New Comic Book Day Pull-List: ‘Numbercruncher’, ‘Wonder Woman’, And ‘Sacrifice’ Reviewed

Welcome to MTV Geek’s New Comic Book Day Pull-List! Each week, we look at the best new releases that hit comic shops, and point you at what you need to be reading. 

This time around, we’re talking about three books that hit stores last Wednesday (August 17th): a trio of amazing comics from Titan, DC,and Dark Horse!

Numbercruncher #2 (written by Si Spurrier, illustrated by P.J. Holden, colored by Jordie Bellaire, published by Titan Comics)

I missed out on the first issue of this series when it was released – every comic shop in New York seemed to be sold out immediately, so it wasn’t until this week when #2 came out that I went to Comixology and brought myself up to speed.

And now I need to dig around and track down an actual physical copy of #1, because this is a comic that I want to hold in my hands and spend some serious time with.  (And while Comixology’s ’guided view’ is all well and good, this is simply not a comic that’s made for digital. I like to be able to read text while looking at the overall composition of a page, and that’s just not possible when viewing this comic on my laptop.)

The lead character is a burly ’afterlife enforcer’, a rough-hewn muscle man working for a higher authority that governs the dismissal of souls after death.  And he’s following a human that cut a deal to be born again and reunited with the love of his life.

This might seem straightforward enough, but there’s a catch.  The big boss (henceforth referred to as the ’Divine Calculator’, as he keeps all this chaos ordered by juggling decimals) doesn’t play fair – and neither does the reincarnated loverboy, a brilliant mathematician who just might have found a way to play the numbers and keep cheating death.

Author Si Spurrier combines classic tropes of sci-fi and crime fiction to create a hard-boiled black comedy that deals with huge issues on an intimate scale, artist P.J. Holden easily depicts both everyday reality and the sequences set in numerical limbo (switching back and forth between art styles without missing a beat), and colorist Jordie Bellaire brings it home, giving the waking world a palate of lush saturated tones while letting the more transcendental scenes develop in richly layered grayscale.

But all that just describes issue #1.  Here, in the second installment, things get even better: the premise has been carefully established, and Spurrier, Holden and Bellaire are stretching out and REALLY having fun with the characters and ideas.  What seemed at the end of the first chapter to be a fairly open-and-shut case gets turned on its head, and all manner of metaphysical beauracracy and cosmic double-crosses ensue.  Holden’s art is nothing short of marvelous, working in a sketchy cartoon style for the black-and-white moments of intangible import, and in thick liquid lines for the earthbound activity; as if Raymond Briggs and Darwyn Cooke combined their talents in one comic.  And Spurrier seems possessed with manic glee as he guides the story through a rapid succession of outrageous twists and berserk revolutions.

In case I haven’t made it clear, I love this comic.  It hits all my soft spots, mixing the dark humor of Roald Dahl stories, high concepts of life and death, and the earthy reality of classic gangster films – and creating something fiercely funny and totally new from those disparate elements.

Wonder Woman #23 (written by Brian Azzarello, illustrated by Cliff Chiang, published by DC Comics)

Nearly two years into the ’New 52’ relaunch of Wonder Woman, Brian Azzarello and Cliff Chiang are still impressing and innovating; in this issue they manage to wrap up many of the threads that have been building since #1, continue to build and develop the personalities and motivations of the cast, feature a huge-scale fight scene, and set up a major reset of the lead character’s status quo.  The climax is the perfect payoff to all that’s gone before; Chiang’s art is typically kinetic and infectious; the action is both affecting and awe-inspiring; and the final pages filled me with anticipation for where they’ll take these characters next.

Sacrifice (written by Sam Humphries, illustrated by Dalton Rose, colored by Pete Toms, published by Dark Horse)

Sacrifice was one of my favorite comics of the past couple years, an idiosyncratic self-published-and-distributed series about a modern day punk with epilepsy who jumps back in time and ends up fighting for survival in an ancient Aztec kingdom.  Sam Humphries (now known for his work on Uncanny X-Force, Ultimate Avengers, and Avengers A.I.), truly found his voice with this project, mixing high adventure with personal passions, surrounding himself with insanely talented collaborators, and telling a story that goes far beyond standard comic fare – and this deluxe hardcover from Dark Horse does a masterful job of presenting the entire storyline in one volume, while adding a spectacular selection of design sheets, sketches, and behind-the-scenes material, just to sweeten the deal.

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