22nd Oct2013

‘Numbercruncher #4’ Review

by Mark Allen

Written by Si Spurrier | Drawn by PJ Holden | Coloured by Jordie Bellaire | Published by Titan Comics


Often when you read a comic with a skyscraper-high concept the conclusion doesn’t quite live up to the promise of the rest of the book, mainly because the creators were so excited about the ideas they’d chucked at the wall that they neglected to make sure all of them stuck. The bulk of the series might be chock full of excitement, inventiveness and thrills, but if that last chapter doesn’t pay off in an appropriately satisfying manner it can really sour a reader’s experience.

Thankfully, the creators of Numbercruncher know how to stick a bloody good landing.

No need to catch you up on previous happenings; there’re other reviews for that. This series has done a fine job of switching things up every issue, and #4’s no different in that it’s very different (er, what?). Mostly taking place in two locations as opposed to previous installments’ tendencies to flit around time and space, the series’ conclusion deals mostly with tying up the loose ends intentionally peppered throughout the story in a typically annoyingly clever manner and giving each main character a reasonably satisfying ending.

Contrary to past issues, our guide to the afterlife Bastard Zane is much more of a spectator as he watches super-mathematician (though, at this point, the title ‘metamatician’ would probably be more apt) Richard Thyme’s ultimate plan unfold before him and in flashbacks to panels past. These nods lead to palpable realisations for both us and Zane, and I can’t deny that I found myself audibly “ah…”-ing more than once during my first read.

Yep: everything fits together pretty neatly, with the exception of an existential quandary at the book’s absolute end, but we’ll get to that. This is equally due to the art from Holden and Bellaire as it is the idiosyncratic, open-minded script from Spurrier, and one of my favourite moments from the entire series is a panel entirely without words: a beautifully understated pencil rendering of Thyme’s last moments that doesn’t look quite like anything else in the book but fits in perfectly.

Of course, it’s not long after that quiet moment before Zane’s incessant cockney babble returns to the fore and reminds us that there’s nothing quite like an irrepressible c**t with a sharp tongue to bring a smile to your face.

Bastard Zane gets a happy ending, and it’s hard to begrudge him it when we’ve seen him wade through so much shit and bring us so much hyperviolent joy, even if he’s ostensibly failed his mission to keep tachyon-crossed lovers Richard and Jessica apart and bind the former in eternal service to the Accountant. Spoilers, I guess, but we all knew Thyme would have the ace of aces up his sleeve and pull through, didn’t we?

But it’s not just the winning that makes this issue so good; it’s the acknowledgement of both Zane and Richard’s negative influence on Jessica’s life (by appearing to his lover in countless different bodies then violently dying on her) and the latter’s selfless, slightly head-scratching solution to that problem. I’m not exactly sure whether or not that last page makes things better or just resets the whole story–


–with Jessica’s eternal spirit being reincarnated in baby Richard’s body (is she destined to lead his tumultuous life over again, or is she allowed to plot a new course? He died at a pretty young age in the first issue, so has Richard even given her a life worth living?), but I I am glad that neither of them end up in the grasp of the stroppy, vindictive but ultimately impotent Accountant, and I’m certainly not upset that I’m still thinking about a comic days after having finished it.

It might sound kind of weird for this to be the thing I praise most about this series, but I really appreciated the economy of story in Numbercruncher: we’re in the world, we’re told a story and then we’re straight out again, Billy Wilder-style. (Okay, I may have just rewatched The Apartment.) There’s absolutely no fat, no element that could be done without and that’s (sadly) a rare, elegant thing in today’s stories. Hats off to everyone involved.

Let this be a lesson to creators: this is how you do smart, funny, engaging comics with heart.

Numbercruncher is on sale this Wednesday.

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