This month House of Penance reminds us of the old saying: if you love something, set it free. Especially if you yourself are trapped under an ocean of bubbling blood.
It’s a good day to be Sarah Winchester’s bird collection. For everyone else, things are spinning out of control. Almost literally, in Sarah’s case; her dreams are now tumbling horror stories of the dead and dissolving. Bertram absolutely tears it up here, turning the action to multiple angles across unusual panel layouts, and drenching everything with blood and fibre. Simple but effective, especially given his typically strong and strange figures and designs. But what’s truly disturbing about Sarah’s dreams aren’t how horrifyingly unreal they are, but how close her waking life seems to be becoming like them.
Peck, meanwhile, finds himself through the looking glass, defending a homestead when once he destroyed them, and warning without killing rather than vice versa. The total unrecognisable chaos of both his situation and his employer’s seems to be drawing them ever closer together, and finally they trust each other enough to tell each other the whole truths – nothing surprising in either tale, but they’re well-told. Sarah and Peck aren’t the only ones feeling something shift beneath their feet, though.
Mary kicks off this new crisis as she unveils her cunning plan. All she really achieves, though, is creating a stand-off that both takes us one step closer to answering whether Sarah really is imagining her otherworldly visitors, and allows the title to dive even more deeply into the idea that guns are nothing but trouble. I don’t want to give too much away, but two guns get fired twice in this issue, at either end. One pair of bullets is loosed for the best of reasons, the other for the worst, and it’s the first that allows the second on both a physical and and psychological level. One person opens a door that another then steps through, and everything goes completely to hell – literally, if Sarah proves to have been right all along. The lesson is fairly clear: even the best reasons to have guns enable the worst ones. Sooner or later, blood is always spilled.
And once it starts flowing, it’s pretty hard to stop it. Sarah’s workers show a fierce loyalty to her – mostly, anyway – but once the fighting starts it seems its hard for them to completely forget what they once were. You could see this as a bum note, actually, suggesting that men of violence will never move beyond that, but Sarah’s insistence that the rising need for violence is supernatural in origin allows enough of an out for it not to spoil things.
Besides, it ultimately might matter little anyway. This extra-long fifth issue ends with a momentous event and an unbearable cliffhanger, something with answers some important questions whilst spinning out new and urgent ones. If Tomasi and Bertram can keep this up for just one more issue, we’ll have a minor classic on our hands. Highly recommended, as always.
(Also, there’s a wonderful metaphor that uses dogs and squirrels as a metaphor for appreciating your workforce. Hard not to fall in love with House of Penance when it does something like that.)
Title: House Of Penance
Publisher: Dark Horse
Reviewer: Ric Crossman