Review - House of Penance #1 (@DarkHorseComics)

"Brass and powder. Powder and brass."

Guns start wars and guns end wars. Some people love them and some people hate them. That hatred is amplified when the hater's legacy is steeped in firearms, as is the case in House of Penance #1 from Dark Horse Comics. The issue is written by Peter Tomasi, illustrated by Ian Bertram and colored by Dave Stewart.

The Winchester House—famous for its original owner’s bizarre compulsion to incorporate a multitude of architectural curiosities. But as the bereaved Sarah Winchester’s workers toil on stairways to nothing and doors to nowhere, a mysterious stranger arrives...and he could make Sarah’s demons all too real.

There's a certain unsettling quality about House of Penance #1 that foments intensity. Tomasi's approach is quite eerie, in that Sarah Winchester is mourning the loss of her family while making what are seemingly eccentric decisions. The story is laid out in two major components--the first is Sarah's mourning and the second is the arrival of a mysterious stranger. What's interesting is the dichotomy between the two. Sarah is strictly anti-gun (despite her family's namesake) while the stranger treats guns as an extension of himself. Tomasi is intent on reconciling the two by the end of the series, but the road to that reconciliation likely won't be without incident.

Matching the uneasy atmosphere of the book is Bertram's illustrations. Betram relies on an almost shaky drawing style that gives the characters plenty of ambiguity in their appearance and interactions with one another. The lack of definition extends to the panels themselves, where loosely defined lines add to the ethereal quality that's pervasive throughout the book. What makes the work even more haunting is the shading throughout the book that effectively lightens (or darkens) the setting to a chilling effect. Stewart's colors further this effect by giving everything an antiquated tone that's befitting of the days gone by tone of the book.

The sheer level of atmosphere in House of Penance #1 weighs extremely heavy on both the story and the reader. Sarah Winchester's motives seem to stem from an inordinate grief at her loss, but how she handles that loss and the new stranger will be fascinating. Tomasi has a commanding grasp of the story through very deliberate pacing and haunting interactions. Bertram's artwork is vague and simple, yet elegantly captures the moodiness of the story itself. House of Penance #1 is a great read that offers plenty in the way of dialogue and exchanges that make the reader feel a little uneasy in a haunted way.

House of Penance #1 is in stores April 13.