Wednesday, June 07, 2006

Five Fists Of Science

Yeah, I'm a bit of a "Twainie". We actually prefer the name "Twainer", but I understand the confusion. I don't dress up as Twain anymore, and I don't do conventions. But I do have a real fondness for Samuel Clemens, who is one of the Great American Writers to this day. He's Oscar Wilde gone through the looking-glass: though different in almost every way, they were both showmen and masters of the bon mot. Too often, Twain is portrayed as his carefully cultured persona of the genial country wise man. We remember Hal Holbrook, not the devilish figure who set minds ablaze.

As a "Twainie", I approached Five Fists of Science with much interest, a dash of excitement and just a wee dram of dread. I love the characters involved, and the concept of rip-roaring Steampunk adventure. There was this nagging concern, however, that Matt Fraction would miss the Mark .... pun intended.

He didn't. In fact, Fraction's dead-on Twain not only is note-perfect, it really drives the book. He captures Twain's essential passion and showmanship and cunning and charisma, and uses his manic energy to propel the mad plot with such gusto that you pass the threshold from history to outright fantasy with little notice. With Twain's complexity as the hook, this story of giant robots battling Lovecraftian demons at the turn of the century makes perfect sense. Steven Sanders contributes to this by making his Twain a trifle younger than we might expect (and with devilish good looks), and keeps him in constant motion.

There are some mis-steps in Five Fists of Science: at times the coloring is so dark that the action and detail becomes hard to read, and the intercutting of the final action sequence moves from "fun" to "distracting" to "confusing" pretty quickly. On the whole, though, I wasn't disappointed in the least. As I wait on my preordered reprint of the sublime Howard Who? by Howard Waldrop, Five Fists Of Science gave me that blast of Waldropian fun I've been craving: well-researched historical figures and themes put in the blender, which is then set to "frappe".


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