Test #1 Review: Future Perfect
“Test” #1 introduces us to the world of the guinea pig, orphan, junkie and highly confused person known as Aleph. Aleph’s on the run from the Repo Men and in search of a mythical Midwestern town where freaks like them can be free.
Story: Chris Sebela
Art: Jen Hickman
Colors: Harry Saxon
Letters: Hassan Otsmane-Elhaou
Publisher: Vault Comics
“Test” is a bewildering jumble of content with a confident hand at the helm. This book’s info overload might not be for everyone, but if you can spend some time deciphering the thread buried in Aleph’s never-ending stream of chatter you’ll be rewarded with an interesting first crack of an issue.
Trust the dislocation. It’s intentional, and it needs a chance to unspool accordingly. There’s nothing soft or inviting in “Test.” You’ll have to find your own way in, and that’s the way it should be.
Sebela takes a chance here by pumping up the dialogue – or is it monologue? – to fill every page. Hickman’s tasked with keeping the story moving forward at a steady clip while Aleph bounces around their particular version of reality. It’s a challenge not to get too invested in the twists and turns of the character from the get-go, because then you might miss some of the true strangeness of the world around them. Aleph is a future addict, and it’s not too clear right now what the future is. A concept? Possibly. A drug? Probably. Technology? Certainly. All three? Who knows! Whatever is going on, Aleph’s a survivor and an addict, and not too much of what they say should be trusted to shape our initial experience.
Situating a reader in an overloaded world is not such a strange thing in comics. We’ve had tech futures before, but they’re usually sleek and rounded off at the edges. This one feels nearer and dearer and a good deal grittier despite Saxon’s sun-drenched cornfield hues. Aleph appears as the hero du jour in comics with multiple piercings, a side shave, cool clothes, svelte and peaky features and a motor mouth that’d compete with the best of them. Aleph’s also a walking disaster, and it’s not too clear what Sebela and Hickman have in store for the spindly little one. Aleph keeps their distance with words but the violence and drama of the piece are not shaped to bolster their attitude or their cool factor – they’re ugly, mostly off-screen and ominous. “Test” posits that being a real freak isn’t a glamorous or morally righteous experience, and thank goodness for that.
Hickman’s art is crisp and delicate, with a fine line and good shading in Aleph’s hollow facial features and haunted, wide eyes. Saxon uses some swaths of color in Laurelwood’s introduction to produce a clean digital edge that fights with Hickman’s line. Perhaps this is intentional, perhaps not, but it’s noticeable and jarring. The best color work in this issue produces texture to help amplify Hickman’s art without abandoning its hint of grit or its spectral qualities. Saxon nails that baked-in quality of dust and sunlight throughout the rest of the issue, and the cool blues in the grocery store fit the mood very well. Otsmane-Elhaou’s lettering is as spindly as Aleph, with a nice uncanny and off-balance edge to help highlight the smooth and soothing blue of Mary’s digital replies. Mary’s balloons also have a nice stroke to help build the hallucinatory quality of it all.
Culture aims to gobble us all, so what happens when we turn around and bite back? For Aleph, it seems like they’re lost and going under, but their reality isn’t necessarily something to be trusted in “Test.” At least, not so far.
Laurelwood has plenty of secrets in store. Thanks to the work the team put in on this first jaunt, they’re worth searching for.