Satellite Sam is a strange beast to me. It should be a comic that I love, and for some reason, I just... don’t. It’s not Chaykin’s art, and it’s not Fraction’s writing, but I feel like maybe the two of them aren’t gelling like they should be, and it’s been eight issues. Part of what makes Satellite Sam feel a little stale to me is that it seems like they hit the same plot beats in every issue. Dr. Ginsberg hypes up his new network, someone is fucking someone’s wife, Michael is either fucking someone or watching his dad’s sex tapes, which he has been doing for a long time now. I mean, I get that you need answers, but still. Somewhere in Austria, Freud is rolling in his grave.
This issue also plays with the fourth (fifth?) wall a little bit, in that Michael discovers an old Tijuana Bible in his dad’s things, and that Tijuana Bible is an actual thing that comes with the comic in the real world. I can’t say as to its quality as it wasn’t included in the review copy, but it seems like it’s hearkening back to early 90’s comic gimmicks in a weird way. I know Fraction is loving making smut with one of his heroes, and I get that it could be a sales draw, but it doesn’t feel like it adds anything to the issue. The TB is barely a plot point in the issue, and is really used as an almost-literally throwaway gag.
One thing that I’m glad they’re finally touching on in Satellite Sam, and here there be spoilers, is that they deal with Eugene’s family tree a little bit. This has been an awfully white comic, which, yeah okay, it’s a comic about TV in the 50s, so there was probably more blackface than actual black skin going on, but still. It’s, in a larger sense, a comic about New York City and daring new things in the 50s. Regardless, the handling of the reveal of Eugene’s mother felt really organic and was actually one of my favorite parts of the series so far. I just wish it hadn’t been basically a cliffhanger.
The other part I enjoyed was Kara giving Michael her “this is your last chance to get off the bus” speech. Michael is a man who has to be on a mission, and nine times out of ten, that mission is self-destruction, be it by bottle or pecker. Kara’s not some dumb broad like the world is intent on thinking of her as, but she’s got her wits back about her. She sees where Michael’s headed, and even after being such a bastard to her for four issues, even after his father was such a bastard to her, she wants to help him. It’s touching, and it’s Christmasy (which is tough to pull off in May), and I wish there was more of it.
The thing that feels like it gets lost in Chaykin’s art and Fraction’s writing is the common humanity. I have a hard time seeing most of the characters in this book as fully-realized people, because they all feel just a touch away from a screen person. When Hamilton finally starts actually twirling his moustache, I’ll be kind of okay with it. Right now, every time I tune into Satellite Sam, I feel like I know what’s going to happen, and by the end, I’m not surprised. By the next month, I’ve forgotten.
It doesn’t feel like it’s trying to elevate smut in the way that Sex Criminals tries to be look sex right in the eye. Satellite Sam feels voyeuristic, and there’s no character payoff, only more of the same. I wish I liked it more, but I just don’t.
Writer: Matt Fraction Artist: Howard Chaykin Publisher: Image Comics Price: $3.50 Release Date: 5/7/14 Format: Ongoing, Print/Digital