October 7, 2017

five fists of

The Five Fists of Science

Matt Fraction (writer) and Steven Sanders (illustrator)

2006

112 pgs.

Genre: Historical Fiction, Science Fiction, Fantasy, Graphic Novel

Summary / Review / TLDR / Recommended For / Issues / Themes / Grade


Summary

At the turn of the twentieth century, Mark Twain decides that the only way to end war is essentially “peace through intimidation.” Despite being broke, he returns to America from Europe and calls on his friend Nikola Tesla. Together, they decide to sell one of Tesla’s devices, a giant robot, to several world powers in hope of creating a cold war…not to mention solving both of their financial woes.

However, dark forces are already working against them. JP Morgan, the famous financier and steel baron, is building a mysterious, cursed tower with the help of Thomas Edison, Andrew Carnegie, and Guglielmo Marconi. They, too, want to get their hands on one of Tesla’s devices—by any means necessary.

With the help of Tesla’s assistant and an Austrian writer, Twain and Tesla must rush to save the day from the forces of evil!

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Review

No lie, the best part of this book was definitely the artwork. It’s lush and beautiful. The lines themselves are like little sketches, and Sanders adds in little jokes in the back of several frames. The colors are vibrant, and they help set the mood for each scene.

It’s really too bad that the rest of the book is a mess. I’ve read several graphic novels by Fraction before, and this one seems incredibly weak in comparison. The premise is good—famous figures duking it out for the fate of mankind? Sign me up!

But the actual execution…

First off, it can be difficult to tell the characters apart. Lots of short hair and mustaches going around. Second, the characters’ voices aren’t distinct, except perhaps for Twain’s dialect-y speech, so I had to go back and look at the “cast of characters” section several times to try to figure out who was supposed to be talking. Likewise, the characters themselves didn’t seem fully-developed. Carnegie, for example, is listed as a main character under the cast, but I don’t think he actually does more than just glower in the corner for the duration of the book. Aside, perhaps, from Twain, one never really gets a sense of any character’s motive. Why does Morgan want to destroy everything? Why does the Baroness want to help Twain and Tesla? Why the yeti? And there’s something up with the assistant’s hand, but I could never really figure out what it was. The whole thing just seemed like one big, jumble-y mess.

Because of all of that, I couldn’t really like any of the characters. It’s tragic to get to the final showdown in a story and just think, “Eh, whatever,” before continuing—doubly so when the book itself is so short. I actually flipped ahead to see how much I had left before the end. And, uh, I may have dozed off a few times while reading it (and not just because my favorite reading chair is super-comfy).

It’s pretty obvious what Fraction and Sanders were going for in terms of design. It’s meant to be an old Victorian “penny dreadful” or dimestore novel. Frankly, I think it would have worked significantly better if they’d chosen to write the story as a prose novel instead of a graphic novel. At the very least it would be easier to follow.

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TLDR

Pretty pictures and a promising premise can’t save a pathetic plot or pitiful portrayal of historical people.

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Recommended for…

  • Hardcore fans of Tesla or Twain
  • Fans of gorgeous artwork
  • Science fiction and fantasy lovers

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Issues

  • Blood: minor depictions
  • Death: references to and threats of death
  • Deceit: characters trick each other for nefarious purposes
  • Horror Elements: rampaging monsters and ghosts in the dark
  • Lying: characters lie to others
  • Supremacy: sexism and belief that wealthy men are better than everyone else
  • Swearing: occasional swearing
  • Violence: people fight monsters and other people</li

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Themes

  • Change vs. Tradition
  • Death
  • Determination
  • Good vs. Evil
  • Heroism
  • Honesty
  • Justice
  • Responsibility
  • Right vs. Wrong
  • Romantic Love
  • Survival

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Grade

Main Character 1
Subcast 1
Setting Development 2
Exploration of Conflict 1
Satisfying Resolution 1
Consideration of Themes 1
Didactic Tone 2
Suspension of Disbelief 1
Imagery and Description 2
Compelling Storytelling 1
Author’s Style 1
Rhythm and Pace of Book 1
Mechanics (spelling, grammar, punctuation) 2
Predictability 1
Reader Enjoyment 1
Total 19/30
63%

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