The following review contains spoilers for Clean Room #6.
This week, Vertigo released the conclusion to their first story arc in horror/sci-fi series Clean Room. It was a bit of a strange ending, and not quite what I expected when I first picked up Clean Room #1 a while back. But then again, you could more or less say the same thing for the series as a whole.
Gail Simone has taken us in some strange directions since Clean Room began. Astrid Mueller first appeared to be a villain, but this issue makes it clearer than ever that she might actually be one of the strongest assets that protagonist Chloe Price has on her side. Assuming that she is on Chloe’s side, which still seems to be up in the air a bit. Astrid goes out of her way to protect Chloe in this issue, yet also makes a remark about Chloe being dangerous.
More than that, we’re still uncertain as to how much Astrid knows about the strange creatures that have been attacking people and causing strange visions. Based on the ending of this comic, we’re going to be diving into this issue a bit deeper in the next arc. For now, all we really know is that they live in the sky above Barcelona, and Astrid has a weapon that could easily eradicate their entire race. As for why she hasn’t pulled the trigger yet, this is another currently unsolved mystery (they explain that it hasn’t been tested, but they don’t explain why testing a potentially Earth-saving device has not been a top priority).
We see Detective Demakos in this issue, but I’d be lying if I said that I was entirely sure why. It seems as if Simone has plans for him, or else she wouldn’t bother writing him into the script at all. But as of now, he really hasn’t done anything. He just kind of sits around and looks tired while delivering some dialogue pertaining to “the Surgeon,” a villainous figure we see in this issue. Demakos may not move the plot forward much, but his scene makes for decent foreshadowing. And that tired expression is just perfect for a man of his job description. Maybe one day we’ll see him smile. But in a sick way, I kind of hope we don’t.
The Surgeon is an important encounter for Chloe, as we learn a bit more about what these things are. They are neither demons nor aliens, according to him, but rather something else—something that shakes Chloe to her core, although even she isn’t certain as to why. Much like we saw happen with Wei a while back, it appears as if the Surgeon is simply inhabiting a body. He can control it and contort it a bit, yet cannot seem to actually feel anything that happens to it. These beings appear to be psychic in nature, especially with their constant references to humans as meat. This is speculation, of course—Simone has been kind enough to leave this mystery for us to explore further in future arcs.
One mystery that may be solved is why Chloe’s former beau shot his head off. Simply put, he discovered the existence of “parasites” in our world, parasites that few can see without knowing of their existence. However, we don’t actually see what he sees. It’s possible that there’s more to his death than we have been told thus far. All we know with absolute certainty is that whatever popped up on his computer screen seems to have freaked his cat right the fuck out.
Getting away from the writing for a second, the art for Clean Room deserves utter praise for all that it manages to achieve. Between the bloody and contorted visage of the Surgeon near the end, the expressions on Chloe’s face as she tries to figure out whether or not she can trust Astrid and her organization, and the strange anime feel that accompanies any panel including the Clean Room and Astrid’s futuristic jumpsuit, this easily could have felt like three different comics crammed into one. But the artwork is so consistent that it somehow manages to work. The science fiction and horror elements complement each other in a way that I still can’t put my finger on. Perhaps it’s the juxtaposition of the gory horror panels and the bright, white Clean Room. This juxtaposition gives the comic a sense of balance that just feels right.
This balance is also present in some of the comic’s more ridiculous moments. A prime example is when we see Dr. Hagen, who appears to be standing naked on a boat (which is actually way more than just a boat). Everything about his character is utterly ludicrous, but he wears a face in Clean Room #6 that causes him to appear as if he is simply all business. Then you have Spark, who behaves as if he is all business yet speaks and appears as if he is slightly daffy. I wasn’t sure how I felt about Spark when the character was first introduced, but I now find myself intrigued to see how he plays out. I’m hoping he’ll inhabit more bodies, simply so that Jon Davis-Hunt has a chance to flex his skills as an artist even further.
Part of what makes Clean Room appear sharp and messy at the same time is the colors by Quinton Winter. They aren’t generally too dark, and certainly not as dark as they’ve occasionally gotten in previous issues. Instead, Winter chooses to let the bright red blood pop right off the page. If a comic book’s colors may be referred to as “unapologetic,” I think it would be quite fitting for what they have done here. Some horror comics prefer to be faded, casting the more grisly scenes in shadow. Clean Room puts these scenes on full display, ensuring you don’t miss a single spatter.
I’ve never said anything about lettering in my reviews before, but I feel I must compliment Todd Klein for what he has accomplished in Clean Room #6. The Surgeon has a strange manner of speaking, in which random letters in random words appear bolded. This is somewhat hard to read in tempo, but it’s fun to try and imagine what the character must sound like. It almost turned the dialogue into an interactive experience, a reminder that the readers are in charge of these characters’ voices. If an approach like Klein’s has ever been utilized before, I haven’t seen it.
Vertigo has something good on their hands with Clean Room. I knew this when I read Clean Room #1, and I am ten times as certain now that I have read Clean Room #6. The detective may feel a bit shoehorned in at this point, and perhaps the notion of a cloud-busting cannon eradicating a race of evil entities is a bit more sci-fi than horror, but this almost works to the series’ favor. Everything I might write down as a criticism has still succeeded in that it has made me want to read more. Because dang it, I want answers. And if the next arc is going to be as fun as this one, I’m willing to wait as long as it takes for those answers to get here.