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Comic Book / Clean Room

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Never before has pink been so scary.

"What's scary to me at this point is the loss of control. Think of the power we give, the information we share with people who do not have our best interests at heart."

Clean Room is a Vertigo Comics series written by Gail Simone.

It tells the story of Chloe Pierce, a journalist whose fiancé commits suicide after becoming involved with the works of Astrid Mueller, a mysterious author and leader of the Honest World Foundation, a cult-like organization. As Chloe looks into the foundation's workings and gets closer to Astrid, she discovers that it has a grander purpose.

The comic ended after 18 issues.

Clean Room provides examples of the following tropes:

  • And I Must Scream: the Pony Man has been surgically rebuilt to have a face and head resembling a horse. His Single Tear speaks to a conscious mind within, aware of his torment, but powerless to address it.
  • Arbitrarily Large Bank Account: Astrid Mueller and her organization have almost unlimited wealth at their disposal; Astrid herself owns multiple custom-built high-rise apartments in cities around the world and a literal mountain. It's implied that this is due to her massive following dedicating all their resources to the cause, voluntarily or no. Chloe also gets access at the end of issue 12.
  • Artificial Intelligence: According to one demon, the engine of the Clean Room is "more like a pet", implying limited self-awareness and agency.
  • Body Horror: Half the horror of this horror series derives from this.
    • While possessed by demons, several individuals engage in gruesome self-harm. Perhaps the worst was Dwight Fennister, who tore off his own genitals and packaged them.
    • Michael Parks' bones (most of them) are snapped as he is tied into a human pretzel. Also his left hand is shifted into a second right hand.
    • One possessed man physically rearranged the skin of his face with no tools of any kind.
    • Anika Wells is abducted and subjected to malicious surgery, causing the left half of her body to wither to uselessness over several years.
  • Body Surf: Demons can exist unto themselves, but possess human bodies for their own amusement.
  • Chekhov's Gun: A demon fixes all the sharp objects in Chloe's house point-up in her bathtub. It looks like a lethal trap for a struggle or staged suicide but he's actually warning her that she'll need a weapon and putting all of them in one easily-accessible place for her.
  • Church of Happyology: Astrid Mueller, a gothic fiction turned self-help book author, and her many followers.
  • Cold-Blooded Torture: Todd and Sandy were distributors for Wenuka's company. Todd and Sandy missed their sales quotas. Todd and Sandy went to the Dark Room, where Wenuka showed them all his toys. Todd came out. Sandy was never seen again.
  • Color-Coded Castes: People in the Honest World Foundation visiting the titular clean room dress in colored overalls with white details based on their rank within the organization. Astrid, the organization's leader and founder, wears pink; Rook's, i.e. Astrid's closest bodyguards, wear grey; common security guards wear green; Chloe, as a wazir and Astrid's close lieutenant, wears purple; "Frells", i.e. regular people and "nobodys", wear light blue, and potentially special visitors, like Chloe during her first visit, wear orange.
  • Dark Secret: Promotion in the Mueller organization involves confessing your deepest secrets - failures, crimes, etc. This information is filed until it is needed for coercion or to trigger a Freak Out.
  • Dead Man Writing: Astrid has prepared for the eventuality of her death with a tape addressed to Killian. On her orders, Killian pulls and watches it slightly in advance.
  • Demonic Possession: Invoked in name only. The demons usually Body Surf with no preparation or action required on the part of the host.
  • Do-Anything Robot: Implied to be the case with the clean room's engine. It's an unassuming white metal ball most of the time, but it can transcend time, space, and physicality or manifest a BFG or killer robot as needed.
  • Driven to Suicide: Multiple examples.
    • Philip, Chloe's fiance, before the story begins.
    • Chloe attempts this at the beginning, though she is saved by the Haverlin brothers.
    • Implied with Rand Tanner.
    • According to Avil Demakos, this is common among members of Astrid's organization. From Philip's reveal it's likely the Mueller Organization has a certain attrition rate as adherents rise in rank.
  • Early-Installment Weirdness: It may be an issue with the inking, but in the first few issues, Astrid and Killian have a more tanned, brown-toned skin color than they do in later issues.
  • Evil Versus Evil: Astrid Mueller and her organization use bribery, blackmail, coercion, and force to manipulate their allies and enemies, and even promotion within the organization has a decent casualty rate. The demons are worse.
  • Eye Scream: Chloe lands one on the Surgeon when he invades her house.
  • Fan Disservice: Male and female nudity are frequently presented in context of Body Horror or Cold-Blooded Torture.
  • Fanservice: Chloe's first scene has her topless as she attempts to drown herself. Multiple female characters strip to their underwear to enter the clean room.
  • Flashback: While the main plot follows Chloe in the present, the story frequently cuts to Astrid's past to introduce specific elements.
  • Freak Out: The fastest way to neutralize a demon possessing a human is to trigger this with deep psychological fear or guilt. The trauma ejects the demon, but the host is mentally broken in the process. Astrid specifically surrounds herself with individuals she can trigger in this way for her own safety - but not theirs.
  • Godzilla Threshold: When Astrid is shot and the surgeons are unable to save her for more than a few minutes, someone proposes allowing a demon to possess and rebuild her. There's little reason to trust the demon and literally no precedent that this will work out; but she'll be dead within minutes otherwise.
  • Go Mad from the Revelation: The apparent cause of many suicides within the Mueller organization.
  • Gunboat Diplomacy: Astrid threatens with her cloudbuster to negotiate with the Surgeon.
