19 June 2016

"Clean Room" #9 by Gail Simone

Clean Room #9, cover by Jenny Frison.
Clean Room #9
"Hell Above Us and Heaven Below"

Gail Simone - Writer
Jon Davis-Hunt - Artist
Quinton Winter - Colorist
Todd Klein - Letterer
Jenny Frison - Cover
Shelly Bond & Molly Mahan - Editors
Clean Room is created by Gail Simone
32 pages | $2.99 | Published 15 June 2016

After the intensity of issue #8, I knew only one thing for certain: I wanted to read issue #9 as soon as possible. I did buy it on Wednesday, but have been kept busy enough that I hadn't had time to sit down with it and accord it the attention it deserved until now.

SPOILERS FOLLOW

We open on a striking full page overhead shot of Astrid Mueller under the knife, unattributed dialogue blurbs detailing her medical condition and the efforts being taken to save her life. There are also a few such blurbs in an entirely different font that must surely belong to an Entity taunting Astrid. The first reads, "Honk if you love the devil" and the last, "It's harvest time in the meat hospital." Lettering usually goes unacknowledged, but Todd Klein has certainly helped to define the voices of the characters in this book.

Of course, more than all that is the splash page image of Astrid's face being cut right down the middle, her entire head split down to her upper lip by the scalpel and her forehead falling to either side in limp masses. We see some of her hair and the flesh of her throat and shoulders, but the page is dominated by what I think is a detail of her insides being overtaken by toothy parasites. Microscopic Entities, perhaps? It's a surreal image, so it's hard to even guess how literal that visual is, but the gist seems clear enough: Astrid has some issues.

Amazingly, Jon Davis-Hunt and Quinton Winter actually managed to one-up that opening page later in this issue, on story page 13, another splash page set during a flashback of young Astrid discovering what I guess is the Entity's ship. I'm gonna be honest: the only thing in all of fiction that has staggered me like this in terms of scale and ominousness was Unicron in The Transformers: The Movie. This thing is eerie as hell, sort of a twisted amalgamation of Bowser's Airship and the Crystal Castle that She-Ra defends. One cannot miss the dominant color of this thing being Astrid's primary color, pink.

Otherwise, the story isn't quite as intense as the last one, though that's more because issue #8 was just that perfect than because of any flaws with issue #9. The showdown between Chloe and Killian in the Clean Room over the former having brought Spark with her felt a bit rote since it was pretty obvious that Spark would, in fact, act to save Astrid. Of course, the final two story pages certainly restored the unpredictable nature of this book and negated pretty much all of the compassion for Astrid that we've felt for the last month since watching her be shot. The last time I felt this invested in -- and conflicted by -- a character in any medium, it was J.R. Ewing.

Speaking of shady Texans, we also meet a pair of "Christians" in Austin who clearly have designs on poaching Astrid's followers. My early guess is that we'll find they, too, know about the Entities (I don't think it's a coincidence that Chloe describes how the Entities have been perceived as demons over the years and been exorcised at times), though whether they're in league with at least some faction of the Entities is up in the air. As I've said often, it's hard to guess along with Gail Simone!

One last thing: I think this cover is my favorite of all nine so far by Jenny Frison. I really dig her covers for issues #5 and #7, but there's something about the dark shading here that makes this one more striking than it would have been had it been lit with the same aesthetic as previous covers. In a different context, Astrid's facial expression could be read as coy and/or sensual. But in this dark light (and three hands at her throat), it's creepy as hell.

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