‘Numbercruncher’ #1: The Comic You Should Be Reading This Week

Senior Contributor
07.17.13 15 Comments

Si Spurrier, best known around here for his work on X-Men Legacy and Extermination, has a new miniseries. And it posits possibly the most disturbing question ever written: What if Satan was an accountant? A full review, as well as reviews of this week’s number ones and notable other books, under the jump.

The protagonist, the titular Numbercruncher, is a man who sold his soul to the Devil, and we all know how that works out. Now he’s working in the afterlife for a jerkwad, but he finally has a way out: Your deal with this guy only lasts until you find someone to take your place. And a mathematician has just volunteered… well, provided he doesn’t live a life without sin.

Part of the reason Numbercruncher works is that Spurrier has some fairly complex and detailed thoughts about this version of the afterlife, not to mention a sad story about lost love and reincarnation… all explained by a backstreet brawler who curses every third word and is, reasonably, spectacularly grouchy about where afterlife has taken him. Spurrier’s gift tends to be hiding some pretty serious concerns deep within a seemingly typical story, like the last few issues of X-Men Legacy, and it’s on full display here.

P.J. Holden and Jordie Bellaire finish out the other half of the equation; this is a book that mixes a lot of art, going between MAD Magazine-style black-and-white magazine illustration and the “real” world. Bellaire in particular shows her usual flair for palette choices, helping the book to hop between times and spaces while Holden handles the art particularly well across the board.

In short, it’s well-drawn, well-written, and very, very funny. Pick it up this week, or you’re doing yourself a disservice.

So, what about the other number ones? Well, let’s take a look…

<!–pagetitle:Red Sonja #1–>

Gail Simone reboots everybody’s favorite chainmail bikini babe into, well, a fairly standard book, after a snappy, disturbing opening. It’s not that this is bad; it’s funny at points, although the tomboy jokes are a bit stale, and it’s got a lot of action to it. It’s well-paced, as well, and has a good cliffhanger.

It’s a pretty fun book, and it’s a good place to start if you’re not a Sonja fan or not into Robert E. Howard’s stuff; Simone makes it accessible. One just hopes there’s more to it as more issues hit the stands.

<!–pagetitle:Day Men #1–>

Matt Gagnon and Michael Nelson deliver on what’s a pretty clever concept: When the vampires are sleeping… who’s minding the store during the day? The answer, in this case, are the Day Men, humans who drop off bribes, drag drunken vampires out of bars, and clean up problems. Needless to say, it’s a messy job, and by the end of this issue, it gets a lot messier.

Brian Stelfreeze’s art is great, and in a nice touch, the book is set in Boston, but subtly so, with mentions of surrounding towns and Stelfreeze carefully working in background details. The result is a fun book with a lot of promise, and worth picking up.

<!–pagetitle:Superior Carnage #1–>

Somebody tries to recruit Carnage into their supervillain team. This will not end badly at all!

Kevin Shinick, though, manages to spice things up substantially, not least with the opening, featuring a normal joe stuck in a supervillain prison. Again, no points for guessing how he ends up, but it’s a clever way into the story. Similarly, Shinick finds moments of black comedy in a potentially bleak book that make it work.

Stephen Segovia’s art, meanwhile, is rock solid, especially when it comes to drawing Carnage, and overall, turns this book into something a little more specific and interesting than just “Here comes Carnage, yet a-frickin’-gain.” Worth checking out for Spidey fans.

<!–pagetitle:Star Wars: Dark Times #1–>

A solid and engaging book with a good script by Randy Stradley and some great art by Douglas Wheatley, but limited somewhat in that it’s a prequel, and we all know how this story is going to end. I’d almost rather Darth Vader were left out of it entirely, so there’d be more tension in the book.

<!–pagetitle:The Strain: The Fall #1–>

David Lapham and Mike Huddleston try gamely, but it’s pretty hard to make this story of an advancing vampire apocalypse really work. Lapham is constricted by having to follow from the previous miniseries, while Huddleston, while not bad at imitating Mike Mignola’s style, is also finding it a bit limiting. Not bad but really only for people already following the property.

<!–pagetitle:Blood Brothers #1–>

The name Etan Cohen, a screenwriter, doesn’t inspire hope, but give this book a chance. It’s not reinventing the wheel, but Mike Gagerman and Andrew Waller do a pretty good job of keeping it action-packed and funny, while Evan Shaner’s clean, careful art is always a lot of fun to read. It may be a backdoor attempt to sell a movie down the road, but it’s a solid, fun comic.

