With the cancellation of the fantastic DCYou comic, Secret Six (again), I'd have not been surprised if Simone had stuck two fingers up at DC and vowed never to work for them again after the way she was treated by them these past few years. And she is no longer writing superhero comics for DC after a long career doing so (although she has dropped hints on her tumblr lately that she is writing a "big two" character again, so...). Anyway she hasn't completely cut ties with them as she has created this horror comic for DC's adult orientated Vertigo label. This comic sees Simone really stretching her writing muscles into a new genre for her, does she carry it off? Of course she does. Clean Room is the story of a journalist called Chloe Pierce investigating a not-Scientology-honest style cult called "The Honest World Foundation", one that resulted in the suicide of her boyfriend who was obssessed with the book written by a second rate horror fiction writer Astrid Mueller that functions as the cult's bible. Chloe is determined to get answers from Mueller about "The Clean Room", a top secret sanctuary for cult members where your deepest fears and worst memories are relived. Along the way we are treated to some truly disgusting visions of creepy monsters that are somehow linked to the cult, and it allows the artist to go wild with some grotesque designs that are reminiscent of the works of Junji Ito I have covered here previously. The artist is John Davis-Hunt, and I really like his clean, crisp artwork. This is the sort of horror art I'd like to have seen in the Hellraiser books. But I digress, so lets take a look at the first collected Clean Room trade.
|Chloe attempting suicide.|
Astrid: "Mama? Why is papa's face made of snakes?"
Smash to black. Then we get another flashback, this time to Chloe as she attempts suicide by drowning herself after losing her fiance Philip to a self inflicted gunshot. She wakes up in hospital, restrained to prevent her harming herself. Her "rescuers" were the three kindly brothers who are her neighbours.
Chloe: "They pulled me out. I told them I was grateful because I didn't want to make them sad... sometimes the truth hurts the people with the best hearts the most."
She says all the right things to get her restraints taken off. Then one day a nurse offers her a copy of Astrid's book "The Honest World" saying it changed her life. Chloe sees blood drip on it then sees a full on hallucination of Philip with half his head gone. "And after I started screaming, they put the restraints back on, for a while" she recounts.
|Chloe has an unwelcome vision of her dead boyfriend.|
Chloe goes and finds a homeless man called Mikey who used to be a friend of Phil's. She tells him she wants to know all about "the Blue Utopians", but Mikey yells at her to leave it and that he has been inside "the Clean Room". It looks like a room but shows you "everything".
Mikey: "She says it's for helping. Just a few questions, right? It's worse than hell. Worse than emptiness. I'm afraid of her more than Satan, Chloe".
He pleads with her to leave things well alone. Astrid took his drugs and now he hears voices all the time. Chloe leaves him thinking Astrid is "done playing God with people. Let's see what fucking havoc a journalism degree can really create."
After a month of pestering, she finally sets foot in the Foundation's headquarters. She isn't going to be speaking with Astrid, but a severe woman called Killian. Killian greets her and says that she can offer Chloe an exclusive look at the office, but Chloe says the lack of Astrid's signature perfume tells her this isn't her office.
|Killian and a very dirty demon.|
Angrily Chloe says she wants to see Astrid and the Clean Room now because they are implicated in the death of her fiance. Killian says she needs to be careful about what she writes. Chloe responds that journalists "have a way of being sued, broken and destroyed when they write about her." But you see, Chloe has nothing left to lose. And then Astrid and her minders walk in, "let's chat shall we?" Astrid says.
|Astrid (centre) and minders.|
Back with Astrid and Chloe, Astrid asks how they can fulfil Chloe's "wants". Killian says she should escort Chloe out of the building, she is a "pre-emotic" and not there in good faith. Astrid agrees and starts to leave, but Chloe shouts after her:
Chloe: "Why do you have a private cemetary? Why are your disciples discouraged from outside contact? What are the Blue Utopians Ms. Mueller?"
Astrid pauses then agrees to talk privately with Chloe. They drink tea and Chloe tells her about her fiance's suicide after following her cult.
