Satellite Sam #6 Review: Back On the Air
by Matt Fraction and Howardy Chaykin returns after a few months with a strong issue. Although the time gap between issues #5 and #6 isn’t ideal, it doesn’t adversely the 1950s-set series too much because most of the elements of this issue make sense on their own. However, there are a number of important plot threads that pick up from the previous issues, especially #5.
In the last issue, Italian actress Maria Melato (a cast member of the Satellite Sam
TV show within the comic) attacked her fiancé after he attempted to call off their wedding, due to the protests of his mother. At the beginning of issue #6, Maria is being escorted into the police station to be booked. Although the show director Dick Danning bails her out, she still faces charges and possible deportation. Meanwhile, Michael White, son of the original Satellite Sam and now star of the show, takes a break from trying to figure out who killed his father to be sort of a jerk to everyone. While he once begrudgingly stepped into his father’s role on the show, he now seems to be developing a star-sized ego. He has a weird relationship with co-star Kara Kelly where he has conspicuous sex with other women to make her jealous. In this issue, he loudly has sex in his dressing room, which is adjoined to Kelly’s.
The change in Michael White is one of the most interesting developments of this issue because he comes across unfavorably, whereas he has been a pretty sympathetic character through the first four issues. He also is developing a rivalry with fellow Satellite Sam
actor Ham Stanhope, who is trying to carve a bigger piece of the show for himself at the expense of the inexperienced Michael. Although a maneuver where Stanhope takes some of Michael’s lines doesn’t go so well (Stanhope fumbles the lines and then is threatened afterward by Michael), there is still an ace in Stanhope’s sleeve. He has incriminating evidence on show writer Guy Roth, namely pictures of Roth sexually involved with another man. He’s using them to get Roth to write more lines for his character.
So far Satellite Sam
has been uneven as a series, but this issue is one of the good ones. Most of the characters get something interesting to do, and they are some clear power struggles going on. Fraction’s dialog for these characters can sometimes feel overwritten and stylized, like he’s trying very hard to imitate David Mamet or Paddy Chayefsky, but he can also write some really funny lines. For the most part, the dialog feels true and pointed in issue #6.
The use of sex in Satellite Sam
continues to be an important, and at times problematic, element. Issue #5 was somewhat off-putting because of its excessive use of sex scenes (a sexual encounter is at the center of practically every scene in the issue). Like with curse words, it sometimes feels like Fraction is overdoing it to show that he has a darker and seedy side apart from his superhero work (by contrast, his Sex Criminals
series uses sex in a fun and essential way). However, issue #6 relies less heavily on sex to tell its story, instead exploring the fallout of previous sexual encounters, making it a stronger and more interesting issue to read.
The art by Howardy Chaykin hits the period elements again really well. At times, his drawings in issue #6 felt more scratchy and less defined than in previous issues, but there are also many panels that look fantastic. One pet peeve I have with Chaykin’s visual choices is that he’s made some of the male characters look very similar. Ham Stanhope, TV station owner Joseph Ginsberg , technical advisor Eugene Ford (who's not in this issue), and even Dick Danning have the same basic face and hair, so that it’s sometimes difficult to figure out which character is which.
The story progression in Satellite Sam
has been relatively slow, but it feels like it might be starting to move somewhere. I’m holding out hope that the series has overcome some growing pains because I feel like the series has a strong premise and there are many interesting themes happening. So I think there is potential, if things come together, for Satellite Sam
to turn into a fascinating dramatic comic book.