<!–pagetitle:Dinosaurs Attack #1–>

This is a reprint of a sadly cancelled series based on the notorious trading cards… and worth picking up for Herb Trimpe’s art alone. A nice silly bit of SF fun, and hopefully the followup issues for this never-finished mini from the ’80s will be in the same spirit.

<!–pagetitle:Night Of The ’80s Undead #1–>

The entire selling point of this book is that cocaine makes a bunch of ’80s actors go all rage-virus, and that it takes place in 1986. And there’s a scene with O.J. remarking that someday he’s going to kill his shrewish wife.

Yeah. You can skip this one.

<!–pagetitle:Batman ’66 #1–>

The 1960s Batman TV series is undeniably a profoundly cheesy endeavor, but it’s no cheesier, in fact sometimes substantially less so, than the comics DC was putting out at the time. So DC launching a digital-first comic that builds off the series was a… curious choice.

But an effective one. The tone of the series is captured perfectly by Jeff Parker; it’s campy and silly but just self-aware enough that you know it’s a joke. Jonathan Case’s art, on the other hand, is simultaneously great and lousy. Great because Case has the rights to use the image of various actors, and knows how to draw recognizable faces organically into the scene, but lousy in that, for some reason, he chose to color everything in a headache-inducing “Pop Art” style that looks like a misprinted 3D book. The individual panels are gorgeous, but taken together they might be too much for some readers.

Still, if you liked the original series, or have a kid who’s into Batman in your life, this will be the perfect book.

<!–pagetitle:Justice League Of America #6–>

Trinity War continues this week, and continues to be kind of dull. Part of the problem is that the story feels a bit stretched out: Our heroes take a lot of meetings in this issue and rehash personal connections and problems for the benefit of our readers just tuning in.

Not helping matters is the fact that there are four, count’ em, FOUR inkers on this issue, leading to some distracting art shifts and Doug Mahnke’s pencils getting a little less love than they deserve. So far, this is more interesting for the Trinity itself, especially the Question, than the overall plot, something that will hopefully reverse soon.

<!–pagetitle:Brother Lono #2–>

An OK, if slow, first issue has become a frustrating slow burn on this book. It is nice to get some more detail into why, precisely, Lono has been working in a Mexican orphanage since the events of 100 Bullets, but this book is still setting everything up, and frankly the setup isn’t that complex. We know that eventually Lono and the sadistic gangster we keep seeing will be getting into it, and it feels like the book is trying to stretch that out a bit more than it should.

<!–pagetitle:Archer And Armstrong #11–>

Any comic book that features dinosaurs, Algonquin, anus-obsessed aliens, an insane parody of General Douglas McArthur with a thing for being “probed” and Ambrose Bierce can’t be all bad.

Yeah, a silly book gets even sillier, but it’s a hell of a lot of fun. Also, the six-page short at the end featuring the Skullkickers team is worth the money on its own.

<!–pagetitle:Harbinger Wars #4–>

Well, that was…chaotic. Without getting into spolers, Harbinger Wars ends with a massive bang, and if you haven’t been following, pick up the whole series: It’s worth it. The action alone is superbly written, juggling multiple conflicts without losing the thread. So, if you like superhero fights… this is the place to be.

<!–pagetitle:7 Against Chaos–>

This has been in comics stores a week, and only now have I had time to fully process it.

This book is an odd one not least because it’s written by Harlan Ellison and drawn by Paul Chadwick, two men who have nothing to prove and can do whatever they like. It’s clear it was originally intended to be a miniseries; the book includes four covers as part of a wrap-around. But releasing it as a stand-alone graphic novel was a much wiser choice; the whole thing flows much more naturally.

The book itself is something unique, a thoughtful, flowing space opera that’s as much about the seven and the forces that have shaped them. Ellison is, of course, one of the best science fiction writers living, and this is his return, in some ways, to telling a straight-up action story. Set centuries in the future, the book follows seven misfits of human society. “Re-ordering”, creating new races with genetic engineering, is commonplace, and has created entire races of misfits, thrown away as disposable.

Until, of course, they’re needed. What makes the book work as a story is that Ellison has a rich, fully crafted world that he never completely explains or details: There are rules and limits to the technology on hand, even if it is the future. His characters have a surprisingly rich texture and there are moments of sadness throughout the book that punctuate it perfectly.

This is enhanced, substantially, by Paul Chadwick’s art. Chadwick is best known for his stunning work on Concrete, as both writer and artist, and he hands in work that’s his all the way, but also subtly paying tribute to artists from the early SF newspaper strips such as Milton Caniff and especially Alex Raymond.

In short, it’s something fresh and unique: Don’t miss out.

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