25 January 2016

"Clean Room" #4 by Gail Simone

Clean Room #4 by Gail Simone
"Turn That Frown Upside Down"

Gail Simone - Writer
Jon Davis-Hunt - Artist
Quinton Winter - Colorist
Todd Klein - Letterer
Jenny Frison - Cover Art
Rowena Yow - Associate Editor
Shelly Bond - Editor
Clean Room is created by Gail Simone
32 pages/$3.99
Date of Publication: 22 January 2016
Suggested for mature readers

I spent this past weekend with three of my friends holed up at a cabin in Somewhere, KY (I didn't care enough to bother finding out just where we were). Knowing we were likely to be snowed in and not even leave, I decided to take along some reading material, including all four issues of Clean Room, partly because I had just bought issue #4 the night before we left and hadn't yet read it and partly because I'd hoped at least one of the others might pick it up so we could talk about it. That may have been the perfect setting for reading this issue!

Issue #3 made clear that Astrid Mueller isn't just turning her clients' demons against them. She's searching for something or someone, and now she's found it. Her interrogation with this "entity" is only partially illuminating; we learn that this is the same thing that struck Astrid with a car when she was a child (shown in issue #1), but not much else. I had previously surmised that Astrid's Clean Room operation was constructed for the purpose of engaging these demons, so at least that's confirmed.

I had also previously theorized that her followers who had committed suicide did so by being goaded into it by demons released after their Clean Room experiences, and the end of this issue also seems to confirm that. Although, there's something about that demon's wording ("I'm supposed to help you kill yourself!") that suggests issue #5 may reveal some disharmony between the demons. One would expect Chloe not to be killed off five issues into this book. though it's admittedly hard to guess along with Gail Simone!

I got a laugh out of story page 9, panels 5 & 6. Chloe rejects Killian Reed's attempt to recruit her for spin control:
Killian - "Chloe? Please pick up. This is childish."
Chloe - "Dear Ms. Reed...fuck you, fuck your favor, and fuck Astrid fucking Mueller! How's that for childish?"
Killian, to Capone - "She's thinking it over."
It's an old gag, but when used properly it's still a good one. Killian Reed's no-nonsense persona so far makes the moment very nearly "warm" in its way, giving us a glimpse into the human being beneath the ruthless bodyguard. She continues to be the character who intrigues me the most in this book.

When I read Simone's run on Batgirl, I periodically made mention of how that book read as a monthly, rather than as a graphic novel serialized over several issues. That storytelling sensibility is just as present here with Clean Room. I haven't yet felt that any issue has been padded with filler to stretch out a simple story. Instead, each issue has been engrossing and interesting all on its own, and left me piqued for the next.

As for Jon Davis-Hunt's art, Simone gave him quite a lot to handle this time. There's the sex mural on story page 3, panel 3, which is repeated all over story page 4. Story page 7, page 2 has what is a simple shot of just a TV newscaster's talking head against a backdrop of a skyline, but what makes it such an impressive work is that we see a champagne flute smashing into the screen. There are several layers here: the flute, the cracking screen, the telecaster's face, and the backdrop, including station logo. It's a deceptively complex image, the kind that no one is going to approach Davis-Hunt at a show and request he sketch for them, but it's a testament to the skill he's developed so far.

Speaking of art, one of my friends has developed his skills and talent in that area over the course of his entire life and showed me on Saturday what I could do with the wash element of my sketching pencils. He recreated Chloe's face from Jenny Frison's cover to issue #3 and then had me brush over it in places. He gets all the credit for this image; at best, I just get credit for not ruining it!

20 January 2016

Those Darlins - The Farewell Tour at Zanzabar

Those Darlins
Tuesday, 19 January 2016
Zanzabar | Louisville, KY

Those Darlins first came to my attention in 2009 when "Wild One" was included in a free digital sampler I got from iTunes. I couldn't tell you who or what else was in that sampler, but "Wild One" grabbed my attention and refused to let go. Before the song finished playing the first time, I was already searching to see what else they had released. Their sound was that immediately interesting. That was their only single at the time, though it did have a B-track: a cover of Ernest Tubb's "Drivin' Nails in My Coffin". I noted that they didn't revise the gendering of the lyrics, leaving the sweetheart who said they were through as "she".

