How do you feel about Tom & Jerry cartoons? Your answer will inform whether or not you’ll like Numbercruncher because that’s what the series turns out to be like: a cat and mouse story but on a metaphysical plane. And after 6 years old (or thereabouts) I stopped caring for Tom & Jerry.
Richard Thyme was a theoretical mathematician who passed away at the end of the 1960s, leaving behind his beloved girlfriend. Richard discovers that the afterlife is essentially an accountancy firm run by a sadistic old beancounter with a warped sense of humour called the Divine Calculator who works through operatives like Bastard Zane, the tough guy wearing the bowler hat on the cover. Richard makes a deal with the DC and gets reincarnated with the catch being that when he dies a second time, he will replace Zane as an operative and Zane can retire. Except Richard is a bit of a clever clogs and figures out a way of cheating Zane out of his retirement by promising the same thing to every other operative out there, essentially giving himself limitless reincarnations. Why so many? Zane is on the case and, with his trusty “Accident Gun” is able to dispatch each incarnation of Richard indirectly – but Richard is one step ahead of Zane as the two chase each other across time and space.
The second issue is a lot faster-paced than the first, mostly because the exposition and setup from the first issue has been dealt with and the story can really get going. We know the stakes, we know the characters, so we can sit back and watch the story unfold. But it’s not much of a story to be honest. Guy chasing another guy indefinitely? It’s not that interesting, especially when the characters aren’t worth rooting for.
I appreciate that Si Spurrier has presented us with an unusual situation – namely, the two main characters are both kind of the hero in their own way. Richard is the traditional hero in that he’s doing all of this out of love while Zane, despite being called Bastard, is a likeable tough guy in the vein of Marv from Sin City. And I like the idea of the Accident Gun, a weapon that creates accidents in the real world making chosen targets’ deaths appear random instead of being a boring gun that shoots the target directly dead.
Except, disappointingly, that’s about all this comic has to offer in terms of good stuff. The story of Zane chasing Richard is repetitive, despite only being in this one issue, while the action that takes place in the 2030s looking distinctly tacky with PJ Holden presenting a world that looks very 2000AD, ie. an 80s version of the future. People wearing “iSkins”? Come on. Also a few basic questions get raised in the plot that are never answered. What does Zane’s “retirement” consist of – does he get reincarnated or does he simply cease to exist? This is important as it’s the whole reason he’s doing everything he’s doing in the comics – but it’s unclear to what end. Why doesn’t the DC mess with the other reincarnations of Richard like he did the first time? If Zane can “kill” another operative, what happens to them? And if death is an escape, why doesn’t Zane stop chasing Richard and off himself? That these questions exist means that the comic isn’t very well written – which it isn’t.
PJ Holden’s art isn’t bad but isn’t something you’re likely to remember a few hours after putting the comic down, while Jordie Bellaire’s involvement remains baffling. Bellaire’s a colourist who has done tremendous work on Image titles like Mara and The Manhattan Projects yet she’s been brought in to re-colour a formerly black and white strip – which remains mostly black and white!
For all its high concepts, Numbercruncher remains a simplistic story, and a pretty dull one at that.
Numbercruncher #2 by Si Spurrier, PJ Holden and Jordie Bellaire is out on Wednesday
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