Peter J. Tomasi, Ian Bertram, and Dave Stewart continue the descent into madness in their second issue of House of Penance. The one thing we’re not allowed as we’re pitched into this fever dream is a solid reality to grab hold of. It’s like coming out of the womb and you’re drowning before ever having taken in a breath of fresh air. With all dreams and surrealist works of art, we have only our own reality to grab hold of as a point of reference. We know something is wrong, because what we understand through our own experiences informs us that something isn’t right, and that’s what our creators are up to – subverting reality, little by little, away from what we understand to be real. What is real and what is not in this House of Penance will be discovered, I imagine as we go forward, just keep your wits about you.
Peck is a killer – a full blooded gunslinger. In the first issue, we were introduced to him him slaughtering a group of Native Americans before stumbling, injured, to the front door of the house run by the matriarch, Mrs. Winchester (Yes, of the gun company), but she doesn’t allow guns within the endless halls of her mansion with doors that lead nowhere. It’s almost like M.C. Escher had a say in the architectural designs.
Winchester has dozens and dozens of male workers, constantly hammering, building, tearing down, and changing the layout of her residence. There is something evil that eats away at her, that drives her decisions, and in this second issue we finally get a look at what she sees: red, gloppy strands of raw met that crawl through cracks in the floor boards, up and around people’s shoulders, filling the hallways – but she is the only one that seems to be able to see them. In this house of penance, there are only murderers, killers, which begs the questions – what is Mrs. Winchester? Is she so innocent? Why does she fight so ferociously against something that only she can see? Why does she see it? And what is Peck’s place in all this?
References to Hell are sprinkled in, as reality warps to an even greater degree with some pretty intense visuals. Bertram and Stewart make an incredible team, giving us imagery that recalls the worlds of Clive Barker. Madness, reality, violence, guilt, hell, sin – every beautiful image has a connection to the deeper themes coursing through the story. How they’ll bubble up to the top should be very interesting in an already captivating book.