Reading Pile: Numbercruncher HC
Si Spurrier is one of those writers that I tend to give a free pass on everything because he tends to approach his stories and characters from innovative angles. His Six-Gun Gorilla book is where he first clicked with me and while I do enjoy his mainstream work (his X-Club remains as one of my favorite X-Men titles, especially during a bleak period in their history) I think I gravitate to his creator owned material like Numbercruncher. It's where he can experiment with his concepts and just have fun, and when he works with a great artists then the projects really sing.
Numbercruncher follows the POV of the antagonist of the story, a thug named Bastard Zane who made a deal as he died for one more year of life. Except it wasn't with a devil, but with the custodians of reality who act as a sort of karmic accountancy.
Zane becomes an agent of the Divine Calculator, a petty and overcontrolling godlike figure who's striving to reach a sort of universal perfection of what he calls the biggest number. Zane has to serve this sentence for what feels like an eternity, his only way out depending on him receiving a case where he finds another poor schmuck to replace him. Enter Richard Thyme, a mathematician who has figured out the math of the universe and wants to cut a deal for more time with his true love.
The Divine Calculator wants Thyme for his brilliance, so they cut a deal that of course screws Thyme over as they reincarnate him years after he originally died.
The trick is, Thyme is a genius. He's found a way to play the game and confound the rules, forcing Zane to chase him across time and numerous reincarnations so that he doesn't have to remain at his post and live an endless afterlife of tedious bureaucracy.
The story does an amazing job of making the villain of the piece likable as he's basically just trying to achieve his own freedom. Sure, he brutally massacres other agents and is a violent thug in every sense, but we grow to feel a level of empathy for him. Part of this is the distinct voice Spurrier gives him, and part of this is also that sometimes characters of pure rage can just be pretty great. Meanwhile, Thyme's story and motivation are a story about love and determination, but there's also a really engaging handling of just how toxic and shortsighted those motivations can be when they don't take every party into account. Also, Thyme is sort of a smug asshole, so it's easy to root for Zane at times. Plus, Zane has a cool 'Accident Gun' that can collapse atomic superpositions.
PJ Holden's art is pitch perfect for the world and voice of the series, infusing a gritty tone that captures the black comedic personality of the story and Zane's character at their best. The story also creates multiple layers of reality through its coloring choices, maintaining the black and white design of otherworldly characters as they enter a brighter and more colorful land of the living.
I'm probably a bit biased because I generally enjoy stories from the villain's POV, but that's mostly because that approach tends to break the monotony of traditional stories for me. Merge that with my Spurrier bias and I was pretty much bound to love this book. And while I've enjoyed Holden's artwork before, this project really elevated my appreciation of his style and storytelling skills.
The hardcover is a nice package from Titan Comics, but it's honestly a little overpriced at $19.99 as it's just 90 pages (4 issues worth) of story plus some additional artwork and articles. Yes, the content is well worth it, but c'mon Titan, the sweet spot would have been in the $15 range. The trick though is that the book is severely overlooked these days, and you can find some pretty good deals online. As much as I don't think Amazon needs more business, you can catch copies at just $4 a pop over there right now so maybe don't miss the opportunity.