New York, 1950s. In a post-war atmosphere that tries to remain hidden through appearances in order to forget past hardships, TVs can now be found in almost every household. Families gather around the warmth of the cathode tube, and those who cannot afford it approach their neighbors to enjoy whatever kind of audiovisual entertainment available.
As an evolution of radio serials, Americans enjoy all kinds of proto-TV series, albeit their very limited means, especially focused on science-fiction, such a buoyant genre in the film industry. 'Satellite Sam' is one of them, the flagship of the LeMonde Television Network, whose main star, Carlyle White, has just been murdered in his apartment.
SEX! DEATH! LIVE TELEVISION!
All this and much more is SATELLITE SAM , by Fraction and Chaykin!
No presentation needed for the authors of the work at hand, as Howard V. Chaykin (born in 1950, precisely) is a living comics legend, more as an artist than as a writer, but famous for both aspects in his classic erotic hardboiled, Black Kiss , and the political satire with a sci-fi background, American Flagg! ; and Matt Fritchman, aka. Matt Fraction, is well known today for his work at Marvel, with varied results, being Hawkeye (with David Aja) and The Invincible Iron Man (with Salvador Larroca) his most successful.
However, where Fraction is collecting highest praise is in the indie sector (or creator-owned, to be more accurate), starting with the cult favorite Casanova (with Gabriel BÃ?Â¡ and FÃ?Â¡bio Moon) and reaching his latest hit, Sex Criminals (with Chip Zdarsky), one of the funniest comics IÃ¢??ve ever had the pleasure of reading (and soon Ã¢??stay tunedÃ¢?? reviewing). To this group belongs, obviously, Satellite Sam .
Despite its approach as a Ã¢??mystery surrounding the authorship of a crime,Ã¢?? this is a period piece, so the main advantage this series can count on is precisely the setting of that period, something in what Chaykin has always shone, and Fraction has amply been amply documented (as seen in the Tumblr where he collected texts, somewhat risquÃ?Â© photographs, news and recordings of the time). Of course, all this is beautifully mirrored in the pages of the comic book, both in the detailed urban and interior backgrounds, as in the dress and forms of their characters.
In this first arc, in addition to presenting us the murder of Carlyle White and the investigation conducted by his own son, Michael, an alcoholic also working on the set of the Ã¢??Satellite SamÃ¢?? serial, we are witnesses to the living history of the USA and their television (despite the LeMonde Television Network being fictional). From behind the scenes of a television set of the time, to front row political skullduggery regarding favors and privileges over rival networks, all seasoned with the transition to the coaxial cable saying definite goodbye to radio waves.
A period piece, no doubt.
As I said, Howard Chaykin is used to recreate these period pieces and beautifully display traits of another era, making them feel genuine. Nevertheless, in this comic we find all of ChaykinÃ¢??s tics, for better or for worse: brilliant close-ups of extremely expressive faces Ã¢??but always reminiscent of previous works of the artist; appropriate page compositions Ã¢??yet playing maybe too often with the repetition of images between panels; delightful combinations of period architecture and actual photographs to compose the backgrounds Ã¢??sometimes overusing them to avoid drawing them; attention to detail in the drawn backgrounds and faces at short distances Ã¢??but just scribbling some characters when theyÃ¢??re farther into the background. Oh, and he canÃ¢??t draw hands.
As for the script, evidently, IÃ¢??m not a reader versed in American history of the time; my notions of this era are only provided by films and it is clear that this must somehow affect the reading: no matter how good the writer, all the preparation and documentation conducted by him will be only partially reflected in the end result and often thrown at the readerÃ¢??s face. Resorting to a paradigmatic example, even From Hell by Alan Moore requires several notes and a companion book to try and bring the reader to the overall picture of the work.
So, to the question Ã¢??Does the writer do an adequate job for the reader to have an easy access to the material presented to him/her?Ã¢??, the answer is Ã¢??Yes and noÃ¢??. In short, what happens to Satellite Sam is the same case with superhero comics: we can read any of them and fully understand the story, but we often find that are best enjoyed when the (damn) continuity is taken into account, since the set of stories experienced by these characters enrich the perception of the new one.
Here Ã¢??continuityÃ¢?? would be History, literally, so uninitiated readers can hugely enjoy Satellite Sam , but maybe more if the scene is familiar in any way. Lacking that, rereading the comic will also help, given the choral nature that the series is gradually taking.
In conclusion, Satellite Sam is a provocative work in its packaging, with Howard ChaykinÃ¢??s impressive ability to portray voluptuous women in their curvilinear erotic beauty (sex sells and Matt Fraction knows). Simple in its approach, with a tale that couldÃ¢??ve been taken from any pulp/noir novel of the time, but, above all, Satellite Sam is effective in its execution, giving us a remarkable entertainment that improves with every reading.
You will approach it for the scantily clad womenÃ¢?Â¦
Ã¢?Â¦but you will stay for everything else.
[Originally published in REVERING COMIC BOOKS]show more