Clean Room Vol. 1: Immaculate Conception
Writer: Gail Simone | Artist: Jon Davis-Hunt
Two women marked by death attempting to understand the evil that lives in the shadows. This pretty much sums up the basic concept of Gail Simone’s first venture into Vertigo Comics territory. Chloe Pierce’s fiance killed himself and she miscarried their child. Now she wants to know what a Scientology-like cult run by Astrid Mueller. Astrid is a German woman who was brutally run down by a madman in a car when she was a child. After that experience she began to see what we might call “demons”. However, the series makes an effort to challenge our preconceptions about the nature of these monsters. In this first volume, we follow parallel stories of Astrid confronting a literal demon from her past while Chloe must decide if she trusts Astrid’s cult while attempting to figure out why her fiance killed himself.
I can’t say that I have ever intentionally followed the work of Gail Simone. Birds of Prey and Batgirl sort of passed me by. I have always loved her Secret Six titles, spotlighting a rotating cast of villains and anti-heroes who are less than happy to be working together. I’d had tremendously high hopes for her Wonder Woman run around 7-8 years ago and was really disappointed. Her Red Sonja work has been on my Must Read list for awhile. I think I entered into Clean Room with a pretty open mind, interested to see what Simone would do in the less prohibitive environment of Vertigo Comics.
Clean Room throws us right in the middle of things very fast. I had to re-read the first five pages a couple times due to how quickly the stakes are set up. The entire first issues feels paced way too fast in a effort to pit Chloe and Astrid against each other. It takes awhile for the character development to come out and even by the conclusion of this first volume it feels like a two hour pilot for a larger tv series. As you would expect with most Vertigo work, there is a lot of sex and violence. The gore is pretty much an essential element in this type of story and it goes to just the right places to make you uneasy and creeped out. One scene of a demon possessed man digging into cheeks and twisting the skin of his face upside down comes to memory. The series really gets interesting when it is slowly unraveling the world around the Mueller cult and their work with celebrities. We get to see the inner workings of the organization and how they cleverly and efficiently deal with problems.
The artwork is very uneven. Artist, Jon Davis-Hunt draws an awesome demon, and brings a lot of interesting variety to their designs. Elements of insects and sea life are interwoven into his monster work and this adds to a sense of the larger than our perception Lovecraft style of horror. However, his normal humans often look like mannequins. His figures are very posed and there is a lack of sense of movement through the panels. It improves as the series goes on, but still retains a stiffness. His linework is very smooth and detailed though.
Clean Room has a very promising concept and I will definitely continue reading through the next couple arcs. The mystery behind the “demons” is intriguing and if written cleverly could end up being a great longform horror story. There’s room for improvement on the art, but the overall series is one of the best offerings I’ve seen from Vertigo lately.