Aleph Null sold off their entire existence to become part of the future. But now, are they doing everything they can to escape? or trying to fall deeper down the rabbit hole?
Test tells the story of Aleph, trying to discover the mysterious town of Laurelwood (somewhere in Iowa, Nebraska…maybe Kansas?) A location so mysterious that after multiple reads it’s still not entirely clear what Aleph hopes to find there.
There’s a variety of themes entertained within Test, some of which feel at odds with each other. Early on in the volume, topics such as addiction, self-destructive tendencies and technology as a drug come to the forefront. Initially, it seems that Aleph has every intention of breaking the cycle of addiction that stemmed from a life spent as a human guinea pig; yet as Test goes on, Aleph’s desire to escape the past and find a better future, seems to fall away, falling back on the same dangerous habits that have gotten them this far. Through these themes, Test serves as an investigation into identity, exploring how the choices we make and the choices thrust upon us can define or in some cases redefine us.
Test is off to a strong start with intrigue surrounding protagonist Aleph Null, interesting themes and a solid premise, or at least that’s what I was expecting. Aleph’s intrigue gives way to immediate relentless narration, which is distracting at the best of times and infuriating at its worst. Often cutting through dialogue making it difficult to figure out where your focus should be. This isn’t helped by instances where characters have a tone so similar to the narration that it’s easy to lose track if some statements were made internally by our protagonist, or by someone else entirely. I can understand that this might be an intentional decision, when coupled with instances of non-linear storytelling and flashbacks, Test does present an image of a mind warped by technological addiction. But intentional or not this doesn’t make the volume any less frustrating.
While the writing proves to be challenging, artistically Jen Hickman brings some great design work to Test, Aleph has a distinctive look that lies somewhere between Goth-Punk and Grunge. While the town of Laurelwood itself embraces quaint Americana with just enough futuristic hints to remind you it’s not your average town. It is a shame however that largely character interactions do seem to remain at a minimum, so some designs aren’t as well showcased as I would’ve liked.
Although Test does present some interesting themes and Jen Hickman’s art suits the book perfectly, I feel like this vision isn’t entirely realized and would’ve better suited to a longer format, allowing a more controlled pace. Moreover, there are alternative cyberpunk comic books that explore these themes more effectively. With that being said, there’s definitely an audience out there for Test. I know plenty of comic book readers who would find the narration and complicated story format far less frustrating than I did.