Journalist Chloe Pierce had no idea that her fiancée, Philip’s, decision to pick up a book by enigmatic and compelling self-help guru, Astrid Mueller, would change her life forever: by ending his! Three months after reading Mueller’s book, Philip had blown his brains out all over Chloe’s new kitchen and something in that book made him do it.So, this is really a review of Clean Room Vol. 1 – 3, aka “season one”, aka the entirety of what has been published so far, as the series is on hiatus with the promise of more to come. I don’t usually look at more than one book in a series at a time, but I wanted to have as complete a sense of this story as possible before ~passing judgement~, because by the end of volume one, I had hella mixed feelings.
Now, Chloe will stop at nothing as she attempts to infiltrate Mueller’s clandestine organization to find the truth behind Philip’s suicide and a “Clean Room” that she’s heard whispers of – a place where your deepest fears are exposed and your worst moments revealed.
First things first, tonally Clean Room was not what I expected, and I think that it’s important to pop that cover bubble, because what Clean Room looks like and what it actually is are two completely different things. See, all the impressions that I had about Clean Room came Jenny Frison’s gorgeous covers that’d popped up again and again on my Twitter feed. I hadn’t seen any interiors, and had no idea what the book was actually about, but I was drawn in by those gorgeous, moody-ass covers, which is a rookie fucking mistake in comics, but there you go. I saw Frison’s work and was prepared for something as dark and ominous as they were…
And then I opened the book.
TW: GORE It was kind of a shock. Jon Davis-Hunt’s art (he did pencils, inks, and colors with help from Quinton Winter) sets a drastically different tone for the book than the covers imply. While I don’t think it’s 100% awful – I am admittedly not a fan of the squiggly, lots-of-little-lines style, but there were some lovely panels – it was way too colorful and cartoonish for me to ever be genuinely creeped out by it.
I was grossed out pretty frequently, though. Simone was generally good about using the gore to emphasize the more horrific aspects of that plot, rather than throwing a bunch of shit out for shock value, but there were still some disgusting, brain-scarring images that had me seriously questioning my life choices.
That being said, I’m just don’t like the gross, brain-scarring kind of horror, even in small quantities. That’s not what I’m looking for when I read a horror comic, and right up until the very end of volume one, I was afraid that that was all Clean Room had to offer.
But, as we’ve established, you can hook me pretty well by stringing along a mystery, and the last issue of Clean Room Vol. 1 was effective in that regard. It introduced enough new elements and teased enough new questions to keep me on board for the next trade.
About halfway through volume two, the dissonance between what I had gone in expecting and what Clean Room actually was finally faded, and I was able to accept the book more for what it was. I was engaged by the exploration of Astrid’s past, the revelations and the stakes and the character exploration. Was less impressed by the underdeveloped sub-bosses of the week, but yet again the book ended with enough of a bang (or a fucking BAMF) that I came back for volume three.
It was a treat to discover that Walter Geovani – Simone’s talented collaborator on her excellent Red Sonja run – was taking over as artist for this installment, but even his lovely line work didn’t endear me anymore to the book’s overall aesthetic. I read this thing in spite of, and sometimes at great odds with, the art, and while Geovani’s cleaner style and fucking legendary facial expressions made it a little more bearable, I was never quite able to get past some of the design choices, and appreciate that aspect of the book on its terms.
So while I liked Astrid’s evolution, and Chloe’s growth as a character, and thought that there were some really satisfying plot beats in the “season finale”, ultimately my dislike of the aesthetics and the campier+distasteful plot elements outweighed the things that I liked. I’m super into the idea of this ominous Scientology-esque religion turning out to be, like, correct, but when the execution involves a dude who literally tattooed the word ‘fire’ on his eye, sadistic Texan health product magnates, and an evil talking monster baby as the big bad? I can’t fuck with that. Hence falling on the colder side of lukewarm for this series. There are interesting characters and ideas in there, and the covers are gorgeous, but it left kind of a bad taste in my mouth, and I doubt I’ll be going back for season two.
TWO AND A HALF STARS