Slightly different versions of these reviews first appeared online at Another Universe.
In Numbercruncher, the bureaucratic Divine Calculator controls the flow of souls destined for reincarnation. Trying to buy more time for a particular only ends with despair, since it’s part of a contract to take the place of an agent when death comes again.
Agent 494 is a tired cockney tough who’s only too happy that the newly dead Richard Thyme wants to strike a deal. Thyme, however, is a cunning mathematician who doesn’t play by the rules. Thyme finds a way to go through infinite reincarnations, with all of his memories intact. What ensues between Agent 494 and Thyme is a cat-and-mouse game through lifetimes. The chase has a Death Note feel to it, with the antagonists being equally matched.
Thyme’s willing to go through endless deaths and rebirths in order to snatch a few stolen moments with his beloved girlfriend. Jenny Reed is the book’s tragic figure because everyone she loves dies in cruel and unusual ways. Every time Thyme dies, he’s wearing a different body and a difference face—so Jenny just grows more convinced that she’s cursed. (To make an old reference: she’s like Maggie O’Connell from Northern Exposure, amped up to eleven.) Thyme’s a jerk for not noticing that Jenny feels tortured, and that his reincarnations are the cause of her suffering.
Some readers may disagree with the ending but I found Numbercruncher to be an enjoyable graphic novel with a fresh take on the afterlife.
In Battling Boy, the eponymous character is required to embark on a Rambling—a coming-of-age ceremony in which demigods are sent to realms in need of a champion. He’s sent to Acropolis with some power-enhancing shirts, a magic cloak, and a minimum of clues. Acropolis is an embattled city: curfew is enforced because nightmare monsters swallow children whole. Local officials are helpless, and they rely on heroic vigilantes like Haggard West. Sadisto’s gang just killed West, though, leaving Aurora West to inherit her father’s arsenal of weapons and his unfinished fight.
Battling Boy has so much promise, but it’s difficult to determine how the series will flesh out in future installments. So far, it’s a fairly typical coming-of-age story, reminiscent of shonen manga: the first chapters provide solid groundwork for the elaborate setting. A reader needs patience, though, while waiting for the plot to pick up momentum. Sometimes, a reader’s patience is rewarded with something unique and mind-blowing. Sometimes, though, it isn’t. (Am I damning this graphic novel with stingy praise? I’m sorry. Nowadays I’m overly cautious to throw too many compliments at unfinished serialized comics and story arcs. I’ve been badly burned before.)
Right now, the main strength of Battling Boy is its rich graphic elements. The personalized type, vivid colors, and unusual facial expressions are beautiful and arresting, in the way that urban decay can be beautiful. Battling Boy is a must-have if you love Paul Pope’s unique visual style.