The iFanboy Letter Column – 05/08/2009

Friday means many things to many people. For some, Friday means it’s time to start binge drinking until the cold light of reality smacks them in the face about about 5AM Monday. For others, Friday is the day you gots to pay your bills!

At iFanboy, Friday means it’s letter column time.

You write. We answer. Very simple.

As always, if you want to have your e-mail read on the any of our shows or answered here, keep them coming —

I’ve written before asking about Final Crisis. This time, I was wondering if you guys ever covered Matt Fraction’s The Five Fists of Science? I saw it on a shelf and was wondering how it was. 


You know David, I don’t think we have covered The Five Fists of Science before. For those who have never heard of it, The Five Fists of Science is an original graphic novel published by Image Comics a few years ago, written by Matt Fraction with art by Steven Sanders. I don’t think it’s in print anymore, but I’m pretty sure you can find it on Amazon, eBay or at a convention or maybe even some comic book stores have it still in stock.

In a nutshell, The Five Fists of Science is a work of historical fiction, that utilizes real people in history to tell the story. When I heard who the subjects were and what the premise was of this book, I immediately grabbed it, knowing I would dig it. The book tells the tale of Nikola Tesla, Mark Twain, and Bertha von Suttner teaming up to bring about world peace. Standing in their was is Thomas Edison, J.P. Morgan, Andrew Carnegie, and Guglielmo Marconi. If you have any interest in late 1800s/early 1900s technology, business and innovation, then you know who those people are and why this is such a compelling and intriguing idea.

One of the surprises for me in reading this OGN was the artwork of Steven Sanders, which was really quite good. Taking a dated time period, men in suits and making it really interesting. Of course the steam punk-esque technology and weapons helped to increase the interestingness of it as well.

If you’re a fan of Matt Fraction and the work he’s doing at Marvel these days, you might want to check this out. I find it so interesting to see the early works of writers who are at the Big 2 these days, as you can see where they came from and how they got to where they are today. Another good example is Fred Van Lente, who is on a tear writing for Marvel these days, but he made his way up the ladder with books like Action Philosophers, which is one of the best, most amusing and well thought out comics I’ve read in a long time. Who knew that learning Philosophy could be done in comics and be as fun as that book is.

So, to answer your question, if you can find a copy of The Five Fists of Science, I recommend you pick it up and give it a shot. If anything, there should be more comics about Nicola Tesla. He rocked.

Ron Richards


I’m looking forward to the Run miniseries and I recently read and loved Rogues Revenge and The Hood. But there don’t seem to have ever been any successful villain ongoing titles and anytime they have done one they always seem to end up making the villain more heroic. What’s up with that? Have there ever been any good villainous ongoings and whether there are any villain books I’ve missed out on that you can recommend.

Ben from London, England, UK

Hey! I’m in London right now!

It’s really hard to have a long term on-going series (in any genre, not just comics) that focuses on the villain as the protagonist.  Long term series rely on the audience connecting with the person they are following. The audience has to relate to the protagonist, or feel empathy for them, if they are going to follow them on a long term basis. This is why, in almost every occasion in which a villain has starred in something, they eventually are made to be heroic, or to be less evil or criminal, and thus they lose their original characterization that caused them to be popular in the first place.

It’s not always a bad thing. It worked out okay for Catwoman, who started out as a straight-up villain and has, over the years, morphed into basically a full-on hero. She’s even been a member of The Outsiders and the Birds of Prey. But is you still consider her a “villain”, you could always check out the Catwoman book written by Ed Brubaker and drawn by Darwyn Cooke.

The best book I’ve read with a straight-up, no bullshit villain as the protagonist was Empire by Mark Waid and Barry Kitson. The concept of the book was “what happens when the megalomaniacal supervillain is actually successful in taking over the world?” It was interesting. It was innovative. It was unlike anything else on the shelfs. So of course it only lasted six issues.

Conor Kilpatrick


I have started writing a comic and can’t draw worth a pile of (insert something horrible here). Rough sketches have been done by me and look bad but help get across what type of artist I am looking for. Searching for one isn’t a top priority at the moment but I have been keeping an eye out. The other day I came across, by complete fluke, an artist that showed some interest but I don’t like the manga-esque style he draws. Do I jump on the chance of an artist that isn’t the style I think would fit the book, or do I keep looking? Also I am not sure how well the storytelling will be as he doesn’t have many full pages done, just splash pages and sketches.