Astrid asks how selfish she thinks her grief is. Does she find that people speak highly of her dead fiance? Chloe says yes they do and she feels like she is not allowed to be angry at him. Then the questions take a weird turn, Astrid asks if she misses his erection and how long was it before she masturbated after his death. Then Chloe sees the obscene talking monster again. Astrid takes a hold of her and asks her what she sees, Chloe lies and says she didn't see anything.
|Another filthy fiend vision.|
Inside is a patient called Walter Fennister. He's been having trouble sleeping. Astrid keeps questioning him and he admits that he can't sleep because he is afraid. He's afraid of "the White Monkeys" which his mother told him would come and eat his penis even if he just touched it to pee. And after it grew back, they'd eat it again.
Then suddenly the white room is replaced by the image of a graveyard. Chloe thinks she is hallucinating, while Astrid mercilessly forces Walter to admit that he wanted a pair of children to touch his penis and when they refused he killed them by slashing their eyes out. "Why are you making me remember all this?" he says angrily. Then the graveyard recedes and they are back in the white room.
|Inside a memory in the Clean Room.|
We then jump forwards to another session in the Clean Room. Astrid has an assisstant called Terry this time and they are going to be treating a man Joe Wei. Terry is unsure why, the man is a "Frell" who registered nothing on the "meter". Astrid merely responds that "Everyone's a nobody Terry. Until they are not."
|Time for another "patient".|
Then we cut to Chloe's house. Someone or something has broken in. Her three neighbours go in and confront the person as to what they think they are doing in there. The person has it's back to them and just goes, "Booooop". Meanwhile Chloe is angrily filling her car with petrol at a filling station, still furious over her experience in the Clean Room.
Back in the Clean Room, the room receedes and is replaced with an image of the countryside, with Mr. Wei fishing, then we see the trauma that ruined his life. He was abducted by aliens. At Chloe's house the creature who broke in reveals himself to have a horrible, wicked witch style face and he beats up the three brothers and throws one through the window before leaving.
|The mysterious intruder.|
In the Clean Room Joe Wei is being shown having experiments performed on him. Astrid says she wants to see who is doing this to him. At the cafe, Killian is tucking into her ice-cream and waffles, Chloe isn't so keen. She thinks the organisation got her credit card stopped because they are "stropping" her, which is how they deal with threats to them. Killian says the road she is on doesn't go anywhere good and she has a proposition for her:
Killian: "We grab two bottles of whatever passes for wine in this redneck rodeo. We find the nearest hotel with the fewest bugs. And then we fuck 'til our brains fall out."
Unsurprisingly Chloe doesn't take her up on this offer, then a news report comes onto the TV in the cafe with a story of an actor called Rand Tanner who has been found dead by his own hand. As he was considered one of Astrid Mueller's success stories, this is bad news for the organisation and Killian takes her leave of Chloe to go do some damage control but not before telling her she finds her "obscenely attractive".
|Bad news for the Foundation.|
|Jonas Kemf takes over the luckless Joe Wei.|
Back in the present, as Killian flies back to HQ she rages at the news coverage of Rand Tanner's death. Another woman called Capone says she can shut the reporter up. But Killian says she has other ideas of what Capone, a "rook" now can do. And it needs to be something drastic as people are turning in their memberships at their outreach centers in large numbers.
Killian calls Chloe, hoping to get her to agree to help them. She'll get her interview with Astrid, her "pick of the jobs" just so they can get a fair message out. They'll be her best friends in that case.
Chloe: "Fuck you. Fuck your favour. And fuck Astrid fucking Mueller."
"She's thinking it over" says Killian to Capone. "Clearly" says Capone drily. Chloe arrives back home to find her neighbours alive, though looking rather beaten up. They tell her about the... thing they found in her house. Chloe tries to warn them off helping her again but they say they always will because they are her neighbours.
|Chloe's neighbours refuse to stop looking out for her.|
Chloe: "I was so proud the day I got that job. Screw Superman, I always wanted to be Lois Lane".
Suddenly she hears a voice asking her where all her knives are. She checks the kitchen drawer and none are in there. The voice tells her to check the bathroon and all the knives are in the bath standing point up.
Astrid: "Do you know what you've done, you imbecile? You've doomed us all Terry. You've killed us all."
