Travelling Man's Blog


Review: Satellite Sam Issue 1 by Travelling Man

‘The Big Fade Out’

Written by Matt Fraction

Art by Howard Chaykin

Lettering by Ken Bruzenak

Cover Colours by Jesus Aburtov

Published by Image

£2.50

 

It’s another day on the set of Satellite Sam, a live broadcast TV show in the 1950s. This means that Guy Roth, the author is in the middle of a tantrum, Doc Ginsberg, the head of the station is courting investors, a light has blown above the set and Carlyle White, star of the show, is missing. Again. The cast and crew aren’t even surprised anymore and as they wearily work around yet another absence, we get a look at the politics within the show and the network. It’s a bubble, a sealed ecosystem of privilege and rank, status defined by where you stand in front or behind the camera.

It’s all about to change.

Matt Fraction’s having a fantastic year. Hawkeye is possibly the best book Marvel have put out in the last five years, his Invincible Iron Man run is a central part of the approach taken by the hugely successful movies and he has another major series scheduled through Marvel, and another creator-owned one through Image, both on deck for later this year. Based on this opening issue, they have a lot to live up to.

Appropriately given the subject matter, this is a book that feels like a particularly good pilot episode. There’s the same barely controlled chaos you see in Studio 60, the same constant clash of ego and career that defined The Hour and the same big idea that turns the status quo on its head by the end of episode one. In fact, here there are two; the death of Carlyle White and the drastic changes in the show. One of the book’s best scenes is the opening, where we’re shown the control room, the barely functional relationships inside it and what happens when Ginsberg brings investors in. The two sets of characters barely know how to interact with one another and Fraction uses this to introduce us to the multiple worlds of Satellite Sam. There are at least three; the set, the control room and the board room and none of them get on, despite being mutually dependent. They’re also all constantly on the edge of disaster, and Fraction wrings jet black humor from the increasing absurdity of the situation. A standout scene follows Mikey, Carlyle’s son and a show engineer, as he runs out over the set during a commercial break to change a light bulb whilst one of the other actor’s frantically improvises beneath him. No one gets on, no one’s particularly sympathetic but they’re all fascinating to watch. Plus, the closing pay off, to both the first issue and the episode of the show, are both great and promise even greater things for the rest of the story.

Chaykin on art is both an inspired choice and a difficult one, at least for me. I’ve never got on with his character work, packed as it is with endless square jaws and the grotesque extremes of everyday human expression but here it works very well. There are still some of the same beats Chaykin always seems to hit but they’re in context for the story and work far better as a result. He also shows incredible subtlety in some places, with one page defined entirely by the same image of the producer in the foreground, only his eyes moving to show expression. Similarly, the frantic run across the city to where Carlyle is holed up is a beautiful moment, a literal breath of fresh air after being stuck in the studio. This is an era filled with an aesthetic sense that fits perfectly with Chaykin’s own and even I can see the work he does here is amazing.

 

There’s nothing else like Satellite Sam on the shelves right now and that alone would be a recommendation. However, what really seals the deal is just how perfectly the elements of the book come together. Fraction’s script is confident, pacey and clearly steeped in research and Chaykin’s style meshes with it perfectly. The end result is a perfectly constructed story about a story that’s anything but perfect. The cast and crew of Satellite Sam are going to have more very bad days. Based on this issue, we’re going to have a lot of fun watching them.

 

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