There is no lack of ambition displayed by the creators of “Satellite Sam”, an addictive ensemble period piece laced with mystery and sex, set squarely in the middle of the television frontier of the early 1950s. It is also the ambition of the pioneers featured in the story, some of whom demonstrate an immeasurable lack of decency, that ensured the burgeoning medium would expand across the American landscape faster than the airwaves could carry the often disposable programming produced by these men and women.
Matt Fraction and Howard Chaykin immediately toss us knee-deep into the frenzied world of live-television, where everyone involved is required to be on their toes because things are liable to fall apart in front of and behind the cameras. The producer, director, and technicians deliver their orders simultaneously, all over one another, in a tension-filled room, while the head-writer remains on standby in case he’s needed to produce last minute script changes. There’s little glamour on display as the men and women who produce the daily sci-fi serial “Satellite Sam” jump through hoops to deliver a flawless program.
Chaykin’s pencils, smartly presented without color, are magnificent. From the jaw-dropping two-page splash of a scattered pile of photographs featuring busty women posing in their sensual undergarments, it’s obvious that Chaykin is an artist who still pushes himself to create remarkable illustrations. Chaykin has gone to great lengths to draw the women in differing poses, though each are alluring, all with their own individual style and against unique backdrops. The detail of this staggering opening image is a promise of more to come and Chaykin provides a book filled with artwork that is as much an achievement as any other project he’s worked on.
The opening chapter takes us across 1951 New York City, beautifully rendered by Chaykin, who fully realizes the style of the time-period as “Satellite Sam” assistant director Libby Meyers hustles her way across town. Not an expression, not a texture, not a hat, nor a button is ignored by the artist. The artist’s attention to the minutiae in every corner of his work creates an immensity to his illustrations. His characters’ body language, their expressions, and the way they wear their clothes are all carefully rendered in this book that brims with life.
“Satellite Sam” opens in the tense moments before the 15-minute daily series is about to air. Fraction’s speedy and overlapping dialogue suggest that all days are tense, though it’s obvious that this day is even more so. The series star, Carlyle White, is missing from the set as the show goes on without him. The room is filled with despair and hope that the actor will appear in time for his brief scene at the end of the episode. Carlyle’s son Michael, an alcoholic who works as an engineer on his father’s series is forced to fill in for the old man when the show teeters dangerously towards not having an actor to deliver the final line of this day’s show. However, Carlyle won’t be coming to the set at all. He is found dead in an apartment he’s been keeping on the side.
Carlyle’s death affects those closest to him, while others behind the scenes march on with their lives as though the man had never existed. Michael learns that his father had a hearty taste for kinky sex and women when he discovers hundreds of photographs of women posing in their lingerie. The bed Carlyle died in is surrounded by panties, ladies shoes, dildos (yes, plural), and a camera on a tripod to capture it all for prosperity. Later in the book, dozens and dozens of film reels show up to Carlyle’s studio office, but the potentially damning contents are not revealed in this first volume of “Satellite Sam”.
While the main story centers on Michael’s uncovering of his father’s double-life and the possibility that he may have been murdered, Fraction and Chaykin fill “Satellite Sam” with a sizable supporting cast of characters with their own stories, which are all, for the most part, compelling. Fraction’s characters, all flawed to varying degrees, strike a realistic chord considering the time period. True to the time, some characters demonstrate racist, sexist, or homophobic inclinations without giving it a second thought and it reads as authentic for the period.
Dr. Joseph Ginsberg, the louse who owns LeMonde Television Network, is willing to do whatever is necessary, no matter how sleazy, corrupt, or both, to expand his network. “Satellite Sam” co-stars Hamilton Stanhope and Clint Haygood, are equally as deceitful as Ginsberg and just as ruthless when it comes to the pursuit of their own happiness. Kara Kelly has a checkered past, but the bombshell supporting “Satellite Sam” co-star and televangelist appears to be one of the most scrupulous characters in the story.
Fraction and Chaykin have poured all of their energy into “Satellite Sam” and the result is an absorbing story that moves gracefully from mystery to politics to sexual dalliances. The pacing is skilful as we skip from story to story, always coming back to Michael as he progressively begins fitting the pieces together. By the close of the first volume, Fraction and Chaykin have left a large number of sub-plots to contend with in future chapters and a mystery edging closer to resolution. Fraction’s dialogue is sharp and filled with wit when a scene calls for it. In the opening chapter, as everyone awaits Carlyle’s appearance at the studio, Hamilton is asked to stretch out his cereal commercial while he’s on-air:
Hamilton (sweating profusely and forcing a grin): And kids – do you love your Cream of Wheat? I mean, do you really love it? Umm – do you love it a whole bunch, with all of your heart?
In the book’s final chapter, a sexual act is used in three separate scenes to act as a catalyst for what will eventually follow. I won’t go into it any further and I can only make assumptions as to why the creators chose to include this act to further the action. It comes off less organic to the story with each succeeding scene and it is the only real flaw in “Satellite Sam”.
This first volume of “Satellite Sam” is ambitious for sure. It succeeds at reeling readers in with a stable of interesting characters and tosses them into a fascinating story of sex, mystery, and the greed of many of the television frontiersmen who helped guide the popular medium through its infancy.
Written by: Matt Fraction
Art: Howard Chaykin
Colors: Jesus Aburtov
Letters: Ken Bruzenak
Publisher: Image Comics
Original Publication Date: July 2013
Pages: 144 pages