After a first issue in which the supernatural was deliberately held back, the tendrils of the otherworldly are unleashed everywhere in House Of Penance #2. Slithering through the cracks. Squirming beneath our feet. Wrapping around our shoulders. Blood red and curled, like intestines, like the tentacles of an anemone as it ensnares its prey. They push their way into almost every panel here.
And yet it seems no-one can see them but us. Just what are they? Did newcomer Peck bring them here? Did Sarah herself? Or were our protagonists simply caught by tentacles that were always there, drifting slowly through the San Jose heat?
More than just the ghosts are blooming here. The more we see of Sarah Winchester the more fascinating a contradiction she becomes. She fusses over whether her birds are getting enough light whilst condemning them to a life blighted by endless hammering and the occasional controlled explosion of a gunpowder keg. She confirms her goal is construction from destruction, but she’s built a house that contains a bare minimum of two ways to get careless staff killed, even before you consider she’s stuffed the place with murderers.
Is this deliberate? Does she want killers because killers bring her pistols? Because she can turn the gunslingers to constructive purposes the same way she does their guns? Why doesn’t she see the danger that might put her in? Why doesn’t she see the tendrils snaking through the house?
Or is it actually the tendrils that are ensnaring the killers in the first place? Pulling them into their centre. Dragging them towards what lurks under the house.
So many questions. House Of Penance #2 isn’t a solution to what came before, it’s an extension. An unsettling, moody expansion, full of off-kilter faces and increasingly unsettling imagery (the final pages in particular). Like its eponymous structure, this is building to something of unknown form. Something cavernous and strange and beautiful. Somewhere you know you probably shouldn’t want to stay.
But I do want to stay, at least a little while longer. Haunted houses just don’t come prettier, or smarter.
Care to join us for a tour?
Title: House of Penance
Publisher: Dark Horse
Reviewer: Ric Crossman