I couldn't decide: were Those Darlins celebrating or subverting? After awhile, I came to understand that they were doing both. It isn't a mockery sort of subversion; they genuinely care about the tapestry of artists who have come before who have influenced them. But they had clear notions of what they wanted to contribute to that tapestry, which is the distinguishing element of artists from entertainers. I was invested, and have remained invested ever since.

Unfortunately, Crohn's managed to sabotage every single show they played in Louisville after I became aware of them. In 2013, they played Zanzabar a week before my birthday. I intended to go see them then, but of course, stupid guts ruined that, too. It was dispiriting to learn that they have decided to disband, which made it all the more imperative that I finally get to see them live.

Though my guts finally cooperated, I did have to be tested in the afternoon for glaucoma. Being cleared of that made seeing them all the sweeter. When I mentioned the pairing of being cleared of glaucoma and seeing a concert to one friend, she asked if I was seeing Willie Nelson. Aside from being what I consider a fairly witty pot joke, it turned out that the show would have prompted me to think of Willie anyway. Willie was the first concert I ever attended by myself, back in 2002. He played for what seemed to be ages, rarely pausing between songs. In fact, Willie would start strumming the next song while the Family was still winding down the last.

That was very nearly the pace that Those Darlins sustained throughout their generous two-hour, 25-song set last night. One song after another, hitting pretty much everything I hoped to hear except "The Whole Damn Thing". During the encore, Linwood Regensburg asked if anyone had any requests. I shouted for it from my perch at the bar, but to no avail. That's the closest to disappointment that I got the entire night.

It wasn't just the quantity of songs that impressed me; it was the quality. A place like Zanzabar, as cozy and likable as it is, isn't designed for full band musical performances. For the most part, though, I could hear clearly each instrument and Jessi Zazu's leading vocals all night long. (Nikki Kvarnes's vocals weren't as audible from where I sat, which may have been attributable to simple geometry related to where I was seated more than anything on their end.)

Being the nerd I am, I brought along a little memo pad to track the set list throughout the show. I missed a few songs, partly because a woman seated next to me struck up conversation halfway into the show. As reasons for missing a few songs go, that's one I can live with. After awhile, she went out to smoke and I returned to giving the show my undivided attention. Thankfully, Jessi Zazu was gracious enough to tweet me the song titles I missed:

[You'll find the entire set list on setlist.fm here.]

My first perception of Those Darlins was one of intimidation, if I'm being entirely honest. They struck me as the kind of artists who cared about the integrity of their work, and not one bit about being approached by anyone for anything. I couldn't have been wronger about that second point! I watched as the band mingled not only with their family and friends, but with fans in the time leading up to the start of their set. I had brought the jacket to my vinyl copy of Blur the Line to get signed, but it seemed intrusive to hit them up for signatures then so I refrained. After the show, Jessi came to the merchandise table and she kindly signed it. She has one of the most delightful smiles I've seen in awhile, exuberant and warm -- the antithesis to the image I initially had of her and her bandmates.

I don't think it was entirely just me, though. Though the instrumentation on each song was impressively faithful to what I had come to know from the studio recordings, I noted that Jessi's vocal phrasing had evolved. Most noticeably, she wasn't as forceful on aggressive lines. It struck me as a mark of maturation, trusting the song enough to not punctuate her delivery of its lyrics so firmly. This isn't to suggest that she was muted or even mellow; her passion never wavered at any point in the show. I would liken it to watching a thrower evolve into a pitcher, still bringing the heat but also learning finesse so as not to rely on power alone.

What comes next for Jessi or the other Darlins, I have no way of knowing, but I know this: When they close the book on this band at the end of their Farewell Tour in Nashville on the 29th, they'll be leaving something that I as a fan hope they're proud of having done. They elected to create their own label so they would own their music, knowing they were sacrificing the kind of marketing support that a big label could have provided, because they cared that much about their music. They have evolved as writers and as performers as organically as artists can, having made along the way music that has been thoughtful, raw, vulnerable, witty, comforting, and just plain fun. I'm sorry I missed all their other shows, but I'm thrilled that I finally got to one here at the end.