"House of Penance #1" Comic Review
Written by James Ferguson
Published by Dark Horse Comics
Written by Peter Tomasi
Illustrated by Ian Bertram
Colored by Dave Stewart
2016, 32 Pages, $3.99
Comic released on April 13th, 2016
I feel like every town has that one weird house in the neighborhood. It's the one that you purposely cross to the other side of the street to avoid. It's just unsettling. That's the case with the Winchester House. The grieving widow, Sarah Winchester, employs a number of workers on the grounds to build and build and build. The thing is that they're not really doing much. The stairways don't go anywhere. Doors open to nothing. All the while there's a near constant stream of sound coming from the residence as hammers bang nails into walls with a steady blam-blam-blam. Welcome to House of Penance.
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Sarah Winchester is a broken woman. She's lost her husband and daughter and now she toils away in this large and ever-growing house. Although her late husband made his fortune on guns, she doesn't allow any in the house. She's often seen staring off into the distance with a blank look in her eyes. It's like she's not really there. Those eyes can cut right into your very soul. Artist Ian Bertram's design is disturbing. You can't look at those peepers too long. They seem to follow you if you move the book around too, glaring with a piercing blue. There's one panel that's nothing but an extreme close up to one of her eyes and oh man, is it creepy.
Bertram's art direction in House of Penance is superb. The panel layouts add another level of enjoyment to the book, especially with the hammer swings. There's a page early on where several men are working in a large room in the house, all banging away with hammers. With each slam, the panel breaks out a little, like it's feeling the effects of the swing. This culminates in a series of five very small panels featuring close-ups of the hammers and Sarah's face. This is a brilliant effect and really helps set the mood for the story.
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A mysterious stranger shows up at the house and it looks like he might shake things up. He's a ruthless man with similarly searing eyes. This guy has seen some shit. While Sarah is definitely the focal point, you can't help but get drawn into his story. I'm dying to learn more about him. Where's he coming from? What led him to commit such heinous acts?
House of Penance is creepy from the jump. You get this immediate sense of the skeevies, like something is just not right here. That feeling only intensifies with each page turn. This is not a horror story that will jump right out and scare you. Instead, it will slowly seep in, getting under your skin and making you look over your shoulder as you read on. The first issue introduces you to this world and all the strangeness that surrounds it. The fact that this is a real place and an actual woman from history ups the creep factor to eleven.
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