Writer: Christopher Sebela
Artist: Jen Hickman
Colorist: Harry Saxson
Letterer: Hassan Otsmane-Elhaou
Publisher: Vault Comics
The first thing that came to mind while reading Test, the new series from Vault Comics, was a video uploaded to the YouTube channel Just Write late last year. The video criticized a few recent “cyberpunk” properties, claiming they were channeling an outdated aesthetic without any thought to the underlying cultural influences that produced them in the first place. The second half of the video listed a few properties that actually succeeded in utilizing the language of cyberpunk, but invoking current trends and fears, rather than just trying to make it look like Blade Runner.
I thought of this because Test falls firmly in the second category. This is undoubtedly a cyberpunk story, and the main character is, essentially, a punk cyborg. But it avoids all the familiar imagery, the cliché characters, and well-worn plotlines. This feels like something entirely new.
Aleph Null was a paid test subject and an addict, addicted to body hacks. They’ve gone on the run, looking for a town called Laurelwood, which isn’t on any maps. They’re being chased by someone, from somewhere they escaped. Writer Christopher Sebela doesn’t give a lot of direct explanations. Aleph narrates heavily. But instead of spoon-feeding the backstory to us, the narration is vague, unfocused, often disorienting. Aleph isn’t just an unreliable narrator. It would never occur to you to rely on them.
The art, from Jen Hickman, follows suit, keeping us off-guard with their gritty style and panel choices. From the vast rural landscape of the opening scene, Hickman draws us along Aleph’s journey with the same sense of chaos as Sebela’s writing. Harry Saxson’s colors ably keep up with Hickman’s line work as the setting shifts, through Aleph’s flashbacks, into shady hotel rooms and beyond. And Hassan Otsmane-Elhaou’s letters bring home Aleph’s instability and set the tone of the various other voices within the story as well.
Test is one of those books that feels like it knows something you don’t. It walks the walk when so many other books can barely talk the talk. After reading this first issue, I have no idea where Test is going from here. But I know I want to find out.