“Our obligations don’t die when we die, Aleph.”
The lab. For Aleph Null, it’s all they’ve really known. It’s indistinguishable from the word “home” and where they’ve spent the majority of their life. The lab is the ideal image of Aleph’s state of being. A host for experimentation, learning, and the entire scientific process. A lab is where the unknown becomes known, always on the bleeding edge, and always being thrust into the future. That’s Aleph in a nutshell, even if it’s not who they want to be. They’ve been a part of tests and experiments their whole life, always giving people the illusion of power. They’re a person who cannot be defined or placed in a box. Aleph understands that the nature of the world and research is always changing and moving in one direction or another. For them it’s all about fighting to maintain one thing: control.
It’s easy to see why mirrors, glass, and reflections are so prevalent throughout the issues and world of Test. Christopher Sebela, Jen Hickman, Harry Saxon, and Hassan Otsmane-Elhaou are highlighting the very visual nature of the world. We’re always being observed, studied, and judged, even if we don’t know or choose to ignore it. Everything we do reflects back upon ourselves in some way, and it’s not always clear or exact. Mirrors and lenses aren’t always perfect and they aren’t just ways of visually interacting with the world. They are also physical structures that confine and limit us to our own images. They put us in a box, and this issue shows a a plethora of individuals who are after Aleph trying to limit, restrict and control them. Nevertheless, Aleph refuses to be confined and breaks through mirror after mirror, image after image, until no one can tell them who they are or what they can be, not even Aleph themselves.
Aside from all of this image-ry (ha), Test #3 focuses on the world Aleph is living in, the people that surround them, and the town of Laurel Wood, as it does Aleph themselves. The more you move through this book, the more it feel like every person or corporation that wants to use Aleph for self-interest starts to meld together, and it seems intentional. No matter the intentions or language everyone presents, everyone has their own agendas, and it quickly become a mentality of the remaining humans against the rest of the world. Issue one introduced private corporations that were chasing Aleph along with people working for the town of Laurelwood who were also after Aleph. Test #2 gave us a new, hidden dimension to Laurelwood with its own set of individuals controlling things behind the scenes who also what their hands on Aleph. Now in Test #3, we get to see another layer to Laurelwood, an apparent faction of resistance, that also wants Aleph for their own agendas. This faction of rebels sees Aleph as their savior and looks to them for guidance. It’s a lot to keep track of, but that feels intentional. We never have a complete grasp of the world around us, so it makes sense that the characters in the world of Test wouldn’t either. Even the soldiers after Aleph admit that they are slaves to a higher power. Sebela’s voice throughout the book is cynical and chaotic in ways that we sometimes see in the world around us. Aleph’s monologue contains thoughts and ideas we’ve had but never voiced. Aleph is not like anyone else which, in a way, allows us all to see ourselves in them. They’re self-centered, outspoken, and don’t give a s--t about anybody, and there’s a part of us all that can connect with them.
Hickman and Saxon do a great job depicting Aleph’s journey in this issue as a chaotic whirlwind that can be a bit disorienting or overwhelming. Aleph’s character design and appearance makes them stand out, even when they’re trying to fit in. This echoes Aleph’s difficulties within the issue quite well, as we learn that Aleph’s had trouble fitting in or finding a crowd to run with all their life. In a lot of panels, it’s just a subtle marking or body modification that lets you know it’s them. Hickman and Saxon clearly pay a lot of attention and care to Aleph’s full look in every panel. We get a few panels that offer a glimpse of Aleph’s past, where we learn that they were alone from a very young age thanks to a tragic car accident. Since then, it’s clear that Aleph hasn’t really had anybody else to rely on, and has been running by themselves all their life. They’re used to creating opportunities, escaping difficult situations, and surviving rather than living. Some of those qualities should be applauded, after all a non-binary individual breaking the proverbial glass and creating their own options when given a choice is sure to make you smile.
There one page that encompasses all of these feelings and ideas extremely well towards the middle of the issue. Aleph is wandering through this new, hidden world of Laurelwood and is thrown about by forces they don’t understand. The scene shows Aleph navigating a dark staircase that twists and turns while chasing after a mysterious figure that seems to hold answers. Every panel is slightly askew, adding to the feelings of disorientation, but then you really get thrown as the staircase and the panels themselves start to turn sideways and upside down. That’s right. Taking a page from Court of Owls and numerous other titles, as Aleph’s world gets turned upside down, yours does too. Not only that, but as the staircase winds and turns, the panel order does too. Instead of the straightforward down and right reading order, the panels snake from left to right, right to left, and left to right again. This disruption in the reading order is portrayed exclusively through visual elements such as where the stairs are leading or where the characters are facing. It’s a brilliant of the comic medium to engross you further into the story instead of pushing you out of it. The line work is gorgeous and always points in the direction your eyes are supposed to be moving in. The black and purple colors wash out any part of the panels that isn’t necessary to the scene. It’s almost like Saxon is using an ultraviolet light to kill anything that could be viewed as excess in the scene. Most of us may never understand parts of what Aleph is feeling, but thanks to scenes like this, we can come close. As crazy as the world of Test and Laurelwood is, Aleph is our guide, and we’re just along for the ride.
A lot of comics give the reader control over the entire experience. Space and time are at your command. You can flip back and forth between moments and scenes and manipulate the pace at which you read. Test tries to take a lot of these elements out of your hands, and Hickman’s art is able to do this with a very loose, legato, and free-flowing rhythm and structure that pulls you along. It’s almost like you’re in a whirlpool or the same downward spiral Aleph is in, getting sucked in and dragged to the next page. This feels pretty intentional since Aleph doesn’t have a lot of control in their world and has been led from place to place ever since they arrived in Laurelwood.
Aleph remains the best part of this series due to how relatable they are while still being their own, completely unique person one hundred percent of the time. They’re believable and human, even if they’re unlike anything some of us readers have ever seen in real life. It balances a world we could never imagine ourselves with the world right in front of us in a brilliant and beautiful way. Sebela, Hickman, Saxon, and Otsmane-Elhaou are working in harmony to deliver a singular, powerful voice against the people and corporations that want to treat us as less than and control us for their own profits. Test #3 is an excellent issue that expands our minds and the world of Aleph Null even further while reminding us of the control we relinquish every day.