Group Review: Numbercruncher #1

We’re going to continue to hit you up with Titan Comics new monthly titles and this week we have the U.S. premiere of Numbercruncher. That’s right, this series already ran in the U.K., but now it’s time for North America to experience it. As with every group review the writers/reviewers of Comic Bastards will give the issue a score of: Buy, Borrow or Pass and they’re reasoning behind it. First here’s a blurb about the issue from Titan Comics: Dying young, a brilliant mathematician discovers a way to cheat the terrifying Divine Calculator. He schemes to be endlessly reincarnated in the life of the woman he loves, no matter how often the violent bailiffs of the Karmic Accountancy cut short each life. It falls to one such Karmic agent - the surly Bastard Zane - to put a stop to the time-twisting romance once and for all, before the mathematician can pull off his greatest trick and escape Existential Justice forever!

Samantha: Buy

Titan Comics you have done it again. You have managed to turn my comic world into something a little bit better with Numbercruncher. I was just talking the other day with a friend about how numbers control everything, and he commented that numbers weren’t invented but discovered. If you haven’t watched “Through the Wormhole” then you need to; especially if you love science and Morgan Freeman. This comic reminded me of that show.

PJ Holden’s art is awesome and love the way he puts life in color and the Team is in black and white. Which to me represents how earth has no rules but beyond that everything is very right or wrong.

I had trouble grabbing onto the story at first and then when it dipped its toes in the water, I could see myself feeling how much I was going to enjoy this comic. Maybe I am a sucker for stories involving some sort of love twist, but I don’t care! Then the comic involves the basic resurrection, death, hope, and on top that it equals math…yeah this story will only get more interesting. Plus, I have a soft spot for Bastard and want him to see him move on. To what? I don’t know but I am betting it is better than crunching numbers.

Numbercruncher__1Steve:  Borrow

I’m still not sure what I think about Number Cruncher, and I must have read it now a solid three to four times. Maybe that’s a good thing? I dunno. The premise here of an afterlife completely shaped by logic and mathematics is different and fresh, ironically, by being cold and calculating. I also like the way this world’s black and white, “paint-by-numbers” moral structure is mirrored in the mostly sketchy, yet often elaborate art, juxtaposing the color and vibrancy of life in the monochromatic doldrums of death.

The writing itself is good ... but this is where it gets weird for me, because it’s almost too good. This book is filled with high sentence, but is written low church, in this case using the cockney accent and slang of ethereal indentured servant, Operative #494, to convey the obtuse mysteries of the universe. It would work well if it wasn’t so heavy lain, but if you don’t mind approaching the text like you might a complex word problem that doesn’t actually lead anywhere, then you should be fine.

Speaking of which, while the plot of Number Cruncher establishes a solid foundation through Faustian deals, advanced mathematics and other works of the devil, not much else happens, other than to set up the “real” story about a brilliant mathematician who trades his soul for one more shot at life. I’m interested to see where this one goes, given #494’s foreboding words at its close, but for right now, Number Cruncher is a decent, if not delirious distraction, but not one I can completely recommend buying.

Carl: Buy

Bastard Zane works as an ethereal balance keeper.  Reality, according to the comic, relies on numbers and equations to keep order.  Employed by The Divine Calculator, Zane dispenses the necessary actions in order to keep the cosmic equation moving.

The latest assignment is to recruit Richard Thyme, a mathematician in love with Jessica Reed.  On his deathbed, Thyme agrees to a reincarnation so as to live another life with his soul mate.  However, The Divine Calculator offers a Faustian deal.

Zane believes Thyme to be his cosmic replacement that would enable Zane to retire, so he welcomes the mathematician into the cosmological order.

Literary, brilliant, and genre-shifting, Number Cruncher builds a world with the some standards that have been debated in stories like this.  Think of The Adjustment Bureau mixed with Bedazzled and cross-pollenated by HP Lovecraft’s “The Dreams in the Witch House.”  Just because we’ve seen these tropes before doesn’t mean this isn’t a great book.  The characterization, dialogue, and plot provide page-turning appeal while also begging wise readers to stop and ponder a reality based on numbers, chance, and consequence.

Brilliantly illustrated, the detailing and styles reminds me a bit of Batman: The Animated Series.  The world of the living is in color while Zane’s in between appears in black and white.  That’s some clever work on the pencils and the colors.

This is a smart book that urges the reader to think and calculate the possibilities.

Connor: Borrow

I'm not quite sure what to make of Numbercruncher. It surely is something different to what I've read before but I am unsure as to whether that is a good or bad thing. It's a genre mash up that throws love and systems into the mix with a focus being on the afterlife and people who work there, trying to get out.

The art looks alright but I much prefer it in the colored sections over the black and white. The writing is decent enough and I am intrigued as to what may happen but uncertain if I will go out of my way to keep reading. By all means I suggest you borrow it and check it out.

Ed: Buy

I’ve only ever seen Simon Spurrier writing for other people’s creations, whether it’s in the Marvel sandbox or his work on Garth Ennis’s Crossed, so I was interested to see him cut loose with his own creations. I wasn’t disappointed. Throughout Numbercruncher there’s a palpable creative energy bristling on every page, feeling as though Spurrier is trying to cram as many conceptual ideas, character beats and plot points into the comic as humanely possible without overloading the reader. It’s an unusual fusion of bleak, understated comedy, parable and metaphysical adventure, and though I’m clueless as to where this comic is going I’m excited to see it get there.

Most British comics publishers are either producing high-end graphic novels, art-house projects, weekly/bi-weekly anthologies or are going out of business, so it’s nice for me to see a newcomer like Titan trying to make an impact in the American monthly marketplace. If there’s any justice in the world and Titan are able to maintain the standard set by Numbercruncher then they’ll do just fine.

Dustin: Borrow

This is a soft “buy” for me in a way, if you’re willing to commit to the entire series then go for it, but if you’re on the fence then you should bum a friends copy or wait for the trade. I think it’s interesting enough to warrant coming back to, but I don’t think the first issue was as solid as it could have been. The story has an interesting concept, the art is unique and fits with that concept, but it spends a lot of the time talking about what’s going to happen… but in the past tense. Meaning what we’re reading isn’t the present; it’s a big ass recap. That’s fine to use that story device, but you better make me fall in love with the time line you are showing me and that didn’t happen here.

Even still, I think that if you’re curious about this series and the replacement of religion with math, then it’s worth picking up and following. I say barrow, but if the second issue turns out better than it would be a regrettable mistake so again it’s a little of both. It’s interesting and the dialog is definitely catchy, but then I’ve been watching nothing but British television for the past two months.

Score: 3 Buys and 3 Borrows

Writer: Simon Spurrier

Artist: P.J. Holden

Publisher: Titan Comics

Price: $3.99

Release Date: 7/17/13