Top Ten Irish Comics: The Holy Numbers

The Irish comic scene is a little worse off without Tommie Kelly’s creative voice (he explains his reasons for his departure in a recent We Sell Want Podcast). However, we always have his books to look back at. For me, the cream of the crop is The Holy Numbers.  The Holy Numbers centres on the eponymous cult that springs up in the wake of ‘revelations’ received by its leader Ravensdale. The first few pages feature these revelations, and quickly skip through the next few months as word spreads, and the cult begins to gather both a huge base of believers and vocal sceptics. This is all the work of a few pages which countdown to the present, where the story really begins. Here we find the cult now an established church, Ravensdale murdered, and more supernatural intrigue than Raymond Chandler assaulting a yeti with the Arc of the Covenant.

As a story, Numbers is a thriller; a spiral of deception, doubt and intrigue that tightens into murder, mystery and majick. Mystery writing is always a delicate balance between keeping the reader in the dark while feeding them enough detail to keep them interested. Tommie Kelly walks this tightrope with aplomb; and despite dropping readers into his story at the deep end, he never ladles out exposition, preferring to flesh out characters and events only as the story progresses. Each chapter peels away another layer, shedding a bit more light on those involved with the Holy Numbers and what their real motives might be. But the growing light often also serves to highlight more mysteries, and issue after issue sees Tommie thickening the plot with further intrigue. The only downside to his storytelling is the potential for some initial confusion as who the characters are, but in the collected volume this is countered with is a very useful cast page up front.

Though it deals with organised religion, Holy Numbers is far from an all-out attack on the church that is all too common and easy these days, and in this country. Where it touches on the subject, it is more a thoughtful look at faith and organised religion, and how they can both intersect or obstruct each other, and the perversion of faith and intent by people and organisation. However, as the story progresses, Holy Numbers seems more concerned with questions of free will, independence and spirituality than those of religion, making it an interesting, nuanced read.

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The bulk of this piece was taken from ICN’s original review by Colin O’Mahoney.