Without taking anything away from the rest of the effort, let me note that the part I liked best of this book was before the actual comic began, where writer Matt Fraction wrote little blurbs about each of the main characters, including where he differed from historical record. Some interesting and funny stuff. It reminded me a lot of a similar introduction that Grant Morrison wrote for the Sebastion O collection that also was quite fun.
As for the comic itself, I had been looking forward to this one for awhile, and it lived up to my expectations for the most part. The concept of the story is quite similar to Moore’s League of Extraordinary Gentlemen, except here, Fraction is taking actual historic figures and putting them into a story involving, essentially, science against magic.
Where Fraction falls a bit short, though, I think, is where Moore excelled so well, which was fitting the characterizations of the various characters into the story. For the protagonists, Fraction achieves the standard perfectly – Mark Twain, Nikola Tesla and to a lesser extent, Baroness Bertha Von Suttner, all have interesting characterizations directly derived from their known personalities, with Fraction merely extrapolating the fictive elements of the story. The antagonists, however, do not fare as well. Edison, J.P. Morgan, Carnegie and Marconi are all interesting characters in the comic, but none of their characterizations are derived from what we know of the men involved, save, I suppose, for the fact that Edison and Tesla were rivals and Marconi took the credit for creating the radio when the credit should have went to Tesla. And it’s not like there hasn’t been a multitude of writings on the life of these guys.
Still, where Fraction gets it right (Tesla and Twain) ARE the stars of the book, so it is not really that big of a deal. And Twain and Tesla are extremely intriguing characters, with both men containing numerous tics and eccentricities that play off each other quite well. The Baroness gets some good scenes, as well. In fact, Fraction does SUCH a good job setting up the characters that it is almost a shame that this is only a graphic novel rather than a series, as the interplay between these three characters (as well as Tesla’s fictional one-handed assistant, who is the reason why there are only FIVE fists of science in the volume…hehe) could certainly sustain an ongoing, and in fact, there’s a slight bit of Formatitis here, as I think the story would do well to have MORE interaction between Tesla and the Baroness.
Steven Sanders has a nice style, and his depictions of the historical figures are spot on – accurate without appearing slavish to historical depicitons. I liked that. Did he ink himself on the project? Or did he not have an inker (and go straight to colors?) As much as I enjoyed his pencils, I think I would have liked to have seen someone else take a crack at inks over his pencils, as there was a certain roughness that did not appear to be PART of the style, ya know? I wonder if a separate inker wouldn’t have smoothed those edges out. Anyhow, it is not a big deal, as the art was fine as it is…just something I would have liked to see.
So, the basic gist of the story is that, in an attempt to assure peace, Twain and Tesla hatch a scheme to market a giant robot to ALL the nations of the world, assuring that if each one has a giant robot, no one would dare start a war because the OTHER nations would all have giant robots as well. When the plan isn’t accepted, they invent bad guys for the robot to fight, which tricks the bad guys into thinking that Twain and Tesla are a threat to their nefarious black magic plan to conquer/destroy the Earth!! As they say, hilarity (and action) ensues.
The final confrontation seemed a bit rushed, as it was more than a bit confusing, but that doesn’t detract from most of the comic, which was action-packed, fun and funny. An excellent combination.
I would recommend the comic, with the aforementioned reservations.
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