By Scott Southard. The fear of the self-help industry is real. Who knows what lies hide behind Tony Robbin’s enormous grinning mouth or the glassy eyed porcelain smile-stare of Joel Osteen. And let’s be real; David Miscavige’s face is the embodiment of a Faustian proposition. Ulterior motives become near-universal truths when we speak of motivational speakers or new age gurus. No matter how deep you dig, it seems as though you can never get past that outer layer of sheen and into the realities behind the facade.
Clean Room came along to bust through those glass walls and cut to the heart of the self- help media genre. It seems like the goal was to find out what’s missing in people’s lives that makes these seemingly quick fixes seem so magnetically attractive and astonishingly profitable. But a lack of concise direction and the ceaselessly frustrating proclivity to run before walking is giving Clean Room the tendency to parallel the object of its critique more than it knows.
To be direct, there’s too much going on. The first issue laid some jarringly spooky groundwork (there’s no denying the disturbing edge Gail Simone tiptoes along with her storyline), but the subsequent issues have added components that clutter the narrative and don’t have the framework to give them stakes worth caring about. There are moments of horror and big reveals that lose any punch they’d have because the audience either doesn’t know who’s who in the situation, or they don’t care. Just because we’ve heard a character’s name or seen them on an earlier page doesn’t mean we feel anything about them or have any understanding of their emotions and motives. There were many times during the third issue when I felt like I was watching atomic particles procedurally skittering without purpose or reason.
This is all a shame, because along with the inarguably neat core concepts, the look of the book fits its function like a glove at a murder scene. Gorgeously laid out panels provide explanatory stills for context and setting. Crisp visuals fill out the story, especially in sequences of heavy violence (and they don’t back away from the gore). The book looks very cool, and it’s a shame that the aesthetics aren’t enough to bolster the rest of it.
Clean Room #3 is a clear example of the “one hand giveth, the other taketh away” paradox. While the umbrella concepts of murderous self-help gurus, sterile spaces that cut into deeply repressed truths, and a mysterious book that induces suicide are all unsettlingly compelling, the minutiae that’s underneath is lacking, incomplete, and disordered. Even the characters themselves could be interesting, fully-formed archetypes, but the swift pace of the comic has necessitated brushing over the details that could make Clean Room flourish. Instead, we have a fragmented series of events blanketed by a thin layer of eerie mystery. I feel like I’m still searching for the miracle answer that will fill the hole leaving me unsatisfied with what’s around me. The answers have to be in one of these books…
Written by Gail Simone
Art by Jon Davis-Hunt
Colors by Quinton Winter
Letters by Todd Klein
6 out of 10