Propaganda: It’s Science, but not as we know it.
Written by Matt Fraction,
Art by Steven Saunders
Join Mr Mark Twain (aka Samuel Clemens) and Mr Nikola Tesla (aka The Master of Lightning) in a white knuckle thriller as they save the very world.
The Five Fists Of Science!
America: You cannot spell “Action and Adventure” without T&T!!!!
This was potentially one of the daffiest, stupidest, all-out dumb as hell but great fun high concept books I was going to read this year. Mark Twain and Nikola Tesla written as science heroes, fighting together for valour, science and the future. All electrical suits and big cyberpunk adventures.
Think of it as the latest in a very short line in comic capers. In fact it has more antecedents in film – The First Great Train Robbery, Those Magnificent Men In Their Flying Machines or The Man Who Would Be King. All of these are guaranteed to be worth a night in at Bruton Mansions and I was really hoping that Five Fists Of Science would be the same.
It had the potential to be the greatest caper book you’ve ever read. A steampunk odyssey of the early 20th Century.
And for the first third of the book it is. It’s fast, funny and has it’s tongue very firmly jammed into it’s cheek. Fraction has enormous fun playing Twain as a vaudeville conman, all bluster and fakery and Tesla as an endearing kook who dresses up at night and puts his genius into a AC current powered super-duper suit. There’s also roles for (and some incredible character assassinations of), amongst others: Marconi, Edison, Carnegie & J P Morgan.
The whole tone of the book is set from the nicely presented introductory pages and the mock Victorian poster on the back cover, where the authors introduce their cast of characters and set the scene:
(Above: The back cover to Five Fists Of Science. And below, text from the intoduction:)
Nikola Tesla: We have made up none of the man’s personal quirks, phobias. Or foibles, except for the dressing up and fighting crime bit.
Thomas Alva Edison: Edison engaged in a disinformation campaign against AC that saw the invention of the electric chair and the electrocution of an elephant named “Topsy” amongst other things.
Guglieilmo Marconi: Member of the Fascist Grand Council in Italy. We know of no evidence that proves him the stress-eater we present in these pages, but it was funnier than making him a fascist.
And for the first third of the book, the initial promise of a great caper book is realised. It’s great fun, bouncing along, full of rollicking action, goofy set-ups and great lines of dialogue. A whole book of this would have been quite wonderfully daft.
But by the second act the bounce and the zip is beginning to fail. And it’s disappeared completely by the time the final act comes around pitting these scientists with attitude and big technology against harsh, calculating men of business and their monsters, demons and magic. The final climactic scene is written and drawn in such a way as to make it just one big awful, near unreadable mess.
It’s not so much that Matt Fraction messed up the ending, more like he just didn’t bother writing one. It reads like something else came up about half way through this book and he trotted out the final third of the script as quickly as possible to clear his desk. And Steven Sanders’ art seems to get looser and looser as the book gets nearer the ending. What did start as detailed and delightful, fully expressive art in the first half of the book ends up as a far messier and sketchy affair.
Such a let down. Starts with a wow and a laugh and a yell of delight, ends with a vague shrug of the shoulders. Shame.
Richard Bruton is a lifelong comics fan and former Comic Book Store Guy; you can read more of his thoughts on comics and life on his blog Fictions.