Writer: Simon Spurrier
Art: P.J. Holden & Jordie Bellaire
Titan Comics $3.99
Stewart R: The grand mystery of life; tis a curious thing. Some take it as an unexplainable journey of the spirit, a soulful experience, possibly steered by some divine, intangible hand, while others see it in terms of probability, science, the finite and infinite permutations that the mathematics of the universe provides. 'Tis certainly a curious thing that’s for sure. The one fun thing about that curious unknown is that it can give rise to great fiction.
Numbercruncher is a story that takes some of the various opposing thoughts and views about the inner workings of life, combining them into a really interesting tale of one man, Bastard Zane, who struck a deal upon his deathbed and who now finds himself trapped in the brain numbing bureaucracy of the afterlife. Simon Spurrier (Crossed: Wish You Were Here, X-Men Legacy) conjures a world and afterworld running upon the steady yet weaving rails of mathematics, and all to the beat of some bigger plan. Zane is an operative, an employee of the vast number processing system, who helps to ensure that all of the expressions and variables of the world continue on the planned course to the ‘Biggest Number There Is’ and whose only chance to escape this career of undetermined length is to steer a replacement onto the right path.
Things are of course never simple and the trainee-in-waiting just happens to be a brilliant mathematician who strikes a resurrection bargain with the the big boss, The Divine Calculator, in order to be reunited with his true love only to have the deal sour in heartbreaking fashion. What caught my attention most through this first issue was that for all of the big ideas and metascience it’s those odd moments where love becomes an ingredient, albeit fleetingly, that really stand out amongst the unflinching physics. Bastard Zane struck his agreement all in the name of love as does the Mathematician after him. It’s the latter’s story that really drums the contrast home as his beloved is a spiritualist, sitting at the other end of the spectrum of belief and understanding to his own.
Contrast is also at the very heart of Numbercruncher’s aesthetic as P.J. Holden and Jordie Bellaire define the border between the the world and the afterlife through a fine use of colour and varying degrees of inking density. The vast majority of this first issue takes place within the Karmic Accountancy, a wonderfully vexing castle of office furniture and stock ticker machines all rendered in simple monochrome, while any flashbacks to lives past or the ‘present day’ scenes are splashes of limited colour which really stand out, potentially to highlight the rich vibrancy of life. When the Divine Calculator appears on the page however, it seems that the inking gets just a degree lighter perhaps to identify the pure simplicity of mathematics. There are tiny moments where the artistic lines overlap - one dreamy moment sees Bellaire drop in the most subtle dashes of pink to show that these different areas of reality can be influenced by the other - and I imagine that this artistic pairing may have more tricks up their collective sleeves as this miniseries progresses.
In this debut Spurrier has managed to introduce and explain the rules which govern this strange world and which will be no doubt tested by the Mathematician as the story unfurls later on. He’s also given us a protagonist who is not an instantly likeable character - he’s the disgruntled employee and a former ne'er do well - yet there’s something close to charm in Zane’s honest opinion of his situation, with the glimmer of hope that has him held tight since a potential replacement came along, to make this reader incredibly curious about how things may pan out. He's also proving to be a writer who can balance high science ideas with emotional resonance and Numbercruncher looks like it could be a perfect combination of these elements. A crunchingly good start that deserves to do well in the numbers department! 8/10