It took a lot of effort for me to pick this book up. Personal effort, not physical effort. I have read a lot of Gail Simone’s work over the years and there’s only ever been one thing that I liked and that’s the first two volumes of Secret Six, pre-DC reboot. I respect the hell out of her as a creator and being vocal in the comic industry when it comes to all its flaws and failings in how it treats women and minorities in the industry, but she’s never really been a creator that I could get into. Imagine my surprise when I couldn’t stop reading Clean Room.
I blew through the first four issues in a half an hour and really hated myself for it because this is a series that is probably even better savored and enjoyed like a cup of coffee that’s reached just the right temperature. While I wished I had savored the series more, I’m also glad that I didn’t. If I had read the first issue on its own and had a month to sit on it… I honestly don’t think I would have returned.
There was too much mystery, too many plot elements hanging by threads waiting to be tied together and frankly even after four issues… there still is. It’s just that with four issues we have the lay of the land. Which is creepy as fuck. It makes me wonder why the hell Simone hasn't done more creator owned work with Vertigo while at DC or just more creator owned work in general.
What I gleamed from the series is that there’s more to the world than our naked eye can see… except for a few chosen or cursed few that can see it all. We meet one of our main characters, Astrid Mueller as a small child. She’s run over repeatedly by a madman behind the wheel of a truck and when she wakes up in a hospital, somehow still alive, she asks why her father’s face is coved in snakes…
The story jumps to the future in which we meet our other main character Chloe Tona Pierce as she attempts to take her life. Her neighbors unfortunately fish her out of the water and she wakes up in a hospital. Now that she’s failed to take her life, she wants answers as to why her fiancé took his life. That’s the tragedy that drove Chloe to try and kill herself, coming home to her fiancés brains all over her new cabinets and a copy of Astrid’s book in his hand.
The story continues as Chloe uses her knowledge and position as a reporter to get an interview with Astrid and confront her about her fiancés death and her very “Scientology” style religion/cult. The catch is that Chloe sees monsters here and there. Monsters that scare the living piss out of her and frankly they’re so well illustrate and paced that you’ll be at least creeped out by their sudden appearance.
The story isn’t perfect. The mystery is unfolding perfectly and I have no complaints there. If anything I’m worried that the first arc will reveal too much and leave for a dull or uninspired read going forward. The writing is just strange at times. There’s these moments that have nothing to do with the story. They’re almost there to shock the readers or attempt to add more depth for the character, but they don’t.
For instance, Chloe is invited into the “Clean Room” which is an advanced VR simulation of sorts (it’s not fully revealed yet) and you have to wear special suits and be completely clean to enter. So Chloe has to remove her labial piercing. Now, I don’t have any problem with this personally, it’s snuck so awkwardly into the story that it doesn’t make sense. It’s obviously there to tell us that Chloe is a woman that enjoys sex which again, is great… but does nothing for the story. She’s heartbroken and so the last thing on her mind seems to be sex which makes its inclusion even stranger. It really ends up feeling like a cheap shock. I say that because if you switch the gender and it's suddenly a dick piercing its still out of place and adds nothing to the story. Sure it adds to the character... but I find it hard to believe that sex is going to play a massive role in defeating these monsters. I could end up wrong, but then I would probably lose interest in the story at that point.
The art is frankly some of the best I’ve seen in comics in years. Simone better hold on to Jon Davis-Hunt because he's amazing. The book is fantastically detailed and reminded me of the work on the first story arc of Nowhere Men. The story uses a lot of white which is usually a killer in the comic world unless you’re balancing it with black. Davis-Hunt instead balances it with pink and at times red and orange. Davis-Hunt is also the colorist which is frankly amazing that he's able to do both on a monthly schedule.
The creatures/monsters play a big role in the story. They’re unique and creepy as fuck. One such character looked like something out an 80s horror movie and it creeped me the fuck out. Even though it wasn’t grotesque, it was hard to look at. A lot of the creatures are hard to look at. There’s gore as well which is nice and really the perfect balance to the “cleanliness” of the world.
Overall I really enjoyed the story and the art. It’s a strong collaboration and hopefully one that will only get stronger with future issues. While I have some problems with the story and not all of the characters have depth yet, it’s not a deal breaker. They’re just small moments that keep the series from being perfect. It’s damn close though and definitely one of the best monthly comics out there. If Simone cranks out another monthly series following an original idea I will pick it up, because it’s no longer a struggle to do so.
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Clean Room #1-4 Writer: Gail Simone Artist/Coloirst: Jon Davis-Hunt Letterer: Todd Klein Publisher: Vertigo Comics Price: $3.99 Format: Ongoing; Print/Digital