25 October 2015

"Clean Room" #1 by Gail Simone

Clean Room #1
"Spring Cleaning, Part One"

Gail Simone - Writer
Jon Davis-Hunt - Artist & Colorist
Todd Klein - Letterer
Jenny Frison - Cover Art
Steve Cook - Logo Design
Rowena Yow - Associate Editor
Shelly Bond - Editor
Clean Room is created by Gail Simone
32 pages/$3.99
Date of Publication: 21 October 2015
Suggested for mature readers

Hey, remember when I used to blog about comic books? It's okay if you don't, Dear Reader; I have a hard enough time remembering when I used to read comic books. Depression has diminished my enthusiasm for several things for quite some time now, comics being one of the more conspicuous casualties. Detached as I've become, though, I've continued to follow Gail Simone through Twitter so I've known about Clean Room for awhile now. My depression led me to nearly three months of outpatient treatment, including a week of inpatient treatment in the middle, and that's pertinent to my experience reading this issue.

See, all I knew about this book was that it was written by Gail Simone, and that it was dark, dark, dark. The blurb atop the cover of this first issue, from scribe Scott Snyder, is a perfect microcosm of the buildup that I've vaguely followed: "The work of a master storyteller writing at the peak of her (black, twisted) powers." I got a kick out of those black, twisted powers in Batgirl, particularly in the form of Simone's New 52 Ventriloquist and companion Fergie. I suppose that's the kind of black, twisted storytelling I thought I was getting myself into, and I was wrong, wrong, wrong.

The crux of Clean Room is that a star of the self-help world, Ashley Mueller, may be responsible for destroying the minds of her more devout followers. Our lead protagonist is Chloe Pierce, who lost her fiance Philip to suicide she's certain was prompted by Mueller's book. It's a pretty straightforward situation that's both plausible and ripe for exploration, and as a premise it's one of the more interesting ones I've heard about for comic books in awhile (though, admittedly, I've not kept close tabs).

SPOILERS FOLLOW | TRIGGER WARNING

You probably already made the connection, but I don't think I was ready for this issue's suicide content. I'm generally okay discussing the subject, and I can even be unsettling for others in how casually I can discuss my own ongoing suicidal thoughts and urges. That said, I was unprepared for story page 9, in which Chloe attempts to commit suicide by combining Cabernet Sauvignon with prescription medication overdose on her way to drown. My go-to plan for ending my life is also overdosing on meds (in 2011, I was going to pair them with Old Whiskey River), so the fourth panel on that page startled me.

Likewise, there's the caption box in panel 1 on story page 13: "I lost my fiancé. I lost my baby." That was the first intimation that Chloe had been pregnant; this, too, is a very sensitive subject for me, having coped poorly for a decade now with a miscarriage. Or panel 1 on story page 16, in which Philip's surviving friend Michael holds a finger gun to his head while discussing the effect that Mueller's book has had.

These things are supposed to be upsetting, of course. I know that Simone is far too understanding and sympathetic to go in these places for shock value; I might suspect that of another writer, but she's above reproach. I don't fault her for going in these places. I just don't know that I'm in the right place to go there with her at this time. I've yet to decide whether to continue with Clean Room. The next issue will be published on 18 November, so I've got several weeks to sift through things and steel myself for it, should I elect to keep going. I could also, of course, buy issue #2 but hold off on reading it if I don't feel up to it immediately.

Lest I forget, I do want to mention the art. Jon Davis-Hunt's interior work feels tonally perfect for this kind of storytelling, conveying a real world aesthetic without being photo realistic. Hallucinations are jarring because they so loudly disrupt that otherwise recognizable world. I confess I'm lukewarm about Jenny Frison's cover, though I admire how unconventional it is - particularly for a first issue. I've seen the solicited covers for the next three issues, and they're each terrific. For readers who aren't as tentative about the content as I am right now, Clean Room should prove as visually arresting as its narrative.

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