25 November 2015

"Clean Room" #2 by Gail Simone

Clean Room #2
"Spring Cleaning, Part Two"

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: 18 November 2015
Suggested for mature readers

I was left uncomfortable by the first issue because of its disconcerting suicide content, and I wasn't entirely sure whether I was going to continue with this book. Obviously, I did decide to pick up the second issue because that's what this post covers. I was tentative about it, but for the most part felt more at ease this time. Maybe it's because I went into this issue with an idea what I might find, or maybe I was just feeling more stable the evening I read this one.

The crux of this issue is that Chloe confronts Astrid Mueller, throwing down her questions and accusations, and in turn is introduced to the titular Clean Room. I appreciate that Chloe's resolve wavers early. It appears to be attributable to some special effect that Astrid has on people. My reflexive reading of this is that it's not so much the creation of self-doubt as it is a magnification of existing self-doubt. I like that our intrepid protagonist might actually not be entirely sure of herself, despite such a clear cut reason to go after Astrid.

When we finally see the Clean Room, in a double splash page on story pages 11 and 12. It looks a bit like if HAL had designed the Danger Room, stark and oppressive despite being so seemingly open. This is, of course, also how the room appears to affect people in it, such as Dwight Fennister. Fennister is the kind of character that Gail Simone crafts as well as anyone else writing in any medium; on story page 13, we're given every reason to sympathize with him and to feel protective of him, as Chloe does. The last panel on that page of Fennister staring directly at us, his hands folded and desperation on his face, may be the most striking image that Jon Davis-Hunt has illustrated for either issue.

Three story pages later, we are betrayed by the truth of his heinous past. Chloe's outrage gives voice to our own. By introducing him as she did, Simone took what is ultimately (probably) a throwaway character and used him to elicit a visceral emotional reaction that I don't think would have been there otherwise. Atrocious as his acts were, I wonder if we've become so accustomed to such things in the news, much less entertainment, that Fennister would have provoked me much if he'd been presented differently.

The top panel of story page 18 has Astrid coldly dismiss Chloe's insistence that she couldn't just let Fennister go: "I am not law enforcement, Chloe. I was looking for something else." Chloe believes that Astrid has shrugged off Fennister's confession, having deemed him "clean", but I expect we're going to see Detective Markos find his mangled corpse at some point, tormented into killing himself by the hallucinations that appear to be developed in the Clean Room. That, in turn, begs the question what it is that Chloe will eventually find out about her deceased fiance, Philip, that preyed on him so much that he killed himself. We know now that Astrid doesn't directly make someone suicidal; rather, they are killed by the manifestation of what is "cleaned" from them. This is rich ground for storytelling, because it gets at themes of morality and the shades of gray where monsters can become sympathetic and heroes become soiled.

My chief qualm at this point is that I feel put off by how this book is being played up as some sort of demented fun. To read some of the blurbs about this book, it sounds like something from the tawdry milieu of A Nightmare on Elm Street when it's more in keeping with, say, The Blair Witch Project (or, for those who've seen it, Antichrist). This isn't a book to gawk at, but rather one to allow to get under your skin. In any event, I'm more committed to reading issue #3 at the end of #2 than I was to reading #2 at the end of #1.