This July, Si Spurrier and PJ Holden's "Numbercruncher" from "2000 AD" is being collected, expanded and colored into a mini-series in its own right. For those who don't read "2000 AD," I'm glad that we're getting a second chance to check this out, because based off the first issue, "Numbercruncher" is a lot of fun.
"Numbercruncher" #1 opens on Zane, an enforcer for the Divine Calculator in the afterlife. There's something fun about a suit-and-bowler-hat-wearing thug working as part of the afterlife, grabbing people for the Divine Calculator (think the stereotypical accountant, complete with classes, visor, and balding head) and moving them on. But as "Numbercruncher" #1 unfolds, there's a lot more to this story than might initially meet the eye. When Richard Thyme makes a deal on being reincarnated with some certain conditions, it sets in motion a mixture of tragedy and comedy -- along with Zane's chance to finally be set free of his duties to the afterlife.
Spurrier gives Zane a very distinct voice to narrate "Numbercruncher" #1; it's got a nice dry sense of humor even as it recounts everything in a matter-of-fact manner. You can almost hear the occasional barb of disdain just dripping off of Zane's words, and it's a good early hook in the story to keep the reader around. Then Richard enters the scene, and with the plot kicking in things begin to get more and more interesting. I like the bureaucracy-and-accounting rendition of the afterlife that Spurrier's created with all of its contracts, rules and surprise clauses, and moments where you might think, "That doesn't add up quite right" are in fact deliberate plants of plot seeds that quickly come to fruition.
I was also impressed that for a story originally serialized in 8-page segments in "2000 AD" on how smoothly it flows. Honestly, you might not have even guessed that we're seeing three chapters strung together. That's some nice work on the part of Spurrier, to be able to write "Numbercruncher" in a way that lent itself to serialization even as each piece did work well on its own.
This is my first experience with Holden's art, and based on this I'd like to see a lot more. It feels almost like a strange mash-up of the styles of artists like Steve Parkhouse and John Romita Jr., with nice angular faces but then a ridiculous amount of detail crammed onto the pages when you least expect it, from the whorls that define the Divine Calculator's doors, to the flood of numbers and symbols that explode out of his desk. What's nice is that while Holden's figures are a little cartoonish in places, they are at the same time always well-defined and consistent, and they're drawn in a way that lets you map real-world features onto their faces.
The preview copy I read was mostly in black and white (with the occasional blue-tone), and based on that I was able to see and appreciate Holden's line art. If this was how it was published, I'd be happy with it. But I have seen a handful of pages with colorist Jordie Bellaire's artistry added to Holden's creation, and it's gorgeous. The transformation is impressive, with deep and rich colors that make each page just pop out to the reader that much more. If you didn't know better you'd have assumed that Holden had drawn these for being in color from day one. Bellaire is a colorist whose work is getting recognized more and more, and "Numbercruncher" #1 is just another example of why her star has risen so quickly.
"Numbercruncher" #1 is inventive, unpredictable and engaging. What more can you ask for in a debut issue? The first issue will be in the March Previews for hitting stores on July 10, 2013, and it is well worth your attention and pre-orders. Check it out; I think you'll be pleasantly surprised.