The Five Fists of Science
by Matt Fraction, Steve Sanders
(Image, 2006)

The world is in turmoil. The old empires are crumbling, the newly powerful industrializing nations are on the brink of war, and men in suits and skyscrapers are destroying more lives with a wave of the pen than any medieval king took with all his armies. Who can save humanity from itself?

Why, Mark Twain! And Nikola Tesla! And ... some guy with one hand! Who was made up just for this comic! But ignore that, and join the adventures of The Five Fists of Science!

The Five Fists of Science is an adventure that can actually lay some claim to being lushly illustrated. The art, with its soft penciled feel and subdued naturalist tones, is lovely and very much in keeping with the style of illustrated adventure stories. The art also amplifies the absurdist, sometimes sarcastic nature of the dialogue. You just can't beat the image of a crazed Mark Twain shouting "SCIENCE!"

My one concern about the otherwise brilliant capsule biographies on the main characters is that people might think they're made up, and therefore not believe that Edison really tried to push the electric chair or that he killed an elephant to make a financial point. To any such doubters who may read this review: it's all true, even the bit about Hollywood starting in the California desert to keep movies as far away from Edison as possible. The only accomplishment Mssrs. Fraction and Sanders assign to Edison that isn't a matter of historical fact is his mastery of black magic. Oh, and the yeti hunting.

In fact, all of the historical personages presented throughout Five Fists of Science are remarkably true to their known characters. Twain, one of history's most effusive speakers, might be considered easy to imitate; but that very proclivity means that his character was well known, and deviation easy to notice. People look, act and pose the way they did in their old photos. The creators have clearly done some research. The circumstances of Five Fists of Science are, of course, somewhat different than they were in our own world. But it's easy to believe that, if the circumstances had been similar, this is exactly how these characters would have reacted. Departures from reality are duly noted, but the verisimilitude is more than any fan of pulp fictions has a right to expect.

The Five Fists of Science is nothing more nor less than a grand steam-punk adventure. It doesn't offer the literary in-jokes and social commentary of The League of Extraordinary Gentlemen or ponder the effects of social change like some alternate-history comics. It does, however, feature Tesla in a giant automaton, giant electrical monstrosities, Mutant Enemies and J. Pierpont Morgan getting his comeuppance, all presented with artistic flair in a setting of surprising historical accuracy. All this, and it's still safe for the kids. It's no wonder of the century, but it's a ripping good read.

by Sarah Meador
21 October 2006

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