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In a world that is preoccupied with heroes, team-ups, and super powers, comes a story that features disturbed individuals, whose pasts come back to haunt them. House of Penance brings back the horror title to comics while telling the story of the villains; the life they are destined to live along with the guilt they must carry.

House of Penance #3 is a twisted tale by Peter J. Tomasi brought to life through the art of Iam Bertram and the brilliant coloring of Dave Stewart. For those audiences that are into the art style of Aeon Flux or Ren and Stimpy, and a storyline to match, this Dark Horse title will be a definite read for them. We are introduced to an eerie looking woman named Sarah, and her assistant Mr. Murcer, as they have found an injured man, Mr. Peck near their property. The story then carries us to Mr. Peck’s dream, where he is confronting the dismembered ghosts of all the people he had killed in pursuit of his personal goals. Even waking from his nightmare, he sees their blood on his hands, and he can never wash it away. Mr. Peck comes to realize that Sarah’s house is a gathering place for souls that had some misfortune fall upon them, and that Sarah also has blood on her hands.

Peter J. Tomasi sets up quite a dark tone for this title, smattering the pages with eerie and awkward dialogue between the characters. Seeing this is the third issue of this series, it doesn’t take long to understand what seems to be happening, and that there is more beneath the surface than what the characters are showing the reader. There isn’t a lot of information for the reader to grasp regarding the pasts of some of the other characters of the House of Penance, yet the mystery of their existence serves to contribute to the tone and style of the writing. With another title, such information would be necessary to understand motives and to develop character, but with what Tomasi presents here, we see that this is not a problem. We find ourselves enjoying the mystery, and are drawn to turn each page to unravel it.

House of Penance #3

What Tomasi does with story, Iam Bertram does with the art, with the help of Dave Stewart with color. From the dialogue we come to understand that there is an underlying sin or guilt that tortures the two members of the house, Sarah and Mr. Peck. However, Bertram includes the underlying presence of blood and entrails, swirling in the background while the characters are talking, or taking action. It adds to the twisted atmosphere, and serves as a visual representation of the atrocious past of the two main characters. With the strange art style of Bertram, the eerie eyes of Sarah, the weathered and worn look of Mr. Peck, and the darkened atmosphere that surrounds them, we have a setting and mood that enhances the tension set up with the awkward dialogue.

Dave Stewart’s coloring is something to marvel at. With just a few colors, he brings a world to life, if such a word can be used for a comic whose characters are on the cover drenched in blood. The blood of both Sarah and Mr. Peck’s sins stands in direct contrast to the darkness of their own characters, and the darkness of the world around them. It may be that their evils are the only thing that makes them feel alive, and that all the dialogue that covers that up is just dull and boring conversation that helps carry them through to the next day. Whatever the blood and entrails are, Stewart does a masterful job of using them as juxtapositions to what the characters themselves present on the surface. It creates a tension between who they are and what they are beneath the empty words.

The only problem is Bertram’s overuse of blood in the panels. Yes, it’s important to understand that these characters have a troubled past filled with murder and dismemberment that will haunt them for the rest of their lives. Yet, it is important to have a breath between the inundations of blood. You need a moment of pause for entrails and blood, just as much as they need it for dialogue. Often the audience will need to have those brief respites to recognize a character reflecting, as this may also be a time for you to reflect as well.

House of Penance #3

The Verdict

Being one that is not a fan of horror or suspense, I found myself strangely drawn to House of Penance #3, and the art form only enhanced the strangeness and appeal of it. The same way shows like Dexter or Breaking Bad might have appealed to people because it was about characters embracing a darker side of nature, House of Penance takes a cue from a genre that is starting to captivate audiences, and is running with it. This is ultimately the tale of the villain, and their path to dealing with their sins.

Again, not my usual cup of tea. Yet, I yearn to read more.

Comic Book Review: House of Penance #3
Pros
  • Great story full of mystery and suspense
  • Art style is freaky and interesting
  • Underlying story leaves you wanting more
Cons
  • Art style may be too weird for some audiences
  • Might be too bloody for some audiences
8Overall Score
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