This is the time of year to jump in with both feet to all things horror, its getting close to all hallows eve, and the witching hour is nigh- is that enough Halloween clichés for now? it is- ok good! But this book is something that is unique and strange, and will make your skin crawl in the best possible way.
The cover for this book, while not by the interior artist, does a great job at capturing the off-putting nature of this story, and really evokes a low groan out of you if you look at it too long (it really is very creepy). The interior artwork, by contrast has the ability to balance more effectively between the creepy, freaky and absurd along with very “normal” and mundane moments.
I like that this book gives us a nice (“nice” being objective here) opening sequence as a bit of prologue, but that really effectively uses it’s time to build up the “otherness” of the powers that lie beneath the surface of this story. I appreciated the use of the little girl as the focal point of that sequence, and that the story was translated into English from whatever language it’s being spoken in. The moments gave the scene a very cinematic vibe, and one that I think helps to draw the reader in very fully.
That opening scene is punctuated with a last line that bleeds over to the title page for the book, and really just amps up the whole unsettling nature of the story. The little girl, having been involved in some inexplicable stuff, and was at the mercy of what seems to be a very evil spirit, is in a hospital room, talking very calmly to her parents, when she asks her mother where her father is… and her father says “im right here with you, always” to which the little girl gives a chilling and calm response “mama- why is papa’s face made of snakes?”
That moment blew my hair back, because I wasn’t expecting such a crazy line from such a calm young girl. It felt like something to act as a buffer for the title sequence of a horror movie- and I think that this book could seemingly translate fairly easily into a different medium, like a movie (maybe Lionsgate will throw money at Gail to option this thing…).
The main portion of the story is no less off-putting, when it opens with a topless woman trying to commit suicide by drowning herself in a lake late at night; Again, a moment that I did not expect coming into this book. The first real horror moment of the book comes in almost halfway through the issue, when Chloe (the woman who tried to drown herself in a lake by moonlight) sees her dead fiancée’s face in her hospital room- with the entire right side of his head missing. This is when we find out that her fiancée had killed himself, with a gun, and that sent her into the downward spiral she found herself in when she climbed into that lake.
But we find out that her fiancee’s death is anything but ordinary. It turns out that he had gotten wrapped up in some big time self-help guru’s “self-actualization” stuff. Reading a book that is said once you read it, it either makes you enlightened, or insane. It would seem that Chloe’s fiancée falls into the latter category. Chloe goes on a mission to find the truth, to expose the author, Astrid Mueller.
The last scene of the issue really helps to ramp up the weird and creepiness of the book, and introduces us to our first moment of the demons or monsters (or whatever they are) speaking and interacting with people. We see Chloe go to Astrid Mueller’s compound in Chicago to confront her, where she is put in a room with Astrid’s assistant. On the way there, we get a bit of good and humanizing humor from Chloe, which is something that I always appreciate from Gail’s writing- the ability to humanize even the most inhuman of characters. The line “the queen went and got herself a moat.” As she crosses over an indoor river in Astrid Mueller’s building actually drew a brief chuckle out of me.
The thing that comes out and speaks to Chloe during her interview with Astrid’s assistant was something that I was absolutely not expecting- in both it’s appearance and its horribly off-putting dialogue. The gross and sexual things it said to Chloe, and with Ms. Reed (the assistant) being so oblivious to what it was saying, just made it worse. The creature’s elongated skull, and harshly angular chin, and its bubblegum pink flesh, with black, spindly spider legs coming out of it’s back- just made the thing the stuff of nightmares made real. A little too real for Chloe, who freaks the heck out (and who can blame her???).
The end of this issue really threw me off, I wasn’t sure we would get to meet Astrid Mueller right away, but I think that it fits for things to have moved quickly for this first issue, and then get a bit more backstory, and maybe even some more details about the titular “Clean Room”. I hope that things can maintain this level of creepy awkwardness, because I really enjoyed how strange and unnatural this whole story felt. The artwork really felt very at home with this kind of story, and I think that Gail’s writing is very well suited for this- she excels at writing damaged characters, and it seems like the world Clean Room is set in is FULL of damaged characters…
I wasn’t sure what to expect from this issue, but I can safely say that it was nothing at all like I expected, and it was done in the best way possible- if you want to read a book that will probably give you nightmares, then this is a good place to start.