20th century pop culture history stories are a strange beast in comics, as 21st century creators are now seeming to pursue working with those that may have influenced them or did so much work or grew up in some of the more influential periods of the previous century. It is a natural feeling to want to tip the hat as it were, and there is nothing wrong with it. So I was a bit curious in picking up this first issue of Satellite Same why Matt Fraction, Marvel architect (are they still calling them that? Not that there is anything wrong with that I just need to do a little digging…and not talking to myself and actually doing it perhaps might help….well next time), has undertaken a project that is a murder mystery set around people involved around a live television children’s serial of the nascent 1950s? I am pretty sure it is all about wanting to work with veteran artist Howard Chaykin.
Chaykin has always been a bit of a mystery to me, mainly due to lack of availability and always being one of those creators that always remained on my periphery. As a young comics reader growing up in the 80s’, I came to know of Howard Chaykin though his treatment of pulp magazine stalwart The Shadow. It was dark, violent, and, what I have learned is a hallmark of Chaykin style, sexy. Blush-inducing sexy. Not like Alan Moore’s Lost Girls, which has complicated arguments about “is it or isn’t it pornography”, no,no, not that extreme, but…well erotic. Let us go with erotic. That is what I remember. From what I understand his recent return to dancing with the erotic in the mainstream, Black Kiss II , was met with mixed results. I have nothing against such comics, and I will read them but not if I have other choices. Erotic comics just remain a genre for me that I will keep as a curiosity until compelled to actually have a reason to write about them.
Anyway, as I was reading this introductory issue, I couldn’t quite put my finger on how Fraction and this particular story was unfolded. It isn’t that I feel Fraction isn’t a writer capable of stretching his narrative voice; rather, it just seems this story is really out there for him based on the strength of his recent work. I like seeing writers stretch, but this is just too tailored for a specific sensibility. And then that is when it clicked—he wrote it, I think, to work with Chaykin. And I was able to realize this in thinking about Chaykin’s pseudo-short auto-bio piece in his issue of the wonderful and all-too-brief DC Comics series Solo, which featured one artist doing whatever they wanted for one issue (I highly recommend the recent collected Solo: The Deluxe Edition). Chaykin’s personal story in Solo is one of a boy raised on television and the afternoon movie, left up to his own devices, including looking at sexy women in lingerie.
Having put together my own theory about why this series exists, I say all of that to say this: Satellite Sam is a writer (Fraction) writing an homage to an artist (Chaykin) that himself is all about homage to his influences and possible compulsions, but for one issue it seems to work. Chaykin conveys ’50s live television in Satellite Sam with the look (black and white a perfect choice for the interior, although a bit sloppy in some places), the crazy energy of a control room trying to just get through an episode gone suddenly chaotic, capped with a possible murder, in an entertaining fashion. Fraction presents dialogue that is a blend of humor and sadness, characterizing people that are in the position of putting on the most ridiculous entertainment yet have ego very much in place. Television is a hell of a drug, and this issue takes us back to those nascent beginnings convincingly. If you are a fan of murder mystery, or the “regular guy in an impossible scenario” type of tale, Satellite Sam may be a pick for you.