Pulp Corner: Satellite Sam Volume 1
I’ve been toying around with the idea of picking this book up forever. Finally after it staring at me on the rack during our entire Free Comic Book Day Podcast I decided I’d give it a good home. I didn’t know too much about it, I knew it was set in the 1950’s; it was black and white and written by Matt Fraction with art by Howard Chaykin. But the reviews, oh the reviews! It all seemed so divisive. Some people really enjoyed it while other people scoffed at the very idea that I even read it, let alone pay money for it. Now granted part of that might be Chaykin’s reputation or the fact that every single cover for the issues contained a woman in black frilly lingerie (more on both these things later). In the name of pulp I gave it the old college try.
The outline for the story is fairly simple. In 1951 Carlyle White is the lead for a Sci-Fi children’s TV serial called Satellite Sam and he winds up dead…more accurately murdered. His alcoholic son, Michael who works behind the scenes for the TV show is asked to fill in for his role. Soon after, Michael begins to investigate his father’s death and finds out his dad was a bit of a sexual deviant. He has photographs of all the women he slept with dressed in similar lingerie. This is all set against the backdrop of live TV and the LeMonde television network but strangely the murder isn’t really the main focus of the book.
There’s an expansive cast to the story (so much so that it can get a bit confusing) that all have things change for them as a result of Carlyle’s death. There’s other actors on the show that are now vying for bigger roles and spin off shows. The company may be closing; there is talk of moving it out west to Hollywood, they are involved with NYC’s mayoral election, etc. Michael himself is no actor and is thrust in the that position for better or worse and is trying to come to grips with his father being gone and his new found responsibility. Satellite Sam co-star Kara has also decided to aid Michael in his search for answers about Carlyle. Former party girl turned born again, she owes Carlyle something big in her past.
This is the perfect comic to read while smoking a cigarette and drinking Gin. As Arthur pointed out I love the tv show Mad Men and I’ve been waiting for a comic book to capture that old school aesthetic and drama and Satellite Sam does just that. It’s the perfect AMC/HBO show that doesn’t exist yet. No one’s really mined the idea of a TV show that is about making live TV and the possibility that anything can happen. A lot of research into that particular era of entertainment was done by the creative team and you can follow their postings about it in their NSFW production blog, here.
While labeled as a Noir, I can say (as of the first five issues) it is most definitely not one and the mystery is a little less pronounced than people would have you believe. If anything like Mad Men it’s a strong period piece drama, which is enhanced by the black and white art. Chaykin’s backgrounds and cityscapes truly evoke that feel. As I mentioned earlier it’s a little hard to keep up with who is who and they do have these neat little cast pages that have the characters’ headshots and different blurbs about them that precede the story in the single issues. They are included in the trade but lumped in the back with the other extras for some reason. So if you don’t know to look ahead of time you won’t see it until your done with the trade.
Before I had read this I was under the assumption that this was a pretty salacious book, the kind Chaykin is often linked to. I can assure you it’s not. It’s significantly less intense than I expected. Yes there are sexual situations and sex is sometimes a motivating factor for the plot and character’s decision but it’s like watching any grown up tv show. There is virtually no nudity at all in these books, so if that kind of thing bothers you don’t worry. Black Kiss this is not. Kudos to Fraction as well, I had read the first volume of Sex Criminals directly before reading this and I wasn’t sure what to expect. I’m happy to say that he plays it straight down the middle and less “quirky” than usual which is exactly what a book like this needs.
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