Writer: Peter J. Tomasi
Artist: Ian Bertram
Release Date: 11th May, 2016
After a measured introduction to the unnerving, unsettling world of Sarah Winchester in its first issue, HOUSE OF PENANCE from Dark Horse Comics ramps up the horror to terrifying levels in this second installment as wounded stranger Warren Peck settles into his role as the newest worker at the bizarre Winchester House.
Once again, writer Peter J Tomasi does a stellar job of establishing our two main characters through their actions rather than through an unwieldy exposition dump. Sarah’s increasing neurosis – not to mention her desire to use the sound of the unrelenting hammering to keep “monsters” she sees as coming for her deceased husband and child at bay – makes her an enigmatic force throughout; relatable, sympathetic, yet still deeply troubling and disturbing at the same time. Likewise, Peck’s interactions with his fellow workers give us further insight into this complex character, particularly once the ‘water cooler’ conversation turns to the eccentric widow Winchester.
The visual manifestation of the demons both Sarah Winchester and Warren Peck are battling is utilized to absolute perfection throughout the course this issue, with creeping red tendrils gradually swarming and suffocating the pages as the horrors of their pasts start to creep back in. It’s a wonderfully visceral way of manifesting emotional trauma, and artist Ian Bertram rises to the occasion yet again with some of the most visually striking panels you’re ever likely to see – particularly during the closing moments of the book, where all subtlety is thrown out the window and Bertram unleashes a series of legitimately terrifying splash pages to serve as an emphatic exclamation point to the issue.
Perhaps the most intriguing aspect of the series at this point is the uncertainty about just what direction Tomasi and Bertram are going to take things from here. Considering the rapid shift in both pace and tone between the first and second issues, it’s a truly mouthwatering prospect to speculate about just what the remaining issues may have in store, and with Sarah and Warren finally meeting – in fairly shocking circumstances – in the closing pages of this issue, there’s no doubt that their intertwining tale is going to make for utterly gripping reading.
At the end of the day, any horror story is only as good as the characters involved, and in Sarah Winchester and Warren Peck, we have been blessed with two utterly compelling protagonists, each with a truly relatable aspect to their personal trauma. While there are historical and factual aspects to this tale, Tomasi should be applauded for weaving such a gripping fictional narrative around them, and Bertram’s stunning visuals round out what has to be considered one of the truly unique, genuinely disturbing horror titles of 2016.
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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