Fraction and Chaykin take every opportunity to defy convention and expectation in the first issue of the flamboyantly novel series. “Satellite Sam” is a bold examination of the layered realities that are bought and sold to audiences everyday, and the way those imagined realities permeate us to the core.
Written by Matt Fraction
Illustrated by Howard Chaykin
SEX – DEATH – LIVE TV!
NEW YORK CITY, 1951: The star of beloved daily television serial “Satellite Sam” turns up dead in a flophouse filled with dirty secrets. The police think it was death by natural causes but his son knows there was something more? if only he could sober up long enough to do something about it. This noir mystery shot through with sex and violence exposes the seedy underbelly of the golden age of television.
Welcome to the world of “Satellite Sam,” where nothing is what it seems. From the first page of this issue, the audience is thrown into the deep-end of the pool, forced to tread water among the sharks, whirlpools, and strong currents that are part of bringing entertainment to the masses. Amid technical jargon and commonplace chaos, television producers and their creative team struggle to create the world of the Satellite Sam Television Hour. Immediately, it becomes evident that we have been brought into the butcher’s shop, and we will be learning just how the sausage gets made. By juxtaposing the sleek fantasy being portrayed on screen with the very real panic behind the scenes, the creative team begins to draw out the theme that there is more to the story than meets the eye.
An exploration of vice in an era that did not have the sophisticated vocabulary to describe it that we do today, “Satellite Sam” #1 brings life to rosy retrospection on the decade of the 1950s. Set in New York City in 1951, “Satellite Sam,” represents an old-fashioned imagining of a new-fangled future. From the ray-guns and spacesuits onscreen, to the discussion of the possibilities presented by the new technology of television; the characters are constantly conjecturing about the world ahead. The executives are pioneers, explaining the concept of manifest destiny as it applies to the airwaves, reminding just how far they are from watching cat videos on their smart phones. The audience, knowing what the next sixty years have in store, is treated to a kind of dramatic irony as they watch the characters grasp for an understanding of the unknown. In many ways Fraction and Chaykin hint that the growth of technology is related to the decline in innocence the country experienced at that time. Instead of implying that technology was responsible for the genesis of American depravity, it seems that it merely allowed a record of the bad behavior to be kept. The text alludes to an idea that we have always been doing terrible things behind closed doors; technology merely gave us the opportunity to record our transgressions and share them with others. Stacking realities upon themselves, folding them into origami cranes and sending them sailing into the air, “Satellite Sam” is a ingenious vehicle for transporting readers to unexpected places.
The transportive quality of the book is reinforced by Chaykin’s unique and articulate illustration. The renderings, striking value studies that push the edges of possibility in black and white, seem to animate vintage photos from a grandparent’s attic. Chaykin brings this highly romanticized era of American history to life, filling the nostalgic images with grit and reality. The depictions of characters he creates are unmistakably human. They wear age, imperfection, and emotion convincingly. Chaykin’s work is at its best in his depictions of a young woman wandering the city searching for the show’s star. One part postcard; one part fashion illustration, these panels are gorgeous. The weight of the world created by Chaykin comes through in the complex array of textures and forms he introduces. Down to the textiles used for clothing and the billboards on the street, he spends time capturing details to make the environment feel complete and habitable. Paired with the convincing and utterly human voices Fraction has given this cast, the highly detailed artwork grounds this series in the real world.
Using this team of lifelike characters in this realistic setting, Fraction is able to highlight complex contradictions about the way in which people are perceived as it opposes the people they truly are. Carlyle White, the actor who plays the leading role on the television series Satellite Sam, is allowed to be a hero to the viewers in the audience; made to seem a pretentious self-indulgent diva of a star by the crew working on the show, and revealed to be a man full of secret and complex appetites in reality. Never allowed to speak for himself in this issue, the multiple descriptions of this character allow the audience to understand that nothing will be presented as black or white. Irony is the name of the game in “Satellite Sam” #1. Corrupt men peddle heroes to young audiences. The character portrayed as the antagonist early in this issue is revealed to be the victim. A celebration turns to mourning. A man discovers a fictional fountain of youth, a source of eternal life, just as a dead body is discovered. Every beat of this book’s heart is committed to turning expectations on their heads.
Final verdict: 9.0 – From beginning to end “Satellite Sam” #1 is ironic, irreverent, and impeccably engineered.