Women on the Verge: THE CLEAN ROOM #1

The Clean Room #1 (Vertigo)
By Gail Simone, Jon Davis-Hunt and Todd Klein

Clean Room A

Two women. Two near-death experiences. Two very different paths.

Astrid Mueller, as a little girl, is mown down by a truck. That’s the day she begins seeing monsters.

Chloe Pierce tries to kill herself after a tragedy. That’s the day she begins looking for monsters.

To say much more would be to deny you the pleasure of discovery. Suffice to say, The Clean Room is Gail Simone doing one of the things she does best – showing us where the everyday intersects with the darkness. We’ve seen her black sense of humour in Secret Six, her ability to build a grim drama in Batgirl. Heck, sooner or later, most every Simone book takes a turn towards the sinister. The Vertigo imprint frees her to go further, not so much in terms of adult themes – Simone has always known how to approach complex emotional issues within the DC system – but where language is concerned. One scene in the office of the cult Chloe’s investigating is very close to the bone in its language and imagery… certainly nothing I can show here at Panels. It’s too early to say what the ultimate purpose of the moment is, but it certainly sells a sense of repulsion around Mueller’s ‘self-actualisation’ organisation.

Clean Room E

It’s likely impossible for any reader not to think of Scientology in relation to Mueller’s background (failed genre author) and tactics (self-help tracts and grandiose headquarters) but I don’t believe Simone is attacking L Ron Hubbard’s legacy. It’s likely more a case of using the familiar as a starting point, then jumping into uncharted, lunatic territory.

And there I am, wondering where the story will go, which is a good sign – it shows the book has grabbed me. Grabbed me with such mysteries as: what’s really going on in the opening scene, as Astrid has her accident/’accident’?; who are the Blue Utopians?; and what is the Clean Room employed by Astrid?

We don’t get to spend much time with Astrid this issue, but that’s no doubt coming. We do get a fine, nuanced introduction to Chloe, learning about her past, seeing her grit re-emerge. And as a journalist by day, this scene made me cheer.

Clean Room B

As with any Simone comic, there’s incidental humour – I think I’m in love with the seemingly simple, certainly sweet Haverlin Brothers.

Clean Room C

Partnering Simone is a new name to me, Jon Davis-Hunt. His no-nonsense linework reminds me of the sublime Steve Dillon, but slightly tighter. His storytelling impresses, particularly in the filmic treatment of Astrid’s accident – the quick cutting between characters, the feel of the small German town, the way something familiar transforms into nightmare… It’s thoroughly impressive and a sign of the goodness to come. My favourite image in the book, though, is this.

Clean Room D

It’s a bit cheesecakey, but I love the composition and colouring – all by Davis-Hunt – it makes me feel like I’m there in the water on a warm evening, ready to say goodbye to the world.

And there are some great-looking suits on display.

Add in the always fresh lettering of veteran Todd Klein and the striking cover by Jenny Frison and this is one fine-looking comic.

Chloe is already a fascinating character. I don’t know if she’ll survive her inevitable entry into the Clean Room – but I’ll be with her every scary step of the way.