Written by Christopher Sebela
Art by Jen Hickman and Harry Saxon
Lettering by Hassan Otsmane-Elhaou
Published by Vault Comics
‘Rama Rating: 9 out of 10
The dream of Vertigo is still alive in the debut of Test. From Crowded writerChristopher Sebela and Moth & Whisper artist Jen Hickman comes the story of Aleph, a self-proclaimed junkie who is worth roughly 1.54 million dollars. That's because they are chocked full of technology and other “proprietary materials” from years of testing and upgrading at their own hands and the hands of corporate scientists, transforming them from simply human to something much, much more.
While the hook alone is a good one, Sebela, Hickman, and colorist Harry Saxon flesh it out even more, using the science fiction to inform a darkly hilarious and gut-wrenching tale of identity, addiction, and belonging. Rendered in sketchy but highly detailed pages from Hickman and Saxon, the latter providing this first issue a sort of sickly, dreamlike quality with the colors, Test #1 lays its world and lead character out with real verve, putting a humanist spin on high technology and corporate intrigue. Bloody, driven, and populated with weird, but not completely implausible technology, Test #1 is another solid debut for Vault Comics.
“Me is all I know.” That’s how Aleph describes their existence. Having spent years under the knife, transforming their body into a deadly synthesis of person and machine, Aleph is now on the run from a deadly Repo agency as well as the cumulative effects of all their on-board technological enhancements.
Christopher Sebela, a tried hand at this kind of 'show don’t tell' brand of storytelling, details pretty much all of the above in a tense, heavily narrated opening. By dropping us in the middle of Aleph’s time on the lam, Sebela gets to sidestep a lot of “origin” exposition. But he makes up for it with the narration as often times Aleph’s narration and spoken dialogue bleeds into one another. Aleph is a bit of a motormouth, displaying Sebela’s knack for wicked turns of phrase, but it also helps a lot when it comes to the worldbuilding.
And in terms of worldbuilding, Sebela and the art team really lay that out well too. Though to the “sapes” (a.k.a. homo sapiens), Aleph just looks like a regular junkie, they are wading through a hidden world. As the issue downshifts from it’s bloody opening, the creative team start to detail Aleph’s “quest” for a town of people just like them. Laurelwood is a technological Shangri-La of sorts, one where they are “market-testing the future” with high-tech infrastructure, an enhanced population, and unlimited resources. But Aleph doesn’t want to contribute. They need another hit. And they are going to do just about anything to get there.
While the script hits a consistently wry and engaging tone, it is the artwork that truly sells this Test. Penciler Jen Hickman and colorist Harry Saxon jump feet first into this world, slowing peeling away layer after layer as the story does. At first, Aleph looks like another runaway, blatering on to a truck driver in a sun-scorched flyover state. They are dressed oddly for the weather, covered in a dark hoodie with multiple wraps wound up their limbs. As they walk, the panels still keep them slightly out of view as they walk, shedding layers. Building to a full reveal of all their mods and how they snake in and around their body. It is a powerfully weird introduction to the character, but one that heralds a whole new tone going forward for the debut.
From there, the team shifts into cool blues and swaths of neons as Aleph continues their search for Laurelwood. But now, all bets are off in terms of what kind of tech Saxon and Hickman can detail. Intercut with more blue-scaled flashbacks to Aleph’s time as a research subject, they dive deeper past the “normie” veil of a town they are using as a spot to lay low. These scenes are pretty much the only “normal” looking of the issue, as Hickman and Saxon deliver what looks like a normal hotel and grocery store. But as we and Aleph look closer, nothing is what it seems, evoking a sort of “The Prisoner” vibe mixed with the futurism of Transmetropolitan. Obviously the creative team stop just sort of actual answers, but what Test #1 does let on is really crazy with the potential for drama and action.
Vault Comics has been in the conversation here recently as the heir apparent to Vertigo Comics. To me, Test might be the best evidence for this argument. Armed with a killer science fiction hook and punk rock energy, Christopher Sebela, Jen Hickman, and Harry Saxon deliver an assured, immensely readable debut, one that establishes a whole world and lead character with confidence.