The latest creator owned series published by Titan Comics, "Numbercruncher", reaches its penultimate issue with a lot of shock and awe. Si Spurrier ("X-Men Legacy"), artist P.J. Holden and colorist Jordie Bellaire forge ahead with their unique tale about a thug for the accountant of the underworld chasing a very stubborn soul across time. Previous issues have set up Bastard Zane as "agent #494" serving the "Divine Calculator" who runs the afterlife and is in control of life, death, and reincarnation (and everything in between). The collection of one Richard Thyme - a genius mathematician - goes awry when he manages to use trickery to reincarnate himself to gain another chance at the love of his life, Jessica. The deal was that he'd get another shot at life to be with her, in exchange for taking Zane's place serving the "Divine Calculator". They thought to cheat him by reincarnating him in the future, with Jessica as an old woman instead of in her prime in the 1960's. Instead, it is Thyme who has led them on a merry chase - organizing the same deal with multiple agents.
This issue covers Zane's chase for Thyme across dozens of reincarnations across various decades. Zane does him in every time with his "accident gun" and defeats yet another rival agent seeking to cash in his cosmic bargain chip. But it seems every time, Thyme cheats the system and gets another shot at a new life in a new body in a new time. Not even the "Divine Calculator" is willing to fudge the contract just to appease Zane. However, this issue covers a detail Thyme neglected - his efforts to return to Jess in different bodies as different men throughout time are driving her mad. By the time Jess is an old woman further into the 21st century, she's convinced any man who is remotely nice to her for a moment will die, and has become isolated and surrounded by women. By this time Thyme has reincarnated himself so many times across so many time periods that more than one of his "selves" can exist at one time or another. Zane is forced to make another bargain with the "Divine Calculator" for a "magic bullet" which promises to fix the situation once and for all. Will it be enough?
Despite the very strange set up to the afterlife and reincarnation, the last two issues have forged through enough of the exposition that this issue feels more organic than the last two. The development with Jessica makes sense and leads the yarn back to where it ended in the first issue, constructing a solid "time loop". The artwork by Holden and Bellaire is terrific, and Spurrier's voice for Zane always keeps this work from seeming too sterile or far out to be amusing - a lesson some may wish Jonathan Hickman could learn in some of his Marvel Comics work. This series often pops with originality as well as its own unique flavor of dark comedy. If it has one flaw, it is that the format of the story doesn't allow for Jessica to become a character unto herself, but is instead an object batted back and forth between Zane and Thyme. Thyme seeks to possess more of her while Zane uses her as bait to wait out Thyme's inevitable reincarnations. While "love" is seen as Thyme's motivation and this issue focuses on the after effects this time spanning ordeal has had on Jessica, she still comes off as the ball swatted between Zane and Thyme in their cosmic game of tennis with each other. Given the amount of exposition and story to cram into four issues, perhaps this is unavoidable, but the story could have been stronger had she been an actual character instead of a walking object of desire.
Overall, "Numbercruncher" remains a solid and entertaining read, and another great offering from Titan Comics. The conclusion to this cross time chase next month should make for quite the read.