Writer: Christopher Sebela / Artist: Jen Hickman / Vault Comics

“What’s the thing you hate most about yourself?”

Right from the start, Sebela and Hickman’s Test makes a point to let the reader know they will not be pulling any punches on this journey. Between Sebela’s all too resonant monologue as Aelph describes all the ways they hate themselves and Hickman’s rustic depiction of Midwest American farms roads, there is a sobering somberness to the beginning of the narrative. And as the events of the that preceded the exodus slowly reveal themselves throughout the rest of the issue, so does the intrigue and investment into the story.

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You may remembered that we previewed Test #1 a few months back, and I’m happy to say that the final version of the comic is a beautifully realized comic that delivered on the promise of a complex story that explores the ways that medical research and capitalism have intersected in the worst ways. If you did not catch the preview, the basic pitch is that Aelph is a human test subject who has signed away their body and their rights to various organizations in attempt to survive, but wants to get out of the game. They are trying to find refuge in a town called Laurelwood with nothing by a vague sense of the general area it might be.

Hickman’s visual storytelling manages to captures the different aesthetics perfectly. One moment, we’re on the back roads in a worn and weary gas station in the middle of the desert. Then we pivot to a fever dream of past memories. Then another pivot to the sterile environment of research facilities. All of the set pieces, all of the characters, feel distinct while managing to contribute to the worldbuilding that Sebela pens. Aelph’s motivational and circumstances are a bit larger than life, but at the core, it’s a very relatable, very honest want to escape a system that perpetuates harm. Aelph’s dialog combines scathing critique with a ringing loneliness and fatigue that you can’t help by root for them.

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Test #1 is a strong opener that wastes no times setting the stakes and getting you hooked. The science fiction premise coupled with the incredible visual and verbal storytelling makes for a memorable read that’s worth adding to your pull.

9.1 “Towns in the USA” out of 10

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  • Mikkel Snyder is a technical writer by day and pop culture curator and critic all other times.

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