(Titan Comics, 2013)
Review by Cory Thrall
WRITTEN BY: Si Spurrier
ARTWORK BY: PJ Holden
COLOR ARTWORK BY: Jordie Bellaire
LETTERING BY: Simon Bowland
Being released today, July 17th, Titan Comics new title “Numbercruncher” is not at all what you might think from the cover, but isn’t that supposed to always be the case? What looks to be a mobster of some kind is actually a false face for the genius and inventive story that lies behind it. This is no ‘normal’ comic, and that’s a very good thing. Originally published in “Judge Dredd: Megazine” #306-308, this is a comic that shifts from black and white to fully colored artwork, making for a curious and satisfying read.
This complex story begins with the main character Bastard Zane, who is an agent of the Divine Calculator, the ruler of what is known as the ‘In-Between’, or ‘the Karmic Accountancy’. The Divine Calculator is a being that exists between universes, and is the Cosmic Source of all Metaphysical Integers. He also has a ragged black cat named ‘Mimpy’ and is dressed like a classic Bookie. The agency works as a ‘Grand Audit’, where souls are processed and moved about the universe, sometimes even being questioned by the Divine himself. This is an after-life based on numbers, equations, calculations and keeping a balance on the ‘ledger’. While a lot of the meaning and reasoning behind this isn’t fully explained, it doesn’t necessarily have to be, and hopefully will be fleshed out in upcoming issues. It’s not a hard concept to grasp, there’s just not a lot of explanation to all of the math-oriented aspects of the ‘In-Between’. The overall idea works perfectly, though.
Zane was originally a hard-nosed guy who found himself in a fatal situation, causing him to reach out in his dying moments, begging any Devil to help him, to save him from his death. The Divine accepts his contract, and – of course – the deal goes sour quick and Zane finds himself right into the hands of the Divine Calculator and his Karmic Accountancy. Zane then becomes Agent #494, to work within the Accountancy until he can find a replacement. This afterlife entails such oddly fitting ideas that it’s a treat for your brain even in these small moments. The Golf Carts used to travel inside of the Accountancy. Millions of desks miles high and seeming to go on forever. A constant flow of paper flying around the Divine Calculator’s office. All of these tiny bits and more add into the whole piece and round it out perfectly, setting a well rendered and thought out ‘In-Between’, and setting the stage for one hell of an original story.
The Divine eventually tells Zane of a new assignment – a terminally ill Mathematician whose genius has divined the ‘Nature of Reality’ while lying in his death bed, and the leaps and bounds his thinking travels excites the old Calculator enough to pull him into the ‘In-Between’. Though the Mathematician immediately knows where he is, he is still shocked to find himself there, especially since only seconds earlier he was wasting away in a hospital. Oddly, the Divine asks him why he is there, to which the Mathematician replies with the usual – he wants to make a deal. In his life he has a great love and feels like they didn’t live together to the full degree. He lays out his terms to the Divine Calculator – he wants to retain memory of who is his, what he was, and his knowledge. He wants to be reincarnated. As per the Divine’s attitude towards such wheelers and dealers, he accepts, but with the standard contract and price. As the Mathematician begins to question what these are, he is knocked out cold by Zane and carried off.
The contract and price, as the Mathematician is told, is a heavy one. He now works for the Karmic Accountancy, and is in their employ for as long as the Divine sees fit. He is able to return to the living plane with the Recirculation device, but under one final clause. He can live his life but as soon as he dies he takes over for Zane and becomes Agent #494, caught in the tight grasp of the Divine until he can find his own replacement.
As the man enters back into his life, he finds things drastically different and, as told in many horror tales, the contract is not worth the price. As the terror of what his life is now flows through him, Zane hints that the Mathematician ‘had a few equations of his own’ up his sleeve, hinting at what is to come. And that’s where issue #1 ends, with a great cliff-hanger.
This title would fit perfectly with the early to mid 90’s Vertigo imprint, as the look and tone of the series is of such that it would have been a strong favorite. The artwork is solid and has nice bits of freedom in the execution – creating epic images of the in-Between, to the more realistic look of the living plane, and finally through panels and images that are so wild and awesome it makes the comic vibrate with scratchy energy. There is a ton of heart put into this from all of the creators, and it pays off. The issue reads seamlessly from page to page and scene to scene, which might be considered a hard feat with the switching from color to black and white artwork. It just works so well here it’s almost like you don’t notice the difference. The moods are set and different from one plane to the other, but by the time you’re engrossed in the details of the story it becomes another piece of this comic. The black and white In-Between is obviously a stark contrast to the colored work of the living plane, but it feels very natural.
The writing is a highlight for me on this, as Si Spurrier lays out an incredible and layered world then lets the characters and unfolding story run wild. The premise alone is worth the read, as the ideas it works with are clever, unique, and very individual. What could have been a rambling mess of a script, Spurrier seems to have that perfect grip on his work, finding a great mix of set-up, story structure and characterization. This fantastical world is instantly believable, and the cast are a wonderful mix of personalities. It’s just a great read, and highly enjoyable.
So, Titan Comics continues to release non-stop comics that open the comicverse up to some intricate and highly original ideas. This book is no exception, and I’d say it’s leading the pack. Beautifully executed, interestingly mysterious, and downright awesome, you need to grab this first issue!
I can only do one thing from here, and that’s too score this a strong 4.5 out of 5
Follow Cory Thrall on Twitter: @FeralFang27