A scary house ✔
A tormented widow ✔
Horrid weather ✔
Mysterious noises ✔
Violence and gore ✖
To breakdown the horror genre into a checklist of tropes is just insulting, but that is certainly not my intent. So many comics rely on the basics of the genre to produce work that is there to shock and frighten you. That is not what this book does because it leaves you to linger, and to think, and then you try to forget but you just can’t. It creates an insidious trail to the depths of your mind because the question has not been answered but you need it. You wish to know if Mrs Winchester has truly become psychotic since losing her family, or whether something otherworldly has a tight grip on her mind. Her obsession with hammers and pursuit of imperfect perfection tortures the men she employs. Her visions of blood seeping through the floorboards accrues further renovations and ultimately the creation of stairs that lead to nowhere. The fact that we do not even hear her first name (except for a letter in #1) shrouds her mind as well as the veil that covers her head. She opens her doors to sinners, wishing to repent by constructing her personal asylum.
The enigma of this book is matched by the sheer nausea that it induces. Where the artwork depicts men of all races and creeds and an incredible looking home, it also bears an illusionary blood curdle that seeps through the walls and onto the page. Bertram has a unique style with characteristically large eyes that pierce with venom when viewed directly. The eyes are used judiciously to insight tension, as you will note that the workmen all look downwards in order to forget the fear they feel. The use of thin lines and dots on the character’s faces are almost proportional to their emotional expression, the fewer the details the less they feel. When you see Mrs Winchester in the height of her frenzy, her eyes pop and her face is incredibly visceral. It is an interesting effect and one that lends to the storytelling because the dialogue is succinct, with narrative boxes kept to a minimal. Tomasi has always been a wonderful writer and able to take a character and explore their thoughts and feelings, we have seen this multiple times with the Bat and Lantern family. This kind of tale affords a chance for the unknown to take a role and truly build suspense and quite honestly, the pain.
The title is a big clue. The comic may be riddled with sanguine imagery and panels depicting death, but those are more enticing that the real sorrow that exists on the pages. Mrs Winchester is in pain; this is shown through her determination to protect her husband and daughter who are already dead. She keeps their clothes on her bed and reads correspondence to her husband as a bedtime story. She only communicates through the foreman, Mr Murcer, who obliges her every whim. Her employees are not paid and are asked to work for room and board. The nonsensical designs force the prevailing protagonist to run around a house and almost fall from high. They all have debts to pay, some more than others, but only some find the solace they are looking for, the others only more suffering. Warren Peck bears his cross with a heavy head and sees the house for what it is; self-immolation. This is borne out through incredible artistic metaphor rather than revelatory confessions. Though Peck came to the house by chance, his time for penance has arrived. And as he is drowned by blood and wax, peace may yet be found in the arms of Mrs Winchester.