Back at Chloe's house she asks the voice if he is with Astrid's people. It says no it's "one of the others." Chloe asks what it wants, and looming behind her it says, "I'm supposed to help you kill yourself."
|Joe/Jonas "killed" by Terry.|
In LA, an actress called Chrissy settles into a relaxing jacuzzi. Much to her surprise she is joined by Capone. Capone lays out the terms of the blackmail they are going to subject Chrissy to. That she is pregnant with Rand Tanner's child (even though she barely knew him and it's her fiance's kid), and that this will help Astrid out of a pickle, even though Chrissy isn't a member of the organisation. But it's a two-way deal, if Chrissy plays along, she'll have her pick of film roles. Her fiance will have to go, but that appears to be a sacrifice Chrissy is willing to make as she reluctantly agrees (not that she had much choice).
|Another possession as Spark inhabits one of her neighbours.|
In the Clean Room, another possession takes place. This time Jonas Kemf finds a new home inside Terry. He asks her what time it is, then tells her:
Jonas/Terry: "It's harvest time Astrid Mueller. Harvest time in the meat hospital. For every last fucking one of you vermin."
Astrid says she's going to walk out of the room right now, but Jonas says he can't allow it. So Astrid calls the people monitoring the session for Terry's "lifebox". Meanwhile more bad news over Rand Tanner's death, every Hollywood member is cancelling their "reading" that week.
Chloe wakes up having passed out again. The being inside Rene called Spark suddenly gets serious, he tells her she has to run, that "he" is coming. But it's too late, and we see the back of a man coming up to her door.
In the Clean Room, Terry/Jonas point Terry's gun at Astrid saying he wants to enjoy this. Astrid, unruffled says:
Astrid: "Prohibido tirarse de cabenza. And Maddy Rivera's first two-piece".
This transforms the Clean Room into a swimming baths and we see Terry's worst nightmare play out. When he was a teenager he was minding his younger brother at the swimming baths. Distracted by Maddy Rivera's skimpy bathing suit he didn't stop his brother diving into the too shallow pool and breaking his neck.
|Terry's worst memory activated.|
There is also good news that Chrissy has gone public with her pregnancy supposedly being Rand Tanner's baby. The celebrity's are back on board and Killian sardonically notes their "flu must have cleared up. A goddamn regular miracle cure."
Terry lies curled up on the floor of the Clean Room, he mutters "It's all over Astrid. The surgeon is coming. Everything is falling. Everyone is falling". At Chloe's house,Rene/Spark tells her the surgeon is here and they have to go, "he's like a hurricane of wrong. The things he'll do. His tools..." But Chloe is defiant, she needs to know what is going on, why Philip killed himself, so "Rene" touches her forehead and shows her.
|Philip has the truth revealed to him.|
Astrid asks Terry where the Surgeon is, and he says he's with Chloe. And when she answers the door it is to a pleasant and friendly looking old man, who politely tells her he's put them in a "pretty pickle" and may he come in? He tells Chloe he was one of the doctors who first treated her when she tried to commit suicide. He tries to convince her she is just having delusions and touches her hand saying he can get her into hospital for some aftercare.
Astrid gets annoyed with Killian who should have been keeping an eye on Chloe. The Rand Tanner situation was "nothing". Chloe agrees to go with the Surgeon and goes into the bathroom to get some things. But she arms herself with two knives from where they had been left in the bath. Astrid rushes to contact Dr. Hagen, as Chloe, egged on by a monstrous vision, stabs both knives into the Surgeon's head.
|An impressive No Sell there.|
Chloe's phone goes and it is Astrid who asks to speak to the Surgeon. He tells him to leave Chloe alone, she has a Cloudbuster and it is pointing directly at his home "somewhere directly above Barcelona, isn't it?" She says if he doesn't leave Chloe's now she pull the trigger on his existence. So the Surgeon retreats for now. "What are you?" asks Chloe as he leaves.
The Surgeon: "Are we aliens or demons, is that what you mean Chloe Pierce? Overlords or Angels? We are none of those things. We are inmates".
And with that he is gone. We finish this volume with Chloe, her three neighbours, Astrid, Capone and Killian all at Philip's graveside. Chloe asks why Astrid sacrificed her weapon for her.
Astrid: "Because you access the dead. I know you do. I can lose a Rook Chloe. I cannot lose a Queen".
Chloe starts to tear up at the realisation all of Astrids horrible theories are true. Astrid asks if she wants a hug and gets Killian to do it for her. And it ends with Chloe thinking with determination that "this is nowhere near over."
|So many questions, can't wait for the answers!|