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Review: Satellite Sam #1

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Rain Partier

Postby LOLtron » Wed Jul 03, 2013 5:01 pm

Review: Satellite Sam #1

A review of the new Image series by Matt Fraction and Howard Chaykin.

Prophet. Saga. The Manhattan Projects. In 2012 Image Comics delivered critically adored hits with eye-catching regularity, and this week’s Image Expo has shown that the publisher has no plans to slow down. Buoyed by the multimedia success of The Walking Dead, it announced a host of new launches featuring all-star creative teams and unique high concepts. The expo appeared to be a statement of intent, and a challenge to Marvel’s and DC’s dominance of the market.

So what better time to launch Satellite Sam, written by critical darling Matt Fraction and drawn by legendary artist Howard Chaykin. Set in New York City in 1951, the series tells the story of fledgling television studio LeMonde and the people who work there. However, one of the employees has met a grisly end, setting up a murder mystery that will likely engulf the lives of all the cast.

We join the action moments before the live broadcast of popular children’s show Satellite Sam, with the titular star missing and the cast and crew desperately trying to cover his absence. In the opening pages the action jumps quickly from scene to scene, effortlessly evoking the feel of a hectic studio. Barbs are tossed around, grievances are aired, and the sense of panic is tangible. The majority of the issue covers a span of just 20 minutes, and the reader is thrown in at the deep end. Aside from two exposition-heavy pages of conversation between the studio owner and potential investors, the audience is expected to get a sense of the characters and the world they inhabit from their words, their actions, and the things other people say about them. It’s an unusual approach compared to most first issues, but it’s one that largely works.

Fraction has clearly spent a lot of time researching the era; he nails the period details and does a particularly good job with the dialogue, adding colour to a world that is depicted in black and white. Meanwhile the 1950s setting plays to Chaykin’s strengths, allowing him to give full reign to his pulp sensibilities. Everyone looks harried and overworked but still manage to dress immaculately, and the art has a rough-and-ready feel that betrays the fact that every line has been laid down expertly. It’s a book perfectly suited to his talents.

Together they have crafted a fully realised setting, as well as a mystery that ties into deeper thematic concepts. There’s the television studio on the verge of greatness just as colour TV looks set to become a reality, and a nation once more on the cusp of change. The American Dream hangs heavy over proceedings, as does a patriotism that’s been rootless since the end of World War II. And there’s the son forced to step into his father’s shoes and unravel the complications of his life, despite having problems of his own. The surface details perfectly evoke the period, but what lies underneath is even more fascinating.

It’s not entirely without fault. The rejection of so many first issue conventions and the refusal to hold the reader’s hand is disorientating, especially in the early going, and means there’s some confusion as to which characters are key to the tale and which are merely bit part players. And plot plays second fiddle to establishing mood, meaning there aren’t too many clues as to where the story might be heading. But like the death at the centre of Satellite Sam, these are mysteries that will surely become clear in due time, and given the creative team involved both the journey and the answers at the end of it are likely to be worth sticking around for.

Written or Contributed by Kristian Jackson

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Staff Writer

Postby xaraan » Wed Jul 03, 2013 11:23 pm

1. I might have to check this out.

2. I will never write another review again, can't compete with this sort of material coming out now.
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Postby Punchy » Fri Jul 05, 2013 12:08 pm

The very first Matt Fraction comic I ever read was an Image Comic, yep, I was reading Casanova back when it first came out in singles, and yes, that does make me exceedingly cool. Since those early days, he’s made the leap to Marvel. Got really popular, became unpopular, and now, with Hawkeye, he’s back to being popular again. And now he’s back with a new Image series, alongside the legendary Howard Chaykin, and whilst it’s not quite as immediately gripping as Casanova #1 was, it’s still very interesting and I can’t wait to see where it goes.

The focus of Satellite Sam is Television, and the golden age of Television at that. Fraction throws us into a backstage world full of TV jargon and at first it’s a bit unsettling, this is one dialogue heavy comic, but it’s a great way to get across the frantic nature of recording live TV. There’s lots of characters introduced here, and as I said, it is disorientating, but once you get used to it, it’s fine. The main focus here seems to be Mike White, a producer on the crappy ‘Satellite Sam’ sci-fi show on which his father, Carlyle stars as the titular hero. The production of this week’s episode is thrown into turmoil because Carlyle doesn’t show up. People shrug this off as him being unreliable, but there’s something darker there. He’s been murdered!

Mike steps in to play Satellite Sam at the last minute, and then things take another turn. Hidden in his dad’s secret apartment, Mike discovers box after box of Polaroids showing various women stripping down to their sexy 1950s underwear. It looks like his dad had some kind of secret sordid life, and this is going to be the crux of the story going forward. Howard Chaykin is one of those artists who’s work looks perhaps even better in black and white than it does in colour, I know his style isn’t for everyone, but it works really well here. The black and white mirrors the colour of TV in that era, and the square jaws fit our idealised memories of 1950s American TV stars. Plus, he can bring the sleaze, which should be important.

It’s clear that this is somewhat of a love letter from Fraction and Chaykin to the medium of TV, and I can’t wait to see where it’s going. If you like Mad Men or the BBC’s The Hour, this is similar to that, only because it’s Fraction and Chaykin, it’s a good deal dirtier and a good deal denser. Image have knocked it out of the park once again, and I’m off to re-read this again!

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