Numbercruncher has developed out of a story that was originally serialised in the Judge Dredd Megazine, but its intricate plot is far more suited to a single volume. However, the transition to book format hasn’t diluted its British 2000AD-like style.
Bastard Zane is a soul collector, gathering the ethereal remains of those who pass away on Earth. However, instead of Heaven or Hell, Zane’s work-place is more like a cosmic accountancy practice, run by the Divine Calculator. He balances the books of people’s actions before their souls are moved on, usually into a newborn human. Zane himself is no angel; he looks more like a street boxer, dressed up in a pinstripe suit and bowler hat, and has a particularly colourful vocabulary.
The story follows Zane on what’s meant to be his last collection before retiring to oblivion. He has to pick up a brilliant mathematician, whose life is cruelly cut short. Being a genius and quickly working out what’s going on, the mathematician cuts a deal with the Divine Calculator. But nothing’s straightforward when dealing with the Devil (or his accounting equivalent), and all parties spend the rest of the book trying to find ways to wriggle out of the deal and its plot-enhancing sub-clauses.
It’s a clever book that travels through time, littering its progress with clues to what’s going on in the future. There’s a big reveal at the end that’ll have you flicking back thinking “I saw that happen, I thought it was a bit odd at the time.” PJ Holden’s artwork is coloured in the real world, and black and white in the afterlife; when the two worlds collide, the styles are intertwined but not fully mixed, to brilliant artistic effect.
If the book lacks anything it’s a little soul of its own. It feels like a group of characters, built around a clever premise, but never really gets past that. It makes for a very enjoyable and well-presented romp, but while it offers great pleasure as you’re piecing together its various strands, it doesn’t give you that tingling feeling you get from a true classic.