One of the oldest stories ever – selling your soul to the devil – gets re-imagined in Si Spurrier and PJ Holden’s Numbercruncher. Originally appearing in the pages of Judge Dredd Megazine a couple of years ago, Numbercruncher has been reissued by Titan Comics as a four issue mini-series, recoloured by the excellent Jordie Bellaire.
Bastard Zane is Agent 494, our cocky cockney narrator, as he opens our eyes to the afterlife – but not as we know it. The afterlife has golfcarts. It is the In Between (Heaven), an endless array of desks, filing cabinets, and paperwork – paperwork everywhere! – as your karma is accounted for by the Divine Calculator (God/Devil – here presented as a stereotypical accountant who’s old, has square classes, suspenders and a dealer visor) and once you get in by selling your soul, the only way out is to get another human to sell theirs as your replacement. Luckily for Agent 494 he finds someone willing to sell his soul for love – Richard Thyme, a mathematician who figures out the nature of reality and tries to put one over the Divine Calculator. But will Richard succeed in breaking the system or will he be condemning himself to even more excruciating bureaucracy forever and ever?
Issue 1s are hard to get right – you either overdo the exposition in presenting the world of that series and its characters to the reader, or you don’t do enough of it and don’t create a strong enough impression. Numbercruncher does a lot of the former, where a lot of the pages are set aside for explaining the karmic accountancy of the afterlife and the game the Divine Calculator is playing to get to the “highest number” (evolution). It is however necessary for Spurrier to do this as I think the whole story is about how this one guy (Richard Thyme) manages to take down the afterlife or break it in some permanent way, so it’s a forgivable aspect of the comic.
But despite the amount of exposition, I was still unclear on some things – Bastard Zane is happy for Richard to be his replacement but what does that mean for him? Once Richard replaces him, will he die for good? Isn’t he already dead? Will he be reincarnated? It’s unclear, and it’s a sign of a poorly written comic when simple questions about the premise go unanswered when so much of it is delved into and extrapolated elsewhere.
The story was a bit obvious at times. When Richard bargains with the Divine Calculator he thinks he’s outsmarted him in some way by getting what he wanted – reincarnation and a chance to be with his beloved again. Except this scenario of the genie and a wish gone wrong has been done to death, so you know exactly how Richard’s wish is going to go – its not what he wanted, but technically it’s what he asked for. Really – we’re still doing this kind of playground stuff?
Also the depiction of the afterlife is a bit bland – it’s just a massive accountancy firm. It isn’t helped by the lack of colour – ironic as this comic boasts one of the best colourists in the business, Jordie Bellaire, specifically brought on to recolour the book. But it’s clear that the intention was to leave these heaven sections in blacks, whites, and greys, in comparison to the coloured Earth sections. Still, this comic has the least impressive colours I’ve yet seen Bellaire produce compared to her stellar work at Image with Mara and The Manhattan Projects – the coloured sections of Numbercruncher are very ordinary.
Numbercruncher is a comic with some clearly big ideas excellently juxtaposed by the less than cerebral narrator, Bastard Zane, who makes the comic a more entertaining read through his colourful observations (the creator of all things has halitosis and a cat called Mimpsy!) and no-nonsense approach to storytelling. He’s like Jason Statham crossed with Spider Jerusalem with an unmistakably growly 2000AD voice.
Numbercruncher #1 is a rocky start asking the reader to take on board a lot of unusual concepts at once and stick around for a bigger payoff later. Spurrier manages to mix in elements of romance, supernatural thriller, cosmic adventuring, and dark humour into a strange melange of a story but doesn’t make me want to find out what happens next as urgently as I’m sure he’d hoped. As I didn’t follow it when it appeared in the Judge Dredd Megazine back in 2011, I don’t know how the story panned out, but based on this first issue, it could go either way – in a faster, more involving direction or it could sink under the weight of the exposition and snarkiness. It’s not a bad comic but it’s not a great one either.
Numbercruncher #1 by Si Spurrier and PJ Holden is out now
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