By: Matt Fraction (writer) and Howard Chaykin (art)
The Story: A 1950s TV serials star is murdered. Who done it?
Review: There is good and bad in this first issue. A lot of your enjoyment is going to come down to personal taste and how much you like the creators when they are working in their preferred particular style.
I’m not a tremendous Matt Fraction fan; I’ve enjoyed some of his Marvel work (Iron Fist, Hawkeye, FF), but not others (Uncanny X-Men, Fantastic Four, Defenders, FEAR ITSELF OMG!). I think my only exposure to his creator owned work is Casanova, which I own and have tried about 20 times to read, but can never get past the second issue. So, he’s hit and mostly miss for me.
Consider one Fraction work I do enjoy: Hawkeye. One thing that I think works nicely about the Fraction/Aja Hawkeye is that Fraction is working a bit in a a modified Marvel method meaning he gives Aja a basic breakdown of the story, Aja draws it and then Fraction adds some word balloons. I think that style plays to Fraction’s strengths. I mean, you can’t read an interview with the guy or follow him on Twitter and fail to appreciate him as a funny and sharp-witted guy. I bet he can KICK BUTT at a contest where people try to come up with the funniest caption for a random picture.
The problem with this first issue of Satellite Sam is that we don’t get Marvel-method-Fraction, we get the Fraction who writes a LOT of words. I mean, the story of the entire first issue happens over a period of ~30 minutes as the production of a live TV serial goes in the crapper when the star of the show fails to show up. Fraction really captures the manic frenzy of a live TV production where things are going wrong. I mean, he’s got action stars making lewd remarks at their female costars, guys rushing to change lightbulbs, the frenzy that the star of the show isn’t there, sending assistants to look for him, the authorities showing up…. You really get that this is a hectic place to work. The only problem is that the hectic feeling had been fully communicated by Page 4 and the feeling of frenzy continued and continued and continued. After awhile, I almost couldn’t read the word balloons anymore; it’s like, “I get it. It was hectic. Let’s move on….” I think that Marvel method might be the best way for Fraction to work because it saves him from himself. It reminds me of a friend who started taking Ritalin and complained, “I feel like I don’t have my edge anymore!” And we had to tell him, “But we don’t like your edge….”
There’s also not much in terms of characterization in this first issue. For me, the character who stood out the most was the male co-star who came onto the younger female starlet and kept remarking about her tattoos. The problem is that I’m pretty sure this guy wasn’t supposed to be the more remarkable character. All of the other characters just dissolved into the chattering masses.
Your reaction to the art is going to depend upon how much you like Howard Chaykin. I can recognize the guy’s qualities, but I’m not the biggest fan. On the plus side, his art really does flow along with the hectic dialog. He keeps each page frenzied and cluttered and that really works. There’s some real genius at work here and you have to appreciate that Chaykin is a experienced pro who knows how to command a page. The black-and-white also works because to a modern audience, the 1950s basically happened in black-and-white since all we have to go on are movies and old B&W pictures. However, there is also a lot of the stuff I don’t like about Chaykin in this issue and it keeps me from really endorsing the work: faces drawn on the sides of heads, weird anatomy, heavy use of computer-generated patterns for everyone’s clothing, etc.
Conclusion: This is going to be a matter of personal preference: Do you like Matt Fraction when he is being really wordy? Are you unbothered by Howard Chaykin’s faces on the sides of heads? If so, you might like this comic a lot. However, if you DO like it, we probably just shouldn’t give each other comic advice anymore…
- Dean Stell