From the beginning of the issue, House of Penance is set up to be a disturbing rollercoaster. So far there are not so subtle hints to the madness in gun violence, but it is too early to tell exactly what the theme of this book will pan out to be. However, it is clear from the start that writer Peter Tomasi, and artists Ian Bertram and Dave Stewart, have something horrifying in store, and I am excited to find out what that is.
The extraction, and transportation, of two occupied coffins to a mysterious house (if you can call it that) is enough to grip your attention and drag you into the story. And if that doesn’t get you, somehow, the following scenes with Mrs. Winchester will. Peter made sure of that as he moves us through the issue, introducing us to this horrifying band of miscreants he calls the cast. Each character has their own haunting role to play throughout the story. And even the simple Murcer has an ominous feel about him, especially under the pens of Ian and Dave. The narrative is well paced, and Peter does a great job of slowly zooming out the lens, showing us more and more of his world.
To match the style and emotion of this issue, I honestly think that Ian, and Dave, were the best choice possible. Ian’s heavy inks ground the story a lot, giving this an unforgiving and permanent feel to each character’s actions. And his scenes, especially the ones where Mrs. Winchester is alone, are fantastic. He strains this character’s face so well that you can honestly feel her anxiety. Dave’s colors help out a lot here, using cool and neutral colors to mirror Peter and Ian’s tone. I personally loved his fight scene with the Native American; using these bright oranges to surprise you, then slowly engulfing the scene with grey’s and blue’s to revert back to a somber atmosphere.
I am worried, though, about the story beat. Peter has all of the balls he just threw in the air, all of this mystery and tension. If he isn’t careful, this could turn into a Lost scenario, where the readers lose interest completely. I am not saying that, as a writer, you constantly have to spoon feed and coddle your readers; you are writing for yourself, and your artist, after all. But if you want to keep an audience, you have to give them something. This issue did have a lot of ambiguity, and the connection betwixt the two main characters is loose at best. However, with Peter’s talent and experience, I am sure that everything will play out perfectly.
All of that aside, House of Penance was a fun read. The art was perfect, and the writing was sinister. Definitely pick this one up if you are into horror or westerns. I’m picking it up for the splash page of the Winchester mansion alone. Definitely 3.5 out of 5.
Peter Tomasi (W), Ian Bertram (A)
Publisher: Dark Horse
Release Date: 4/13/2016