Poor Joe. It wasn’t bad enough his wife wouldn’t come fly-fishing with him. Or that a strange compulsive disorder allowed him to take only 171 steps a day. Which is worse, the gouged-out eyes or the upside-down face? Is it good?
Clean Room #4 (Vertigo Comics)
Clean Room #4 opens 15 years in the past, with a fresh-faced Astrid Mueller just beginning to build her Scientology-like empire. She’s recruiting obvious whackdoodles to build whack-a-monster machines, but despite those ridiculous trappings, you get the sense that Mueller has her head on much straighter than her underlings do. After all, she’s felt the wrath of something strange before ….
There’s a bit of a change in dynamics between Killian Reed and Chloe Pierce, as the ramifications of Rand Tanner’s death continue to be felt. Pierce has her hands full at home, though, dealing with a similar yet altogether different threat than the one Mueller is battling in the Clean Room.
Is It Good?
Clean Room #4 completes the shocking shift in protagonist from Pierce to Mueller, something a lesser comic wouldn’t be able to pull off. Pierce is still here, but her story definitely feels like the B-plot now. You can kind of see the twist at the end (or at least part of it) coming, and the lead-up to get there isn’t nearly as terrifying as it could be, leaving a bewildering sense that the story of the book’s original main character seems tacked on and almost superfluous.
The real meat is in Mueller’s mano a garra showdown with an ancient, body-stealing demon—one she may have intimate familiarity with. But even that kind of drags on through pages of mutilation that’s a little more goofy than grotesque. Artist Jon Davis-Hunt does his best, but he doesn’t have the strongest concepts to work with here. Colorist Quinton Winter tends to make the blood look more like congealing paint, but he still shines in his contrast of the bright Clean Room with the dark of Pierce’s house.
Clean Room #4 advances the narrative, but is still the first issue of the series that could be tagged with the dreaded “decompression” label. One could imagine not missing much by only reading spoilers, especially considering that the normally beautiful and powerful horror elements are somehow kind of cartoonish this time. There’s a promise in the dialogue that things will pick up next issue, though, and the creative team has earned enough good will at this point to not doubt it.