Writer: Christopher Sebela Art: Jen Hickman Publisher: Vault Comics
WHAT IS IT?
TEST is unlike anything else out there. The genre shifts dramatically in issue #2, from a cyberpunk-lite search for a "magical" land that feels unlikely to solve all the protagonist's problems, to a surreal melting pot of future technology, supernatural mystery, and themes of mental health. In issue #3, the surreality becomes even more prominent.
If you take Elliot from Mr. Robot, and give him the technical body augments of Adam Jensen from the Deus Ex series, then have him go on the run, like in The Fugitive and then drop him into an inexplicable pit of weirdness similar to TV's Legion's brand of odd, you might get close to what TEST encapsulates.
WHAT'S IT ABOUT?
(Spoilers for Issue #1)
Issue #3 is a transitional issue, a pause in the adventure to turn the lens inward. Feeling stuck in their own transition, Aleph has to come to terms with their own stubbornness and refusal to play life by the rules defined for them, and how those efforts are ultimately made moot against the tide of time.
Weirdly, it makes me think of this quote from Thoreau's Walden: "By a conscious effort of the mind we can stand aloof from actions and their consequences; and all things, good and bad, go by us like a torrent." I suppose it's weird because Thoreau looked to nature for a reprieve from society and its trappings, where Aleph is in search of some mystical land of technology (and says, once again, that this is not the Laurelwood they need, which begs the question of when we will find the right one, but I digress). The thought is the same, though. Aleph has been playing the game for so long, claiming the rules don't apply to them, but they do.
And we'll see what kind of an effect this realization has, soon.
As always, Christopher Sebela finds those universals of humanity and uses them to link you to Aleph. This issue, however, can hit a little close to home, since so much of it is spent calling Aleph on their BS and breaking down their inner narrative.
That intentional discomfort extends to the art. The action that happens between panels in places can feel unnatural and unnerving, keeping you unbalanced as the reader in a way similar to Aleph's own inability to find stability.
The water metaphor from last issue returns in a big way, illustrating unstoppable forces we're powerless against (like the passage of time or unwanted change), even if we set ourselves against them. We also get more thematic parallelism, with Null's narration coming to life in the art, which makes for a reading experience that feels textured and well put-together.
I don't want to sound over-dramatic or tell you how to enjoy your comics, but there are some truly great lines this issue, and you should take a minute after reading them to fully absorb them and their repercussions both for the comic and for life in general before blazing ahead with the rest of the issue. I don't want to spoil anything by writing the quotes here – well, I do, but I won't.
The issue messes with Aleph’s internal narrative in some really visually innovative ways. One example is an incredible spread meant to be read untraditionally, and Hickman’s line art combined with Otsmane-Elhaou’s lettering helps to navigate it in a way that doesn’t take you out of the moment while also forcing the reader to experience the comic book reading experience in a new way.
Maybe it's just me, but Saxon's palette feels much, much darker and more saturated, which mirrors the heavier tone this issue.
Even apart from the obviously incredible spreads, I'm amazed at the level of detail Hickman puts into panels without them feeling busy or overwhelming. And Harry Saxon does well capturing all that detail without anything getting lost.
We hit the recurring theme of Aleph's other-ness hard this issue, likely because of the issue's theme. But it's interesting, Aleph signing with a dark spiral they later walk through, their face blurred and upstaged by it. Between a signature vastly different from most "sapes'" (as Null calls "normal people") signatures and a name chosen to represent a void where a person would be, we see how much Aleph has distanced themself from the rest of humanity.
One thing that sticks with me: Aleph consistently survives when everyone else around them dies. They're the epitome of "survival of the fittest," of how humans evolve or die. But to survive, Null gives up more and more of themself to corporations and technology, and it makes me wonder how much Aleph represents our society, and how much of ourselves and our culture we cede to those same things.
WHAT DOESN'T WORK?
TEST can sometimes be so trippy and high-concept, it might be a little difficult to follow along with the finer points of what's actually happening. But you get the basics, and it might make more sense as the issues go on.
WHY SHOULD I READ IT?
Null may look like a cyber-punk, but TEST doesn't take place in a cyberpunk world. It takes place in our world. At least, one very similar to our own. Reading TEST feels like watching a piece of technology work. There are many moving parts, each clicking and whirring away, doing its tiny job. But together, all these pieces make a symphony.
I'm pleasantly surprised at how much of TEST revolves around philosophy. It's a title that challenges you to think and resolve things for yourself, not just in the context of each issue or the series as a whole, but in how it relates to your life and belief systems.
There's a lot yet to be revealed and worked through in TEST. Needless to say, though, it's one of Vault's most impressive titles, disruptive and unique and innovative to the point where it'd fit right into the Vertigo line had it been made years earlier.
WHAT DO I READ NEXT?
If you like the writing:
Crowded, Vol. 1 by Christopher Sebela, Ro Stein & Ted Brandt
Queen by Jamie Me & Bernard Gita
Hex Loader by Dan Whitehead & Conor Boyle
If you like the art:
Moth & Whisper by Ted Anderson & Jen Hickman
Vagrant Queen by Magdalene Visaggio & Jason Smith
Fearscape by Ryan O'Sullivan & Andrea Mutti
ABOUT THE CREATORS
Christopher Sebela – Writer
Has an adorable dog that he loves very much
Multitalented: Used to be a journalist and a graphic designer
The comic he writes, Crowded, has just been nominated for an Eisner Award for the third time
Jen Hickman – Artist
From their website: "Their primary passions are exciting narratives, good coffee, and exceptional grammar."
Their art style is very versatile, able to change a great deal from comic to comic. It's also a good balance between clean and detailed or messy for some great texture without feeling overwrought.
You can buy their sketchbooks and comics on their Gumroad
Harry Saxon – Colorist
Outlander: Lives in England, but born in Greece
Test of Time: Has worked as an independent illustrator and colorist since 1999
Hassan Otsmane-Elhaou – Letterer
Multitalented: Edits PanelxPanel, the digital magazine about comics, and also writes comics & films
Outlander: Lives in the south west of England
Has a comics podcast with Aditya Bidikar called Letters & Lines
Adrian F. Wassel – Editor
Name Recognition: Is the CCO & Editor-In-Chief of Vault Comics, and plays the role of editor on most, if not all, of Vault's titles
Also runs Vault with his brother and father
Has personally helped other comics creators in their endeavors, even for non-Vault comics work
Tim Daniel – Designer
Multitalented: Also does all the design work for Vault Comics
Inspired by others in the business: Sonia Harris, Sean Phillips, and Fonographics
Dream Team: Co-wrote Curse and Burning Fields with Michael Moreci
HOW DO I BUY IT?
TEST drops next week. Pre-order it from:
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