By Arpad Okay. It is easy to miss the raw romance underlying most everything in House of Penance, what with all the phantasmal horrors and the shadows of the past blackening the skies. The final issue is a day of reckoning. The labyrinthine Winchester estate is boiling over, fractured beyond belief. The great house devours itself like a jammed clockwork model frozen in a state of mid-collapse. Something quite powerful fiddles with the laws of physics, like a disinterested child with a Rubik’s Cube. That anyone survives this crazy comic book is a nothing shy of a miracle.
But love is most definitely there. To endlessly build a home as a way of both drawing angry spirits to it and soothing them comes off as a little crazy to most. But what drives Sarah Winchester to build an MC Escher apartment complex for the terminal victims of gun violence is compassion. Her empathy was borne from personal loss and grew into a concern for all spirits. Love compels us to do some strange things.
Part of what makes House of Penance such a satisfying series (say nothing of a monumentally Gothic one), and this issue particularly so, is that it takes time to be in love. There’s room reserved for an occasional moment of silence. The illusions endure because they are riddled with uncertainty. They don’t share their secrets.
It’s a true story, did you know? These days the Winchester Mystery House has a Twitter account. But once upon a time, what happened in our world and what happened in the dark dream of House of Penance shared some of the same space. The guilt Sarah Winchester felt for each bullet that took a life is the blood coursing through this story’s veins, and it is also a mirror in which we find ourselves trapped. The purpose of a bullet is to take life. This hard truth that Sarah Winchester struggles with, it is a burden we too must bear. What haunts her haunts us. Not colossal blood worms, pure vengeance given corporeal form. Guns are what keep the Lady Winchester up at night. Me too.
Don’t get me wrong, this is a book of pure terror not unlike Keith Giffen and Enriqué Breccia’s Lovecraft. But it’s all in there, politics and pulp and paranormal, if you look for it. Frightful to explore, but so worth it.
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