Satellite Sam has the best logline for the most underwhelming comic. “Sex. Death. Live TV.” What’s not to love? Let me answer that for you: it’s that the series can’t quit undercutting itself. This issue of Satellite Sam, more people have sex (color me not-surprised), Gene starts trying to hack it with his own show (which feels like one of the earliest examples of a TV auteur, honestly), and Michael gets the cast into some hijinks before uncovering a secret which will change Satellite Sam and the LeMonde network forever.
Sounds exciting, right?
What I latch on to in 99% of Matt Fraction’s books is that he takes each one of his characters seriously. They may be failing superheroes who can’t find their coffee cups or set up a DVD player; they may be time-traveling, dimension-hopping, quantum-uncertain secret agents; or they might be a guy and a girl who hook up and find out their sexy parts stop time. Fraction gives each character the respect of making them a person, and not a touchpoint for something else. In Satellite Sam, each character feels like they’re supposed to be deliberately archetypal, representative of a piece of the national psyche at the time, and that makes it tougher to care or accept some of the things they do.
When we met Michael in the first issue, he was bumbling backstage, living in his father’s shadow. He’s still doing that, but he’s also taking on the parts of his father that somehow, possibly totemically, let his father succeed—his dirty pictures. It’s like some backwards Oedipal complex where his father died, and now he’s becoming him to hordes of women, not just his mother. It’s an interesting psychological angle, but it doesn’t give me anything about Michael that I actually know. I know he apparently served in a war, and he was a drinker, and now he’s a fucker in the same way. I’m seven issues in, you guys. Where’s the meat for me to hang on to? (Don’t answer that.)
This is some serious unpopular opinion time up in this review, but I’ve also never been a fan of Howard Chaykin. The guy writes some good stuff—American Flagg stands out, even after all this time. But his drawing just... It doesn’t work for me. The faces feel incredibly detailed, but then they all look incredibly similar, to the point that this is the only book I can think of with a cheat sheet for who each character is and what they’re doing, theoretically because we might not be able to recognize them. Chaykin also has this weird fascination with gradient backgrounds that look extremely Photoshop-y. That would be fine in most books on the shelves these days, but in a book that’s black and white and simple, trying to evoke the aesthetic of a 50’s TV studio, overdone gradient patterns look out of place. He does the same thing with suit patterns, and has for some time.
I will say that I liked how much of the humor of the situation this issue brought back. This book has gotten oppressively self-serious in the last two or three issues, and it’s been nice to remember the first issue where Fraction and Chaykin were juxtaposing actors having diva moments about a kid’s sci-fi program with a negative budget alongside the tragic death of a man with an addiction.
I can’t recommend this book in good faith to anyone, aside from Chaykin and Fraction complete-ists. I myself swore that I was done after the first volume, and yet here I am, buying issue seven. I have the same issue with Bendis and his Uncanny X-Men series, but that’s a review for another day. If you’ve liked Satellite Sam, there’s more of the same here, and you won’t miss the $3.50. If you don’t like Satellite Sam, you’re not the target audience anymore. Sorry, folks. Show business.
Writer: Matt Fraction Artist: Howard Chaykin Publisher: Image Comics Price: $3.50 Release Date: 3/26/14