16th Jul2013

‘Numbercruncher #1’ Review

by Mark Allen

Written by Si Spurrier | Drawn by  PJ Holden | Colours by Jordie Bellaire | Published by Titan Books


I’m a little biased going into this book because, as anyone with a passing familiarity with our Panel Discussion posts can tell you, I’ve kind of got a thing for Si Spurrier’s writing. His cynical sense of humour, unbridled invention (not to mention joyful wordplay) and infectious sincerity always has me hooked, whether in turning the Merry Marvel Mutantverse on its head in X-Men: Legacy or delivering so-bonkers-it’s-brilliant sci-fi-western shenanigans in Six-Gun Gorilla, so I was pretty excited to hear that I could get to read his latest creator-owned book, Numbercruncher, a few days early.

For economy’s sake, here’s the plot synopsis from the book’s solicitation:

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!

Sure, a comic about maths doesn’t sound exactly scintillating, but this is Big Maths, and when Big Maths meets Big Ideas by way of PJ Holden’s superlative art and Jordie Bellaire’s sparingly used but oh-so-essential colours you’re onto a winner.

The comic doles out sugar-coated exposition throughout the issue, combining Spurrier’s knack for idiosyncratic narration from Zane – a rather foul-mouthed cockney gentleman, if his dropped ‘h’s and ‘n’s are anything to go by – and ADD-afflicted pages from Holden that flit around time zones, countries and even planes of reality in the space between panels that make each and every image worth poring over. It’s made abundantly clear that this is what Spurrier wants us to do from his column in the backmatter in which he makes his ‘no plot thread unpicked at’ policy known.

With all of that information crammed into a single issue you might think that Numbercruncher could end up being a tad overwhelming, but terms are clearly defined without being condescending and the plot’s as finely honed as you’re likely to get from high-caliber creators, leading to very little confusion about the book’s intent, despite the late introduction of the aforementioned Mathematician, the spanner in the works of the whole outfit run by the crotchety, unimaginative accountant that stands in for God here.

The synopsis above spoils the story a little as it’s not evident that the Mathematician intends to reincarnate himself more than once (a privilege he attained by working out the secrets of the universe on his deathbed, natch), although Zane’s narration from the future lays it pretty thick that the cosmic nerd’s got machinations afoot. That said, with a time-bendy book like this, spoilers are a matter of perspective; the narrative plays pretty fast and loose with ideas of duration and relativity – even including an Einstein quote in the acknowledgements – and often feels like Slaughterhouse Five recast as an existential thriller with a dirty mouth. Poo-too-weet, you dirty slag.

So yeah, Numbercruncher has it all: a little bit of science, a lot of fiction, blood, romance, tragedy, humour, grand themes and human failures. I can’t read every book that comes out every single week, but I’m going to go out on a limb and say there’s nothing like this on the shelves right now, and you really don’t need any more reason than that to pick it up.

Numbercruncher #1 is on sale July 17th.

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