Name Unknown

This is a really interesting question, concerning writers just starting out, or any writers really. Starting out as a comic book writer is an uphill race; a long, tiring, punishing, uphill race in the rain, and it’s 103 degrees out, right up until the part when it starts with the hailstones. But that just might be my experience.

So, can beggars be choosers? That’s basically what you’re asking. Unless you’ve got a store of money and you’re willing to pay an artist, you’ve almost got to be willing to work with anyone out there to get your stories told, right? Yes, and no. I look at it like a calculated bet. If you’re just starting out, you’ve got to work with someone who will work with you, but make sure you take into account whether they will make you look good or not. That’s the point, isn’t it? So, if a style isn’t exactly what you had in mind, but the artist seems to do good work, you have some options. Try a different type of story, that you think is more suited to the artistic style. Also, re-assess what you had in mind for your story. Are you just picturing John Cassaday’s pencils? Because you’re never going to get what you want in that case, and your standards are ridiculous.

A good tactic I’ve learned is that you might want to put your grand scheme for a 100, 200, 300 page graphic novel on hold at first, and start out with a short story. Write an 8-10 page story with the artist in mind, and see how it works. Can you and the artist communicate? Can you speak to each other critically about the work without anyone getting an attitude? Do you like them? Provided you’re collaborating on work that is any good, you’ll be spending a lot of time with one another in some way, so you’d better get along.

Finally, storytelling is more important than anything. Never go with someone based on pinups. You want to see sequential pages that tell a story without words. You want to see how the characters act. You want to see that the artist can do these basic things that make up the basis of what comic books are.

So, take it slow, and try some shorter work. When that works up, then move up to opus mode. Good luck. Of course, you are now competition, so I’ll have to begin shunning you professionally. I’m sure you’ll understand.

Josh Flanagan


  1. Nice answers.  I’ve been thinking about the ‘villain’ thing in regard to Dark Reign.  It’s interesting that they’re doing all these "dark" minis, but I’m curious if they’re done with the knowledge of a specific endgame to make this all temporary, or if they’re just riding it out to see how long readers will go along with it.  Interesting.  And I’ll be on the lookout for ‘Empire’.

    I read ‘Five Fists of Science’ a while ago, then lent it to somebody (don’t remember who) and haven’t seen it since.  I remember thinking the premise was genius though the actual story got a bit hard to follow toward the end.  Still, fun book.

  2. Re: Comics about villains – Suicide Squad went for 60+ issues and was actually pretty good.  Wanted seems like a fairly high profile one, but gets mixed reviews (I didn’t care for it). 

  3. Five Fists of Science sounded great so I went to check it out.  There is going to be a re-printing coming later the year.  So if you can’t find it just wait a few and it should be out.

  4. Secret Six. Though it has anti heroes like Cat Man.

  5. FFoS is a fun and funny book. Never knew Thomas Edison was such a jerk. :p

  6. Josh is right on the money when he suggests you should write a short story that might fit your artist better than the one you have.  The unmentioned advantage of that is that it makes you write another story.  If you only focus on the one, then you’re not very serious about being a writer.  Go ahead and wait for your perfect artist because your essentially doing a vanity piece.   But writing stories for several artists who have different strengths and wishes will really stretch you.

  7. re: the question of waiting for the right artist. it that specific case, the manga art-style is very indicative of a certain type of comic, (and i realise manga is a style, not a genre) i would seriously consider if it’s appropricate for your story.

     re: the story about a villian. it’s a different medium but The Sopranos was the greatest thing on television for several years dispite Tony being a complete socopath. My point is when that kind of story is done correctly it can be extremely good

  8. The new printing of Five Fists of Science is offered in the latest previews (July shipping books).

  9. I found FFofS in a used book shop merely by chance.  I had never heard of it but since it was Fraction I snapped it up and I’m glad I did.

    I also know I have some issues somewhere in my collection of the Joker series from back in the mid-70’s.  I don’t remember much about it except at one point he actually teamed up with Sherlock Holmes.  Bizarre.

  10. FFofS sounds great I’ll keep my eye out.

  11. The Catwoman graphic novel, "Selina’s Big Score" (by the great & all-powerful Darwyn Cooke) fits the bill for tales about villains. It’s not so much a super hero book as a classic heist story told from the thieves (including Catwoman) P.O.V. Also, it serves as the perfect lead-in for Cooke’s upcoming adaptation of Richard Stark’s "The Hunter".