Guest Writer: Heidi Berthiaume
-This article is made possible with a gift of a preview copy, QWERTY and rolling natural 20s.
Writer: Matt Fraction
Artist: Steve Sanders
“Ladies and gentlemen: the fantastical story that follows is, I assure you, absolutely true.” – Mark Twain, first page.
Though, with a name like The Five Fists of Science, the reader does have a clue that there are some embellishments, which Twain admits, also on the first page, “may have been taken for certain dramatic effect.”
Thus begins Matt Fraction’s (writer) and Steven Sanders’ (illustrator) adventurous tale of how Mark Twain teamed up with his friend Nikola Tesla, Tesla’s fictional assistant Timothy, and the Baroness Bertha von Suttner to bring about world peace. Opposing our heroes with magical machinations are John Pierpont Morgan, Thomas Alva Edison, Guglielmo Marconi, and Andrew Carnegie. There are also giant robots. Well, one giant robot. And an eldritch creature.
Each character is introduced with a short bio that gives the years of their lives and a few sentences about real things they really did, compared to what happens in the following 100+ pages of this edition of the 2006 Image Comics trade paperback comic which features new cover art.
Our story opens in 1899 with Twain’s disgusted reaction to Tsar Nicholas’ speech in Vienna regarding disarmament in order to achieve world peace. After a brief exchange with the Baroness, Twain heads to New York to meet Tesla.
In New York, Tesla and his assistant Timothy prowl through the night searching for criminals upon which to test their latest electrical invention. Standing before the construction of his Innsmouth Tower, Morgan talks up journalists regarding the buildings notable assets: power by Edison, wireless communications by Marconi, and funding by Carnegie and himself.
Once Twain sees the plans for Tesla’s new weapon, an automation the military found no value in, the author knows he has the answer to the question of how to end war: “peace by compulsion.” With Tesla’s inventions, Twain’s showmanship, and the Baroness’ connections, a plan is hatched to sell the weapon (at a “modest profit”) to the major powers of the day: Victoria of England, Nicholas of Russia, and McKinley of America. With everyone having the ability to end the world, Twain believes no one actually would, and thus the Five Fists of Science are born.
Despite their best efforts, no one is interested buying in what they’re selling and thus a new plan is hatched … to use the automaton to save part of New York City from a rampaging monster (courtesy of Timothy and another of Tesla’s inventions). Their show is such a success, Morgan believes Tesla actually summoned a creature. Unwilling to be bested within his own black magic domain, Morgan performs a bloody human sacrifice and orders the construction shifts on the Innsmouth Tower tripled to complete his temple as soon as possible.
All of the characters’ paths entwine with the sale of the automaton and the final confrontation between science and magic.
The overall presentation of the comic is of a period publication, from the floral endpapers to the ornate title page. The art feels appropriate to the steampunk situation, drawn with softer edges and filled with muted browns and teals. Twain is boisterous in speech and movement and Tesla terse and still. There is even a Joss Whedon/Mutant Enemy homage in the background of one of the panels. The last four pages contain sketches of conceptual art.
The Five Fists of Science is a fun romp through a moment of alternative history that never was because all related documentation and automatons were destroyed.