A dead TV star and a box of dirty photographs. An alcoholic son forced to follow in his father's footsteps. An evangelical beauty with her secret sweaty shame. A weathered shark of a network head. All of the parts are in place to make an engaging and flashbulb lit mystery, fueled by money and the jagged glass stress of live television. However, unfortunately 'Satellite Sam' has yet to make a good solid case for its central mystery being engaging, or even to this point, mysterious. With issue two the central focus is the fleet-footed consolidation of talent by Ginsberg, the studio head, trying to fast talk his studio from the brink of collapse. The mystery sort of takes a back seat to this for the time being, with Michael’s humiliating whiskey-sopped mourning leading to one of the few progressions of the who-dunnit, a reveal that was neither surprising nor helped raise many questions on the behalf of the reader.
It's not to say I ever found myself bored as I enjoyed the second issue as much as I did the first. The cranky tired world of live network television that Fraction paints feels genuine and immersive, with a wide cast of performers either plugging away for a loveless paycheck or grasping at God or pretension to convince themselves of their self-worth. Chaykin's artwork is even better as well, smokey and self-assured.
Despite the size of the cast however a detriment to the mystery is the lack of red herrings to bid on. Every issue ends with the credits page querying 'Who Killed Satellite Sam?', but as of yet the cast isn't a den of thieves bristling with motive and leaves the evidence to continue to pile in favor of one person.
I also wonder perhaps if the book will be an improved experience collected into a single volume. 'Satellite Sam' is generously paced, with the unhurried speed of a sleepy noir paperback. It feels as if it would have benefited from being published as a graphic novel rather than a monthly. Fraction has a fondness for 'tune-in-next-time' last page reveals, something he even explicitly referenced in the most recent (and charming) issue of 'FF', but for a mystery the final pages of both issues have reveals with shoulder-shrugging implications. As a published collection, removed from that need to constantly 'hook-and-reel' the reader, I think the enthusiast would be able to better relax into the middle of the books, where it's at its spotlight-weary best.
If this review sounds negative it isn't intended to be. 'Satellite Sam' is one of my favorite indies on the shelf from one of the most consistently valuable mainstream comic writers working today, and it should be said that it's too early to call a flat-line on a mystery that has only begun to form. I may not care who killed Satellite Sam, but it's still well worth keeping dialed in.
Writer: Matt Fraction
Artist: Howard Chaykin
Publisher: Image Comics
Release Date: 8/7/13