Publisher: Dark Horse Comics
Writer: Peter J. Tomasi
Artist: Ian Bertram
Release Date: April 13th, 2016
Set for release next month from Dark Horse Comics, HOUSE OF PENANCE is based on the true story of The Winchester House, an architectural curiosity from the mind of the bereaved Sarah Winchester. Following the death of her husband and daughter, Sarah instructs a team of builders and craftsmen to toil tirelessly around the clock on her home, incorporating all manner of oddities such as stairways that lead to nowhere, all the while battling her own demons and seemingly using the relentless sound of the hammering to drown out their voices.
The fictionalised retelling of the story comes from the pen of Peter J. Tomasi, and this first issue features a creeping sense of unease that permeates the story from the very first page. From our first glimpse of Sarah as she stoically dismantles and discards a table full of bullets, it’s clear that we’re dealing with a deeply troubled woman. The house itself – her disturbed and disturbing masterpiece – also has a commanding presence here, with a relentless, hammering voice of its own and an almost hypnotic aesthetic at times, particularly during the wider shots.
Visually, Ian Bertram is at the absolute top of his game here, working seamlessly alongside Tomasi to keep the reader on edge throughout, in spite of the ‘horror’ aspects of the story being relatively restrained for the time being. However, as impressive as his recreation of the Winchester House undoubtedly is, it’s his depiction of Sarah herself that really pushes this book to a whole new level. With a exaggerated, almost feline face and staring oval eyes, everything about her seems specifically designed to unsettle, and while there’s a deep sense of sadness to her story, her strange detachment and hysterical outbursts invoke an unusual blend of fear and sympathy in the reader.
This first issue takes its time in establishing both Sarah and Warren Peck, a mysterious stranger who arrives at the house looking for a place to bed down. While we don’t yet see the two characters meet in this first issue, it’s clear that their relationship is going to be a driving force for the remainder of the series, and given the strong job Tomasi and Bertram have done in introducing them both to us here, I absolutely cannot wait until that first meeting occurs.
A historical horror story that is guaranteed to crawl under your skin, HOUSE OF PENANCE is uncomfortable, unconventional and thoroughly unmissable. Dark Horse continues to cement its place as the absolute pinnacle of horror comics, and with a gripping first issue, both visually and narratively, I honestly can’t recommend this series highly enough.
If you want to find out more about HOUSE OF PENANCE, make sure to take at our interview with series writer Peter J. Tomasi by CLICKING HERE.
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