It’s all about those magical numbers as Crossing Borders tackles time travel sci-fi in Numbercruncher and Japanese folk heroes in The 47 Ronin.
Numbercruncher by Simon Spurrier and PJ Holden
A numbercruncher is described by Webopedia as a computer whose dominant characteristic is its ability to perform large amounts of numerical computations quickly and is often applied to powerful workstations. In Spurrier’s case, the numbercruncher would be… god.
In the end, it’s all about the numbers and that is what a young mathematician discovers when he dies. However he discovers a way to cheat the terrifying Divine Calculator. He schemes to be endlessly reincarnated in the life of the woman he loves, no matter how often the violent bailiffs of the Karmic Accountancy cut short each life. It falls to one such Karmic agent – the surly Bastard Zane – to put a stop to the time-twisting romance once and for all!
Abraham Lincoln once said ‘The best thing about the future is that it comes one day at a time.’ but that sure isn’t true in Numbercruncher being tongue-in-cheek, deadly serious and laugh-out loud hilarious at the same time. Collected and recolored for the Titans Books edition, it was first serialized in the 2000 AD magazine. Writer Simon Spurrier turns in a complex adventure serial with plenty of twists and turns but what turns out to be, at the core, a love story. He has a good feel for the characters and both enforcer Zane and his temporal refuge, mathematician Richard, are well worked out even as the plot just surges forward. And just when you think that no matter how much you love someone, “how much heartbreak can you stand?” Spurrier adds this question to the story and it takes another unexpected turn.
Paul J. Holden is perfect partner for a twisted tale like this one. Aside from being a solid 2000 AD artist, he has also worked on Robocop/ Terminator, Fearless and Garth Ennis’ Battlefields. Based on Numbercruncher, his star will only continue to rise on the artistic firmament. Mixing inks and pencil work for the real world and afterlife scenes (sometimes in one panel), he provides detailed vistas for the number crunching work stations in the afterlife while simultaneously grounding the story in real life with solid and expressive character work. His style of drawing is blocky and reminiscent of Steve Parkhouse but adding in the detail and expressionism of Jamie Hewlett. There’s a manic energy in his work that is especially apparent in his pencil scenes.
Numbercruncher is an original page-turner that will surprise and engage you at every turn of the page. Simon Spurrier’s script will remind you of the lost love of your life while jostling you out of your chair out of bewilderment for all the crazy ideas he injects into his script. PJ Holden draws it all splendidly like a man out of time, switching back and forth between the hereafter and the real world. Numbercruncher is a true time twister in every sense of the word. If you like to know more about Numbercruncher, check out this interview at Broken Frontier.
Numbercruncher Volume 1 by Simon Spurrier and PJ Holden is published by Titan Books. It is a full colour hardcover counting 90 pages and retails for £14.99.
The 47 Ronin by Sean Michael Wilson and Akiko Shimojima
Lauded as the most accurate and most compelling of the many retellings of this eighteenth century legend, the manga graphic novelisation of The 47 Ronin tells the story of forty-seven samurai who avenged the death of their master in a plot that would take over two years to complete. After succeeding in their mission, the masterless samurai—known as ronin—all committed ritual suicide. The story, which is a national legend, remains the most potent example of Japan’s deeply rooted cultural imperative of honor, persistence, loyalty, and sacrifice.
And although it certainly can be the most accurate, it certainly is not the most compelling graphic novelisation of this classical drama. The fault lies with both writer and artist who present this exciting samurai drama so matter-of-factly that all the tragedy and heroics just fall by the wayside, into the ditch. Sean Michael Wilson manages to avoid every suspense the story has and having the characters just go through the motions of whatever it is the tale requires them to do. There’s no dramatic character arc, no tension, no intricate plotting; there is just the tale and the telling of it. The first betrayal of the master, the plotting of the samurai and the infiltration into Edo; one event does not differ from the other in terms of story suspense and none are explored to its fullest extent in terms of dramatic tension. There’s is no reason given for the actions of the samurai, not even the code of Bushido is mentioned or explored which can be considered the cornerstone of the motivations of our main characters.
The drawings by Akiko Shimojima certainly don’t help in enforcing the drama of the 47 samurai. Characters all look alike, distinguished only by Japanese markings on kimono’s, hairstyles and type of dress; the facial expressions are rather limited and the style of drawing is bland with a generic manga feel that does not befit the status of this folk tale.
The tale of The 47 Ronin certainly deserves a better treatment than this. If you are looking for a solid introduction to these legendary warriors, I’d look elsewhere. Renowned artist Stan Sakai did his version of this tale which I would consider a far better and more exciting version than this one.
The 47 Ronin by Sean Michael Wilson and Akiko Shimojima is published by Random House. It is a black and white softcover counting 160 pages and retails for $14.95.