sound so much as driven, and her lunacy is infectious. The team on House of Penance are a real powerhouse. Peter Tomasi slam dances back and forth between bare floorboards and bodily fluids running ankle deep. Tomasi is outrageous in what he wants to pull off, and Ian Bertram’s art (with the glowing and ominous colors of Dave Stewart) runs wild with it, enabling the book to explore its otherworldly spaces. Reality gets lost in the overlap between tortured souls and damaged minds. This book takes my breath away.
Tomasi and Bertram present a different, repeated visual motif in each issue. Eyes. Guts. This issue is rejection. Sarah is normally so close to us we could reach out and touch her ajna. In this issue, she is faced away from us, featureless, hair, nape of neck, broken shoulders. Not charming like Nana Kleinfrankenheim. Scary like Sadako. She dismisses us. She can’t bear to meet our gaze.
With clarity comes a new darkness. Getting close to the (not quite but still kind of) true story behind the building. The return of Warren Peck’s fantasies, his own demons as unique and omnipresent as Sarah’s. The Sunset Blvd. ending is coming hard for Peck whether or not his romance with the Widow Winchester ever gets off the ground. But this time the pool is overflowing with blood, flooding the House, fixed to drown every lost soul in the book.
Dark Horse Comics/ $3.99
Written by Peter Tomasi.
Illustrated by Ian Bertram.
Colored by Dave Stewart.
Lettered by Nate Piekos
8 out of 10