True story: in 1899, Mark Twain and Nikola Tesla decided to end war forever. With Twain’s connections and Tesla’s inventions, they went into business selling world peace. So, what happened? Only now can the tale be told—in which Twain and Tesla collided with Edison and Morgan, an evil science cabal merging the Black Arts and the Industrial Age. Turn-of-the-century New York City sets the stage for a titanic battle over the very fate of mankind.
The Five Fists of Science TPB opens with a monologue by one of the principals, Mark Twain himself. Mr. Twain breaks kayfabe long enough to inform you the whole story you’re about to read is one hundred percent true, except for subtle (egregious) liberties taken with “historical events, characters, both real and imagined, scenarios, settings, dialogue, dialects, motivations, character and narrative arc…”
Three pages later, Matt Fraction lets us know again in the character bios that he’s going to play fast and loose with timelines, ages, and personality quirks. This will prove useful information later.
There have been more than a few oddball friendships in recent history. Sir Arthur Conan Doyle, author of the Sherlock Holmes novels, was widely known as a spiritualist. His best friend was none other than Harry Houdini, who spent years publicly debunking spiritualists. General US Grant and General James Longstreet were fast friends from The United States Military Academy Preparatory School at West Point. General Longstreet was General Robert E. Lee’s principal subordinate.
Serbian-American inventor Nikola Tesla and American writer Mark Twain actually were bosom buddies. The two reportedly met at a nightclub, where somehow Tesla learned that Twain had issues with “regularity.” Tesla invited Twain to his lab where he instructed Twain to stand on an oscillating platform and switched it on. After 90 seconds, Twain jumped off the oscillator and ran for the toilet. True story. Probably.
Twain demonstrates the use of the human body as a conductor of electricity while Tesla looks on –Photo: Tesla Science Center at Wardenclyffe
Five Fists is based (loosely) on a real idea of Mark Twain’s to end war that he conveyed in a letter to Nikola Tesla in 1898. “I advised them to seek something more sure than disarmament by perishable paper contract — invite the great inventors to contrive something against which fleets and armies would be helpless, + thus make war thenceforth impossible. I did not suspect that you were already attending to that and getting ready to introduce into the earth permanent peace + disarmament [in a] practical and mandatory way.”
Matt Fraction and Steven Sanders set out to show us how this would have played out in real(ish) life, with giant steampunk atomatons, demon pod people, the Yeti, and those evil Satanists Thomas Edison, JP Morgan, and Elmo Marconi. Clearly, this is very serious business. Luckily, Fraction and Sanders break up the gravity of impending apocalypse with frequent breaks of sharp wit. This creative team works exceptionally well together. Many of the pops in Fraction’s script wouldn’t work without Sanders’ scratchy pencils and muted palette.
Fans of The League of Extraordinary Gentlemen, Aftershock’s Rough Riders, and revisionist steampunk history should give Five Fists a look.
The Five Fists Of Science TPB is being reprinted by Image Comics to be released 27 September 2017. Matt Fraction provides the script. Illustrations and color are by Steven Sanders. Sean Konot did the lettering. This edition features a new cover by Maiko Kuzunishi. It can be ordered at your local comic shop using Diamond ID: JUL170742.