"Clean Room: Volume 1 – Immaculate Conception" Trade Paperback Review
Written by James Ferguson
Published by Vertigo
Originally published as Clean Room #1 - #6
Written by Gail Simone
Illustrated by Jon Davis-Hunt
Colored by Quinton Winter
2016, 144 Pages
Trade paperback released on June 15th, 2016
Think of your favorite horror writer for a moment. For this argument, let's say it's Stephen King. Now imagine that he stopped writing horror and turned all his attention to a self-help organization that acts more like a cult. That would be pretty weird on its own, right? What if the main book this group puts out led to a man killing himself? That's where Clean Room starts and it only gets crazier from there.
Reporter Chloe Price's fiancé shot himself in the head after reading Astrid Mueller's book. Now Chloe wants answers as to why the love of her life ate a bullet and what Mueller's mysterious organization, the Honest World Foundation, had to do with it. The thing about Clean Room is that it starts out in one direction and then drastically turns this way and that in unexpected ways. By the end of this first trade paperback, the status quo is turned on its ear in such a fascinating manner.
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This is largely due to Astrid Mueller. She's at the center of the story and she's quite an oddball. After she was run over by a truck at the age of six (that comparison to Stephen King is looking a little too on the nose now, huh?), she's been able to see things lurking on the edge of our reality. Astrid speaks with purpose. She never falters and always has the situation in control, even when everything around her is spiraling out of it. You can tell from the moment she walks into a room that she's the smartest person there. Astrid starts out as the villain of Clean Room. She's the big bad that made Chloe's fiancé kill himself...right? As with everything else in this book, Astrid is not quite what she seems.
The scares in Clean Room are so damn unsettling. There's a large amount of body horror with limbs twisting in abnormal ways. This starts out tame – if you can call it that – with a body being found tied up into a pretzel. This is only the beginning. I can't tell which was more horrifying: the man that turned his face upside down and then stuck his tongue out of one his eye sockets, or the possessed neighbor with his arms tangled up in bizarre directions and eyes darting everywhere. Who am I kidding? It's the first one. That was a sequence where I was legitimately scared to turn the page. I knew what was coming, but I didn't want to see the end result.
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Hats off to artist Jon Davis-Hunt in that regard. He delivers these scares in such a methodical way, revealing just enough at the right times to keep you glued to the page and reading this as quickly as possible. That body horror is just the tip of the iceberg when it comes to Davis-Hunt's talents on Clean Room. There's a creature that pops up seemingly out of nowhere halfway through the book that will have you checking behind every doorway in your house after reading.
A major part of Clean Room is the title location, a sealed room where Astrid Mueller performs her work. It's a sterile white with nothing of color aside from the characters in their jumpsuits. Colorist Quinton Winter makes this place pop when blood is spilled. The red stands out so well on the page in contrast to the white of everything around it. It pools in certain areas while running through the lines in the floor in others.
Clean Room is frightening every step of the way. It's an ever-evolving story that challenges the rules of the genre while amplifying the terror with every page turn. This is an introduction that will keep you guessing and have you begging for more. Put simply, this is easily one of the best horror comics of the year.