  • Healing Factor: A demon possessing a human host can mold the host's flesh like clay. Sometimes they use this to fix damage done to the host. Often they use it to warp the flesh into something horrifying for bystanders or the evacuated host to discover.
  • Heel–Face Turn: One demon was so thoroughly exorcised it's actually interested in defending humans against the worst of the other demons. It's still acclimating to human values and isn't great at communicating its intentions; Chloe is the only one to interpret its actions correctly.
    • Another example is an unnamed banker: he was willing to cooperate with the demons for a cut of their financial gains, but refused to continue when they told him their intentions. He was punished severely for his choices.
  • Heroic BSoD: Astrid goes into retreat after her gunshot-related brush with death.
  • Hero with Bad Publicity: Astrid's organization's adherents are ferociously loyal but vilified by the press and society at large. The real question is whether Astrid is a hero herself since she accepts all methods in her war against the demons.
  • Human Knot: The fate of Michael Parks.
  • I Cannot Self-Terminate: Anika Wells' body is withered to the point she has been bedridden for years. She begs Astrid to let her die since life is agonizing.
  • Implied Death Threat: Astrid deploys one against a sexual predator while hitchhiking.
    Astrid: If you don't remove your hand I will turn you into an urban legend. A cautionary tale, to be specific. "The man who picked up the wrong teenager," it will be called. Told at truck stops to shivering long-haulers for decades to come.
  • Imported Alien Phlebotinum: The Clean Room itself is built from technology from demons' crash sites.
  • Intrepid Reporter: Chloe.
  • Invisible to Normals: Outside the clean room, the Entities (at least, the ones who don't try to hide) are apparently only perceivable to people who have survived being clinically dead for a short time, such as Astrid and Chloe.
  • I Will Punish Your Friend for Your Failure: how the Surgeon recruits the mole below: by threatening the target's spouse with elective plastic surgery.
  • Journey to the Center of the Mind: One function of the Clean Room is to allow observers to physically explore the memories of one subject within it.
  • Kick the Dog: The demon that rescues Astrid from the brink of death is rewarded by imprisonment and constant electric shocks by the Mueller organization.
  • Killed to Uphold the Masquerade: Unbeknownst to him, Reston Wenuka was supported by the demons to challenge Astrid's business resources. As soon as she reveals the Masquerade to him he is executed by his demon-possessed right-hand man.
  • Masquerade: Demons (or aliens, or something else entirely) are among humans on a daily basis and possess our bodies without our awareness for their own objectives. Their objectives frequently involve human suffering.
  • The Mole: Duncan.
  • Nosy Neighbor: Understated heroic examples in the Haverlin brothers, who rescue Chloe from her suicide attempt. They continue to closely monitor her house when she's there and away, including entering to challenge an intruder.
  • Organic Technology: The demons' technology is implied to be making use of this by the wreck that Astrid salvages from: it has insect wings, clawed legs, and bone/chitin plating alongside engines and repulsors.
  • Organ Theft: Anika Wells was a victim of abduction and surgery. The nurse's theory is that she was targeted by Mexican organ traffickers.
  • Our Demons Are Different: Demons most frequently interact with humans by temporarily possessing a human host. They use this time to cause physical injury to the host or those around them. During possession they control the flesh of the host like clay. Some methods of exorcism can be effective, but results are mixed. Demons have access to advanced technology, primarily stealth/invisibility. Some demons have their own corporeal bodies, though it's unclear whether these are actually demon bodies or long-term possessed humans who have been morphed by their passengers.
  • Out-of-Character Alert: One demon has a verbal tic of repeating initial consonants with different words ("Chloe clim clam"). The tic is used to advertise when that demon is possessing a human.
  • Penal Colony: Earth is one for the Entities; the ones we see in the show are the very worst and most evil prisoners of their race.
  • Plot-Mandated Friendship Failure: In the clean room Spark waffles a lot between helping and claiming he'll never help again (conveniently at the end of the specific issue).
  • Single Tear: Used to affirm humanity in otherwise inhuman characters.
    • The Pony Man, victim of severe reconstructive surgery to resemble a horse's head on a man's body, drops one tear during his reveal.
    • A demon being tortured by Astrid's organization sheds one.
  • Slapstick: In issue #10, Capone visits Astrid at the snowy mountain retreat where she is taking a vacation. As soon as she steps out of the cars, she slips and falls flat on her back. She then gets up, tries to walk but breaks a heel and faceplants into the snow, resulting in a Cluster F-Bomb.
  • They Look Like Us Now: Astrid and Chloe can see the nonphysical forms of the demons and their stealth technology. Possessed individuals still look human, which means the demons can sneak up by possessing a person without controlling them.
  • We Have to Get the Bullet Out!: When Astrid is shot at close range the doctors fear the bullet fragments will work their way into her heart if left unchecked.
  • Wham Line: Used in-universe against the Surgeon.
    Astrid: We have a cloudbuster.
    • Also Astrid to Killian:
    Astrid: Hell is real and the devil is coming.
    • And this reveal from the Surgeon:
    Chloe to the Surgeon: What are you?
    The Surgeon: We are inmates.
  • What Measure Is A Nonhuman: Played against humans. The Entities value Entity life so much they refuse to impose the death penalty even on their worst criminals. Earth is imprisonment and torturing humans is analagous to a human prison colony torturing an anthill.
  • Zero-Approval Gambit: The ending of the comic. Astrid orders Chloe to tear down Astrid's organization in the media. Chloe is not happy about it at all and cries for three days.