Writer: Gail Simone
Artists: Jon Davis-Hunt, Walter Geovani, & Sanya Anwar
Gail Simone created Clean Room to get under her readers’ skin. She succeeded. The Simone, Jon Davis-Hunt, Walter Geovani and Sanya Anwar series is a freaky mind-bending story blending horror, mystery, cults, demons, and science fiction. She’s conceived complicated characters who stare down true horrors and the apocalypse. Simone stated that “there’s not another book like it on the stands.” Annie Blitzen described it as “a thrilling, horrifying ride with both effective/artistic devices and some real insights in human nature.”
Clean Room focuses on two characters, Astrid Mueller and Chloe Pierce. Pierce’s fiance committed suicide three months after reading a book published by Mueller’s cult. Chloe is convinced that Mueller’s cult is responsible for his death.
One of the centerpieces in Clean Room is a powerful self-help cult that appears to be involved in multiple suicides. Simone’s rural Oregon was the inspiration for the graphic novel’s cult because it has been a magnet for cults. While the Rajneeshpuram community from the documentary Wild Wild Country is the best-known cult in Oregon, it is not the only one. She incorporated the methods and ideas from these cults into Astrid Mueller’s cult.
At the start of the book, Pierce is trying to figure out how Mueller’s cult killed her boyfriend. Even though his death was a suicide, he died soon after reading Mueller’s book. She blames Mueller for her fiance’s death. We slowly learn about Mueller’s cult through Chloe’s eyes. The central question in Clean Room is what do you do when you learn a cult is not a fraud.
The purpose of Mueller’s cult is intentionally opaque at the beginning of the story. All that we know is that a man, for no apparent reason, intentionally ran Mueller over as a young girl. This assault changed the direction of her life and helped her to see the world much more clearly. The cult does not appear to be designed to make money or control people. You get the sense that Mueller knows more than we do. Mueller also runs her cult with a disarmingly polite ruthlessness. It often is not clear if Astrid Mueller is the villain, a hero, or a little of both.
I do not know if Simone wants to expand on this world, but the three volumes of Clean Room is a complete story. That is satisfying because we do not always get complete stories in comic books. Now, if Simone wanted to revisit it, I would trust and happily read it because there are probably more interesting stories she could tell about this world.
While Clean Room is Simone’s first book with Vertigo, she has been one of the best writers in comics for several years. She is best known for The New 52 Batgirl, Birds of Prey, Secret Six, and her long run on Wonder Women. Her Red Sonja, Domino and Tomb Raider books are also fantastic. Finally, people should take a new look at The Movement because it is more timely than ever.
Davis-Hunt is the perfect artist for Clean Room. Previously, he worked 2000 AD on Judge Dredd, Age of the Wolf, and the Warren Ellis redesign of The Wild Storm. There are several moments when you turn a page and are met with an image that is truly horrifying and genuinely scary. Davis-Hunt’s linework meshes perfectly with Simone’s story. Davis-Hunt worked on volumes 1 and 2 of the Clean Room before passing the baton to Walter Giovani and Sanya Anwar for Vol. 3.
Walter Giovani is a Brazilian artist who has been working as an illustrator for comics since 2004. He has worked on many comics, including Red Sonya, Lady Death, Lady Death Medieval, Dr. Who and many others. Sanya Anwar is a Canadian artist who is currently working on her own webcomic 1001, a re-imagining of a Thousand in One Arabian Nights. You can download the comic from her website. In addition to illustrating on Clean Room, she has worked on Betty & Veronica: Vixens. She also worked as a cover illustrator on Dejah Thoris, Red Sonja, Dr. Who: The Thirteenth Doctor, and several others.
The transition between Davis-Hunt to Giovani and Anwar is seamless. Like Davis-Hunt, Giovani and Anwar are extremely adept at mixing drawings of the admittedly attractive leads and the grotesque body horror present through the books.
Best Ways to get Clean Room:
You should check your local comic book store, but it may be not easy to find. It is available in three softcover volumes from Vertigo. It is available as a digital download. You might also check to see if it is included in the Comixology Unlimited service if you want to check it out before buying.
- Clean Room: Immaculate Conception – Vol. 1
- Clean Room: Exile – Vol. 2
- Clean Room: Waiting for the Stars to Fall – Vol. 3