Tuesday, 19 July 2016

Clean Room, Volume 1: Immaculate Conception Review (Gail Simone, John Davis-Hunt)


Chloe’s fiancĂ© committed suicide after discovering the dark secrets of a Scientology/cult-like group called the Honest World Foundation headed by the charismatic and mysterious Astrid Mueller. Now Chloe wants answers for why her husband-to-be chose to die, what this organisation is really about… and what is the Clean Room? 

Gail Simone’s first Vertigo book is a messy horror/sci-fi wannabe-Grant Morrison-y comic that succeeds at inept storytelling and little else besides. The opening sequence in particular is an incompetent use of the comics form where the panels don’t form a coherent sequence (which inadvertently sets the tone for the book) - something about a truck hitting someone, possession, a monster appears out of nowhere, and then some guy’s getting beaten up by a crowd? It’s explained later in the book but it reads like nonsense, confusing the reader right off the bat rather than drawing them in. 

I think Simone’s attempting to parody Scientology too but I’m not sure what she’s trying to say about it besides “it’s creepy and exploits celebrities to spread its cause”, which, duh, what redundant observations! 

As for the story, Chloe finds out what the Clean Room is (which is basically Cerebro from the X-Men movies - real original Gail!), and… does nothing with the information. There follows some random scenes full of gratuitous horror, something about a ghoulish Joker figure hunting Chloe for no reason, a villain called the Surgeon who shows up in the last pages having had no build-up, some gibberish about a home in the sky full of villains or monsters which, again was a big detail that just got dumped in out of nowhere. 

These things in themselves are interesting but Simone has no idea how to connect them together into a story so it doesn’t add up to a hill of beans. Her approach is to ramble about chess pieces and nightmares and then throwing in some graphically violent gore scene to wake the reader up before resuming the drivel - that’s cheap and hackneyed storytelling when the writer has to resort to shock value to keep the audience interested! 

Simone’s written hundreds of comics but reading Clean Room is like reading an amateur’s effort. There’s incoherent plotting, sloppy storytelling, poorly-defined characters whose motivations remain nebulous throughout, and random scenes that add nothing. The approach is why I think she’s going for an Invisibles-style book which she achieves in the same way that Morrison’s series was often confusing, up-its-own-bumhole, and boring but still made more sense than this crap. 

I really enjoyed John Davis-Hunt’s artwork which was very accomplished - clean lines, good framing, a cinematic look, and the horror is powerfully realised. His style is like a cross between Frank Quitely and Jamie McKelvie’s which is quite something to see! 

Clean Room has some cool characters like the ghoulish Joker, this weird spirit that possesses humans and distorts their bodies, and the Surgeon, as well as brilliant art, but Gail Simone’s hopeless flailing in trying to assemble them into a worthwhile story kept me a long way from being engaged with the book. Fans of The Invisibles and pointlessly gory horror might like this but I wouldn’t recommend it to anyone really – Clean Room is a long way from an immaculately conceived comic!

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