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A new horror series from Dark Horse based on the mansion home of Sarah Winchester, widow of William Winchester (inventor of the Winchester repeating rifle),  House of Penance sets out to explore the popular lore that Sarah felt haunted by the spirits of those killed by her husband’s invention. This supposed haunting led her to the belief that constant building and adding to her mansion would keep the spirits away, so she hired dozens of workers to conduct unending construction at all hours of the day and night.

Writer Peter J. Tomasi crafts a genuinely eerie tale here. Sarah’s apprehension and dread at just about everything is practically palpable. She’s totally paranoid about every little thing, and when she finds something that’s not exactly the way she wants it, or when work stops for just a moment, she begins to panic. Tomasi writes the wandering, rambling, paranoid thoughts in a manner that seems completely believable. Near the end of the first issue, he also introduces a new character into the mix that could have an interesting impact on the story moving forward. The pace of this first issue is a little slow, but I’m willing to stick with it because the story definitely held my attention.

While Tomasi’s writing is great, Ian Bertram’s artwork is spectacular. Each panel resembles a wood engraving, giving the book an aesthetic fitting of the time period in which it takes place. The intricate cross-hatching visible in each page was no doubt incredibly labor intensive, making this issue all the more impressive. To add to this, the characters are drawn in a very unique and highly stylized manner. This level of detail makes the book an absolutely unnerving joy to look at that fits perfectly with Tomasi’s story. It’s almost like reading an old children’s book that took a horrible turn down a dark path in the woods. It left me with a sense of macabre wonder and a desire to find out what happens next.

A creepy story mixed with even creepier artwork, House of Penance #1 is easily one of the most unique and interesting stories that I’ve read this year, and I will certainly be picking up the next few issues to find out where it goes from here. If you’re into old-fashioned gothic horror tales, do yourself a favor and snatch this one off the shelf. You won’t be disappointed.

The Verdict for House of Penance #1:
5 out of 5

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Until next time,
Stay nerdy, my friends.

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