With Rand Tanner’s suicide all over the news and a demon loose in the clean room, what will Astrid Mueller’s next move be? And why is she so calm?
Clean Room #5: Is it good?
Clean Room #5 (Vertigo)
Killian Reed, Mueller’s assistant, handles the Tanner situation for her, deploying a secret weapon of blackmail and enticement in typical Scientology fashion. That’ll get people to stop canceling their audit appointments!
Mueller meanwhile addresses the small matter of defending Earth from an astral invasion. Don’t think she’s a saint, though; Mueller’s the one who literally asked for it. Why does she conjure these things that make people kill themselves? Is the broken one sent to former protagonist Chloe Pierce still under warranty? Will it matter when she’s visited by something even more sinister?
Is It Good?
Clean Room #5 does a good job of portraying Astrid Mueller as a Dark Knight figure — maybe not the hero we deserve, but the hero we need right now. Turns out she digs up dirt on people for a very real and important reason, not just to dox them when they abandon her cult. We’re still left wondering why they intentionally attract celebrities, though, when it seems like Astrid’s work would benefit more from keeping a low profile.
Writer Gail Simone plugs in some amusing dialogue, both for Mueller and for Pierce’s defective wraith, but her best execution is in how Clean Room #5’s climax unfolds. We’re given hints of what to expect just as the solution unravels, delivering a series of tiny mysteries almost instantly resolved, creating a wave of realization that buoys Mueller’s final victory. The art by Jon Davis-Hunt is just as crucial in communicating the story, as a vision of the past is literally built around the characters in the clean room, reinforcing Mueller’s words.
Davis-Hunt’s minor missteps in issue #4 are annihilated from memory by the creepiest, most unnerving art you might ever see. The twisted bodies he creates are almost psychological templates of how people should not look, tweaking our natural instincts with surgical precision. The more “usual” depictions are equally masterful, though, as in the soft lines used to illustrate a footstep or falling water drops. The glowing design of the spirit haunting Pierce is another triumph, but one he’ll have to share with colorist Quinton Winter.
Clean Room #5 is the best issue of series so far, for all these reasons and more. Simone makes a few moments in these characters lives seem like a gripping saga, effectively highlighting that these are the major turning points of their stories. The art by Davis-Hunt and Winter is next level terror that all attempts at body horror should strive to emulate. The combined package is a psychological puzzle that simultaneously revolts and intrigues, makes us question what’s right and wrong, and ensures that we stick around to find the answers.