Bastard Zane is a numbercruncher, an operative of the afterlife. As his name suggests, Bastard is not the normal angel. A former cockney enforcer, he was murdered and begged for one more year with the love of his life. As he did so, a contract appeared in front of him and he was resurrected.
A year later, she’d dumped him and Bastard started his new job. The truth is, the afterlife is run like an accounting firm, a never ending cascade of celestial checks and balances all run by the Divine Calculator. Once every check and balance is completed, and the universe calculates the biggest number ever (or God, or The Singularity depending on your point of view) then his and Bastard’s work will be complete. Until then there’s always paper work and the odd clever sod who works it all out as they die. And that, of course, is where the trouble starts…
Numbercruncher occupies the same sort of ground as Sapphire And Steel or A Matter Of Life And Death . There’s the same polite approach to the supernatural, the same wickedly subversive sense of humour and the same feeling that just below the surface is something you don’t want to look straight at. Spurrier does a great job using Bastard as our tour guide for the afterlife, showing off a version of the Elysian Fields which has slightly more in common with The Office than Gladiator . It’s a brave idea and it works, as the endless fields of desks and accounting machines echo the polite, industrious Heaven of A Matter Of Life And Death with just a light seasoning of Brazil for good measure. Bastard is a wonderfully down-at-heel, eloquent guide to this world and you’ll need to pay close attention to him as Spurrier throws idea after idea onto the page. The conditions of resurrection, the DC’s horrible sense of humour, what God may actually be and why Love is not something to cherish in the after-life are all here. More importantly, they’re all described through Bastard’s long suffering but somehow still chatty narration.
Spurrier’s script is fantastic; clever, dark, sweet and funny all at once and Holden’s art is the perfect match. The weathered Bastard is a monolithic, suited presence whose very size subtly tips you off to his lack of humanity. The DC, likewise, is a splendidly odd figure and Holden wrings tremendous unease from the otherworldly offices of their work space. He balances that with real human emotion, especially in the final pages of this first issue. There’s just the tiniest hint of a crack in Bastard’s armour, the smallest sense he’s remembering what it is to be human. Whether this is true, or whether he’ll be able to rebel will be part of the upcoming issues.
Jordie Bellaire’s colour work is never less than great. Here it’s stunning. The Elysium offices are rendered in black and white, the past is in muted colours and the present combines dynamic colours with monochrome backgrounds. Colour is used as a mark of life here and Bellaire’s warm, playful tones lift the book immeasurably. Simon Bowland, one of the best letterers working today, rounds the book off with style coping with Bastard’s monologues and the differing tones and emotions of each character with absolute ease.
Numbercruncher is wonderful, a big, slightly grumpy slice of top class British supernatural fiction. Cheerfully profane, wonderfully grim and with just a touch of love, humour and hope this is an afterlife you wouldn’t want permanent employment in. Another top notch title from Titan’s new comic line.