Numbercruncher cover

Comic Book Review: Numbercruncher

Numbercruncher #1–4
Written by Si Spurrier
Art by PJ Holden
Coloured by Jordie Bellaire
Lettered by Simon Bowland
Published by Titan Comics

Numbercruncher is a creator-owned series that was first published in Judge Dredd Megazine in 2011, which was then collected and updated by Titan Comics with new material and colouring by Bellaire. The collection is warranted by the simple fact that this story reads so much better in one chunk: it is an intricately plotted tale that plays back and forth on itself so that you will want to turn back to previous pages (something this analogue reader still finds easier to do with a hard copy) in the story to see where the continuing story intertwines upon itself.

The story is told from the perspective of Bastard Zane, a massive brute of a man who barely fits into his pinstriped suit and bowler hat. When he was alive, he was a thuggish and violent man in old London town. When he met his end, he begged for some extra time to stay with the woman he loved, and was offered a contract; however, when he was returned, the woman no longer loved him and he had to fulfil his contract. He now works in karmic accountancy – an operative for the Divine Calculator in the afterlife, where he helps to keep the ‘numbers’ tidy, or ‘souls’.

Zane is given an assignment: Richard Thyme, a mathematician dying in 1969, who has an important thought in his dying moment. He has divined the nature of reality, the universal epiphany. Therefore, the Divine Calculator wants him in person; when Thyme arrives, he asks the DC for a deal: reincarnation, but with the knowledge of his former life, just so he can be back with the woman he loves. In exchange, after he dies, he will become an operative like Bastard Zane, replacing Zane and allowing Zane to retire. The only thing that Thyme asks about is the ‘Zero Clause’ – Zane condenses down a complex concept involving the progression towards the state of ultimate complexity, the biggest number there is, in the simple phrase: ‘Lead a life without sin, the contract’s https:\\/\\/www.clandestinecritic.co.uk n’ void.’ And with that, Thyme is reincarnated.

When Thyme is back on, he discovers that he has been tricked: he is born in 2010 in a Mumbai slum, so the woman he loves dies without ever meeting her. Zane comes to conclude the contract, but finds that Thyme has subcontracted; Zane can’t get him as his replacement because Thyme has been reincarnated. Now Zane is chasing him through life after life after life, trying to catch his replacement (and all the while venting out his anger on the other operatives who keeping offering the subcontracts and using his ‘accident gun’ on Thyme’s reincarnation.

Spurrier has crafted a finely woven tapestry that is about the power of love, but involves a lot of extreme violence and swearing. He uses the device of narrating the story from a different perspective that he used in his novel, Contract (I didn’t enjoy the novel, but that’s just me), something that works really well. Zane is an unpleasant individual, with an unpleasant attitude towards people, even if his mix of sweary cockney and polysyllabic expressions (‘collapse atomic superstitions’, ‘metaphysical servitude’, ‘metamathical dramas’) is endearing. But it’s all distraction …

The charm is enhanced by the art from Holden. The style reminds me of Steve Parkhouse (which is a good thing) and he does a great job not only differentiating the afterlife from the rest of the world but also including lovely little details that embellish the panels. For example, when we first see Zane in the afterlife, he’s smoking a cigar and the smoke is forming numbers; there are mathematical formulas coming out of Thyme’s head at one stage. He also makes the bloody violence not quite so horrible, which is an impressive achievement. The colours of Bellaire are equally excellent: in a reverse A Matter Of Life And Death, the afterlife is in black and white whereas the world is in full colour, and it enhances the difference between the two.

This hardcover collection contains covers, alternate covers, background art, an interview and a note from Spurrier about the story, and it all makes for a handsome package. This is a very good comic book and deserves this attention.

Disclosure: this book was provided for review purposes.

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