Writer: Christopher Sebela
Artist: Jen Hickman
Colors: Harry Saxon
Letterer: Hassan Otsmane-Elhaou
Publisher: Vault Comics
I admit that I had to read Test #1 twice before I could wrap my brain around writing this review. Not because I didn’t like or understand the issue, but because there was so much to absorb and take in visually that I didn’t want to begin without seeing every detail.
Eisner-nominated writer Christopher Sebela (Crowded) and artist Jen Hickman (Moth & Whisper) have created a complicated, tragic, and yet hopeful science fiction tale about a human test subject known as Aleph Null who has set out to find Laurelwood, USA. The mythical town is rumored to move, never staying in the same Midwestern state for long, but the place is supposedly a haven for other guinea pigs like Aleph.
The story opens with Aleph already on their quest. The character’s ramblings are the product of their body constantly being subjected to medical tests and experimental procedures. Aleph has essentially sold their body to corporate for cash—a junkie whose skin isn’t even theirs anymore. We get to see flashbacks of what Aleph has undergone and why their dialogue is oftentimes disjointed and other times incredibly self-reflective.
Leaving the world of being a test subject is not an easy task, and those in charge don’t want to lose one of their assets. Aleph is determined to locate Laurelwood and find some peace, and at first, the character feels as if he’s just another junkie standing out too much among the crowd. The more time Aleph spends there, however, the more we see that maybe Aleph has found the right Laurelwood and maybe their arrival is what the town needs to finally be free.
Sebela’s dialogue perfectly sets the tone of the issue, and as the reader you feel just as scattered and lonely as Aleph does during the journey. You empathize with the character’s confusion, sadness, and desire to break free from anything and everything that connects them to the past. Hassan Otsmane-Elhaou’s choice in lettering and dialogue boxes adds to the tone of the issue, helping the reader feel on a visceral level what the main character is going through from moment to moment.
Hickman’s art and Harry Saxson’s colors complete the picture, especially in the depiction of dusty Midwestern towns with barely a soul nearby. When Aleph comes into contact with others, their isolation is evident, not only in how the character is designed but even in the layout of the panels.
Overall, Test #1 is a strong start. I’m curious to learn more about Aleph as well as the mysterious Laurelwood, which is obviously much more than it initially seems. For scifi fans, this new series is a top choice. The first issue is currently available in comic shops and online. Head to Vault Comics’ website for more on the title.