Pilot Season: The Test #1

A comic review article by: Nick Hanover
The Pilot Season entry The Test is the beneficiary of excellent timing. As the writer behind one of the New 52's biggest surprises in I, Vampire, Joshua Fialkov is arguably on more readers' radar than ever before. Add in his well regarded superhero series Last of the Greats, also released by Image this week, and you've got a perfect storm of publicity. There's also the fact that a prior Pilot Season more or less launched Fialkov's career back in 2007, when he won the contest with his Cyblade one-shot.

But that timing is a double edged sword, as it gives The Test some hefty competition from its own writer. The Fialkov writing The Test isn't the Fialkov of 2007 and this isn't the work of a young up-and-comer eager to prove himself, but a release by a now-known commodity with all the extra scrutiny that entails. Under that scrutiny, The Test is most likely the lesser of Fialkov's three new series, but that's not to say it isn't necessarily worth your time.

As a pilot, The Test features a concept that isn't groundbreaking but does offer enough tantalizing mystery to sustain more than a season. We're immediately thrown into its world with a mostly dialogue free opening sequence, a group of four women and two men wake up in a strange biodome. We learn about the setting as the characters do, with a creepy automated message from a psychotically grinning woman telling the group that they're essentially meant to repopulate the planet after some apocalyptic incident has happened.

It's a neat if not entirely new gimmick, one that puts the suspense front and center and immediately forces the reader to ask questions, like where the other four members of what is supposed to be a group of ten are, or why the current group is so female heavy, or why everyone else is in relatively normal sleepwear and this redheaded woman walks around in a see-through nightie and a thong:

And of course before the issue ends, even more questions are raised, specifically a few about the truth behind this "repopulation" group. But that mysterious nature of the plot also works against it, making it difficult to really care about any of these characters or their dilemma by virtue of how entirely anonymous they are. Only one character is named or given a defining characteristic (he's David, and he knows he's a scientist because he opened his garage) while the rest are differentiated by physical features and choice of pajamas.

Part of the problem is that Rahsan Ekedal's penciling is bland and generic for the bulk of the issue, with a lack of depth in the character's acting and an odd emphasis placed on things like, oh, redheaded woman's thong-clad ass. There are also perspective issues, as in some panels the framing is like what you would see if the cameraman fell down midscene. A couple scenes are notably exciting and different, but even those have sections with that perspective problem.

At least in I, Vampire's first issue, in which the plot was perhaps even more slowly paced, Fialkov was paired with Andrea Sorrentino, an artist who could make even the most standard of conversations seem exciting. Ekedal may have been encouraged to make the art somewhat minimalist here and it's difficult to make that kind of direction work, but here it's an obstacle towards the title's success. Mix that in with one mainstream title from Fialkov that took its time to set up its mystery but also looked visually stunning and the problem gets worse.

But considering this is a title that is available for $1.99 digitally, there's a strong chance that readers may be more forgiving if they're coming to Fialkov from I, Vampire. The twists that come towards the end of the issue also offer a lot of hope for future issues and, not to ruin anything, the element of supernatural horror those twists present also indicate that Fialkov will move this series into more comfortable territory. As pilots go, this isn't Lost, but at least it isn't The Event either.

When he's not writing about the cape and spandex set, Nick Hanover is a book, film and music critic for Spectrum Culture and a staff writer for No Tofu Magazine. He also translates for "Partytime" Lukash's Panel Panopticon.

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