There was never any chance House of Penance was going to end entirely happily. That’s not a spoiler, it’s an acknowledgement of historical record. Sarah Winchester’s crusade to end gun deaths did not succeed. Barely a day goes by without us being reminded of that fact. The real question was always whether or not Sarah would think her mission a success or not, and which of those options would be worse.
After five issues of some absolute top-notch cranking of tension and raising of questions, I imagine opinion is going to be fairly fiercely divided on whether or not this is a landing which sticks. Much depends on whether you see the explanation of last issue’s cliffhanger as a cop-out, or an inevitable result of the series’ own rules so far. More will depend on your tolerance for the sheer number of questions the series has raised that Tomasi declines entirely to even attempt to answer. There might even be some ink spilled over whether producing an extra-long finale is actually worth it when the additional pages are burned off in a single six-page splash (presumably three sets of two in the actual issue).
(That last one is the easiest to answer, of course. Bertram has killed every single issue of this. He does not slacken off by so much as half an inch here.)
Mainly, though, it all comes down to how you choose to understand the particulars of how things end between Sarah and Peck, and how much what always had to happen still ends up punching you in the gut.
Personally, I found the ending tremendously affecting. I was close to tears, in fact. The specifics of what happened during and immediately after what Sarah called “the harrowing” are as hazy and unbounded as more or less everything else this series has given us, but that only serves to throw into sharper relief those things here that are truly real. Real, and painful, and endlessly sad.
Sarah Winchester’s crusade to end gun deaths did not succeed. But perhaps, in a story like this, where history is a pair of hiking boots rather than a straitjacket, it gets to succeed for a while. If you can’t win, you can try losing as slowly as possible. Pause what you can’t stop. People won’t always understand you. They may even wait for the moment you’re gone to start undoing everything you did. In the real world, Sarah’s monument to the grotesque way in which the Winchester family made its fortune is now owned by Winchester Investments LLC (the last two pages of the comic offer a different but no less charged coda). But you don’t need approval to do good, and if you keep fighting until the end, there is literally no more that can be asked of you.
Speaking of asking things, “Did Sarah manage to totally end gun violence?” is completely the wrong question anyway. The right question – the only question ever worth asking of anyone – is whether her efforts brought about real good in the world. I’m not supposed to be giving you any spoilers here, so I’ll let you read House of Penance and make up your own mind. The only thing I will say is that, if this is, as I’ve suggested, a story written in part to swipe at the NRA, then I think it’s meaningful someone here remembers that you don’t need a rifle to go hunting for your supper.
Like I’ve said before, if Sarah’s vision was a sign of madness – and her quoting Blake here reminds us that if she is delusional, she is in the absolute best of company – then it was a madness shared. For all that I’m saddened it couldn’t last, I am nothing less than delighted that I got to share in it too.
You should try it for yourself sometime.
Title: House Of Penance
Publisher: Dark Horse
Reviewer: Ric Crossman