Comic Review – Clean Room #1

  • Writer: Gail Simone
  • Art: Jon Davis-Hunt
  • Letters: Todd Klein
  • Publisher: Vertigo Comics
  • Release Date: October 21, 2015

Is there anything that Gail Simone touches that doesn’t turn to gold?

Simone is heading up the massively awesome Swords of Sorrow crossover event at Dynamite Entertainment, writing Secret Six again, and now, she’s at DC Comics’ Vertigo imprint with her first series for them and it is good.

Clean Room #1 is a story of psychological terror that revolves around Chloe Pierce’s attempts to find out the truth about the charismatic Astrid Mueller, the woman whose new church and self-help books are directly responsible for the death of Chloe’s lover.

After the loss of her baby, her fiance Phillip, and her will to live, Chloe doesn’t have much else to lose. That’s why, after a failed attempt at suicide, she decides to take matters into her own hands and find the truth about her fiance’s death and the mysterious self-help guru whose works set him off on a path that led to his death.

That drive to figure out why one woman’s books lead to the loss of everything that Chloe held dear is what keeps her going. In her shoes, most people wouldn’t get half as far as Chloe does in the first issue. She pushes through her doubts and her fears and decides that she’s going to get to the bottom of the mystery even if it kills her.

Clean Room #1 - Cover by Jenny Frison
Clean Room #1 cover art by Jenny Frison

Immediately, Chloe come across as a likable character. Sometimes, it takes a while to warm up to new characters in comics, but not for this. There’s something about seeing Chloe at her lowest and most desperate that kind of makes you root for her despite the fact that she’s facing insurmountable odds. Vulnerable but not a victim, Chloe essentially winds up bearding Mueller’s (metaphorical?) beast in its den despite hearing horror stories from her contact.

How can you dislike a character that is so brave in the face of the unknown?

Now, the meat of the mystery is this super secretive “church” helmed by Astrid Mueller. The first thing that comes to mind when you start reading Clean Room is Scientology. You could know nothing about the religion or its various controversies over the years, but you will connect the dots.

Seriously, Mueller is a mediocre science-fiction writer that starts a mysterious religion that essentially seeks to control its followers. It’s so easy to make the parallel. Too easy.

Gail Simone hasn’t gotten to where she is right now by going the easy way with her plots. She tends to go for the spiraling plots, setting everything up in a neat line right in front of you and then knocking them over when you least expect it. In a book like this, she shines and she’s certainly not predictable. The shocks certainly are going to come with Clean Room and in our first issue, we get a ton of them.

The main shock in this first issue are the monsters and hallucinations. In the opening pages, a little girl in Germany is run over by a truck. In the moment before, the truck morphs into a snarling red monster. Later, in the hospital the girl asks for her father and, after she’s told that he’s right there, she asks her mother why her father’s face is made of snakes. Creepy. Super creepy. But it doesn’t stop there.

After Chloe’s suicide attempt, a nurse in the hospital gives her a copy of Mueller’s An Honest World. Right before Chloe’s eyes though, that same nurse morphs into Phillip as he must have looked at his death with half his face blown off. We even get a glimpse of a lewd pink thing that looms over the shoulder of Mueller’s associate Killian Reed that just about makes your skin crawl after you see it and read what it’s saying. 

Jon Davis-Hunt does a number on us with those hallucinatory images. He goes from really nice art (seriously, how are 90% of the characters so good looking?) and gorgeous backgrounds to images of terror that really make your skin prickle with goosebumps. The humanoid characters in the book are realistically rendered and they look like people you could meet on the street and have coffee with. That some of these characters are then juxtaposed with images of horror and an undefinable alien creatures – That’s just amazing. And yes, still creepy. 

The ending of Clean Room #1’s inaugural issue leaves readers with questions upon questions: 

What’s going on with these hallucinations?

What is Mueller’s goal?

Why did her religion make Phillip kill himself?

How does she have so many pretty people working for her?

And of course – What is the Clean Room?

All in all, this was a solid opening to a book series that looks like it could go toe to toe with any number of Vertigo’s other heavy hitters while providing more than its fair share of nightmare fuel. 

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About the author

Zina Hutton

writes about comics, nerd history, and ridiculous romance novels when not working frantically on her first collection of short stories.

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