As a reader, I like to be kept in the not-know when I jump into a new title. The sense of discovery as every panel progresses along every issue is one of the things I look forward to, as well as all the good ol’ things that makes a comic a good one: among them plot, visual, and characters. And these are all what Gail Simone and Jon Davis-Hunt’s Clean Room provided.
I like to say that I’m not new to the horror comic book scene, having read Hellblazer years prior and the Scott Snyder-Jock project Wytches on the same day I started reading Clean Room. I’d say my basics of horror lore are none too shabby. And so, with a certain degree of expectations, I jumped in.
When I started on the first issue, I knew nothing about the title aside from its title, publisher, and the fact that Gail Simone is writing the book—all of which are enough reasons for me to start reading it. It being a Vertigo title, I knew from the start that some grisly contents were in store. What I didn’t take into account, however, was how brilliantly delivered those contents are. While the two titles mentioned above deliver horror in a traditional (yet still unconventional and genius in their own ways) sense, Clean Room is something else. It’s a detective story, science fiction, and horror tale thrown together in the blender that is Gail Simone’s mind, birthing something that doesn’t quite sit in any genre.
It’s grotesque, it’s smart, it’s emotionally moving, and most importantly, it’s deliciously unsettling—in a sense that it gave me my first real case of bad dreams for the first time in weeks. Yep, reading Clean Room before I went to sleep definitely wasn’t one of my brightest ideas. I woke up delighted, however, because that’s how I knew that this title is special.
So what’s it about, you may ask? The first issue centers on Chloe Pierce who, after trying to kill herself in the wake of her fiancé’s suicide a few months prior, goes out to seek the truth behind her previously-happy lover’s untimely demise. Her quest brings her to Astrid Mueller, horror writer turned self-help guru, and the shady lot of activities she and her followers have apparently been doing behind the façade of motivational corporation. Those activities concern demon-like creatures that drive people crazy (or “hyper-emotive”, as preferred in the characters’ narrative) and can apparently only be seen by certain people. Astrid Mueller’s corporation is seemingly involved in a war against a greater force, but as bodies start dropping and questions start to be asked, Chloe Pierce vows to get to the bottom of whatever it is Astrid Mueller is doing.
It’s all going to feel pretty meta, especially in the first few issues, but as the story progresses, the pieces dropped here and there from the beginning will start to make sense—as much as they do, anyway. One of my favorite things about this title is how huge the mysteries in the lore are, leaving still enough holes in the fabric of issue-by-issue understanding that even when things are beginning to be revealed, I’m still left baffled and curious as to how the pieces of information will fit in the big picture.
The story is conveyed through the pencils of Jon Davis-Hunt with colors by Quinton Winter, and as opposed to the dark-and-twisted edge associated with conventional horror art, the panels in Clean Room are colorful in their realism. Davis-Hunt provides exceptionally detailed, tidy interiors, made even more eye-popping with Winter’s color palette. Make no mistake, however—the atrocity displayed in Clean Room is as graphic and delightfully detailed as in any other Vertigo title.
Clean Room is cerebral and provoking and deeply psychological as well as being rooted in reality—a twisted one at that, but a reality nonetheless. It’s the type of story whose spirit you can feel crawling over your skin as you read on—and, let’s be real, a horror story that gives you goosebumps and bad dreams while still being visually realistic must be a hell of a good one.