20th Sep2013

‘Numbercruncher #3’ Review

by Mark Allen

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


Last we saw, Bastard Zane was in a bit of a bind; not only had mathematician Thyme screwed him out of early retirement from his duties as an afterlife enforcer, but he’d also conned his way into perpetual reincarnation, meaning that he could be reunited with his true love even moments after being run down by a car simply by being born into a new body. Numbercruncher #3 sees Zane attempting to curtail Thyme’s plan by killing him and the enforcers he makes new deals with as quickly and brutally as possible, even going so far as tracking down a newborn version of him, still to little avail. The plot thickens a little as Zane notices some odd behaviour in his prey that has seemingly nothing to do with his romantic quest, but which leads him to a revelation that may well put a stop to all of Thyme’s tiresome shenanigans.

No news here: this book still doesn’t disappoint. There’s little to report in terms of the quality of writing and art this time around, as Spurrier and Holden are at the top of their game, the compressed-narration format of Thyme’s many attempts to steal another minute with Jessica only to be foiled by Zane’s gleefully ultraviolent ‘accidents’ (a particularly brutal one involving a shark may be my favourite) proving a marvel of rapid-fire storytelling that’s as hilarious as it is satisfying. If anything, this issue lets the art stretch its legs a little and incorporates much more colour than before. The first two issues took place largely in Zane’s black-and-white eternal accountancy firm, leading to a striking contrast when presented with the colourful real world, but also a criminal underuse of Jordie Bellaire’s superlative palette. Issue #3 rectifies this by occurring mostly in the real world, following Thyme and Jessica’s stories with Bastard Zane often appearing as a ghostly spectre in the background. Numbercruncher feels much more alive when presented in more than just shades – which I suspect is a pretty obvious point that I, um, didn’t really need to make – and Bellaire’s contribution can’t be understated. In fact, instead of another essay from Spurrier in the backmatter, this time around there’s an examination of JB’s colouring process for the book, which I found mighty illuminating and a welcome supplement.

This issue’s probably my favourite so far because it takes into account the emotional and psychic toll of everything that’s happened to Jessica, the object of Thyme’s affection. Having a string of relationships (and even fleeting acquaintances) end in sudden, often violent death is enough to send anyone round the bend, and with Jess struggling to cope with the idea that she’s cursed in some way that means she’ll forever be alone, it only makes sense that she would shun the advances of any man trying to woo her and lock herself up in a hippie convent to avoid further bloodshed – a moment that harks back to a moment from the first issue and makes for a neat little time loop. I do so love a good time loop. Anyway, it’s refreshing to have a story told from all sides (well, maybe not all, but I doubt a final issue told from the Divine Calculator’s perspective would be all that scintillating) and not just have Numbercruncher be about two blokes pissing about in time*, though I hardly expected that to be the case with a writer of Spurrier’s thoughtfulness. It’s a side of science fiction and mainstream comics in general that I’m miffed we don’t see more of – which is to say consequences, and not just for the hero. Hell, Spurrier’s racked up sixteen issues and counting of a story that’s one big domino chain from AvX in X-Men Legacy, so clearly this isn’t an isolated incident.

A thoughtful, intelligent, super-violent comic with a wicked sense of humour and an emotional core to boot, Numbercruncher #3 is on sale now. And if you missed out on the first two issues and don’t fancy trawling through the back-issue bins of comic stores (though they’ve hopefully all sold out), Titan announced a trade collection for December. It’s a win-win!

*Not that that’s all the first two issues were, mind, but it’s a review. I’ve got to exaggerate somewhere.

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