Get out your space props and whiskey, we're reviewing Satellite Sam: Vol 1, by Matt Fraction and Howard Chaykin!
"Satellite Sam" is a hit sci-fi TV show being produced in the 50's, starring Carlyle White in the pivotal role of Satellite Sam. But when the actor is found dead in a seedy apartment, surrounded by tons of pictures of women in lingerie, it's up to his alcoholic son, Mike, to solve his father's murder AND step into the role as the title TV character to keep the show on the air.
A noir thriller? About a sci-fi TV show in the 50s? In a black and white comic with a slightly cartoony style? Involving women in lingerie? Written by Matt Fraction, writer of such fantastic books as Sex Criminals and Hawkeye?? All of this should work. I should be SUPER into this comic. And somehow, I could not be more sick of it. WOW, do I hate this comic.
My biggest gripe is that nothing interesting happens. It is beyond boring. And this is the first volume, so I gave it a good five issues to get going, but it refused to budge. The brunt of this comic is about people running a TV show, and while that may sound interesting in theory, I could not care less about setting up cameras, prepping actors on their lines, and renegotiating contracts. And since no one really stops to explain what's going on, it's also pretty confusing. Should I know why these people are freaking out over this thing that I don't know how to operate? This should be a tension-filled search for a killer, and that is the story element given the least amount of time. Why? Why should I care more about stretching out time before a commercial than a son finding the person or persons responsible for his father's death? I can assure you, I could not care less.
Mike is the main character here (although it's kind of an ensemble comic, so there's lots of jumping around), and he has just about the least amount of agency in trying to solve his father's murder. It feels like he doesn't seem to get started until the middle of issue 3. And listen, look, I know it's the 1950's and all, but I could not care less about ANOTHER white guy with daddy issues and heteronormative sex hang-ups. I have read and seen that story before a million and one times and this is not even the most well-done version of that story. So on top of not showing the most interesting aspect of the book hardly at all, the most interesting aspect is already paint-by-numbers.
And speaking of white guys, that is the brunt of the cast of this comic. Just tons of white guys I cannot remember the names of and could not give two shits about. And hey, maybe you can make that work. Maybe it can be interesting. But A) this is a comic ABOUT the 1950's, not WRITTEN in the 1950's, put some damn diversity in there. This is one of the problems I have with books written on that time period or before. Since all the books from that time period were written mostly for straight white males, people writing stories about the period now seem to think there were ONLY white males walking around. Did they only invent black people in the 1970's? I think I saw a Latina woman in there, just so they could have some quaint old-person racism, but that's about it. And B) even though this has a slightly cartoony style, since the cast is mostly white guys, I cannot for the life of me tell anyone apart. Who's that guy? Who's this guy? Am I supposed to know who this white guy with a mustache is? Is he different from the other guy with a mustache I just saw? Who knows! They never got any great introductions and never do anything different enough that I remember who any of them are. Please stop putting just white men in your black and white comics and expecting me to tell them all apart.
This is definitely a comic where the women only have hour-glass shapes, mostly dress like pin-up girls in shapely clothing, and are mostly there to have sex. It is a comic where 95% of the covers are women in lingerie because there's nothing else remotely interesting to put on the front. I mean I love pin-up girls as much as the next guy, but I came here for a noir comic, not a pin-up collection. Diversity! Diversity in body shape! It's disappointing. You know what else is disappointing? All the homophobic stuff. Some of it is showing how homosexuals have to hide and how they lived in that era and that's important, but then there's stuff that's just straight-up gross homophobia and it is just gross. Ugh.
And then there's the art. I've come to the conclusion that I generally like Chaykin's style by itself. His characters are nice and he has a cool inking technique. It looks like he uses a mixtures of inks and pencils. But since the book is mostly black and white with tones, TONS of tones and patterns, just tones and patterns everywhere, it's hard to read to the point that my eyes hurt if I read it for too long. I have never experienced that before. And I think, from what I can gather through squinted eyes, that he's a good visual storyteller. The layout is well done with lots of variation in panels. But the comic vibrates, and not in a good way. So not only do I not want to read this book, I literally get sick from reading it. Ow, my eyes.
I was expecting a lot more from this comic. A LOT more. And it's just disappointing. It's boring, generic, and literally painful to read. I can't stand it. I wanted to like this book so much. I wanted to fall in love with this book! It is not a good read. It's just not good! Don't bother. Don't do what I did. Don't go down this path. Tell my story to those who listen. Go read Sex Criminals or something.
THE GOOD: Um, interesting premise I guess? Art style is good in theory? Nice layout I think? It is technically kind of noir? I am grasping at straws.
THE BAD: Not diverse, hard to tell characters apart, bad to women, tired story about white guy with daddy problems and heteronormative sex hang ups, really boring, confusing, painful to read.
THE VERDICT: $ Um yeah. I mean I wanted to give this at least a 2 just because of Matt Fraction, but I can't come up with a good reason to read this book. It's a load of poop and there are so many other better books out there. Don't read it. Ugh.
BOOKS YOU SHOULD READ INSTEAD: Sex Criminals, Hit, Blacksad, Liar's Kiss, Mr. Murder is Dead, Terminal City
ONE-PAGE METAPHOR: Mike gets depressed about stuff, so he gets drunk and tries to masturbate to the pictures he found at the scene of his dad's murder (the pictures his dad presumably took of the girls he presumably had sex with) in the bathroom, but he can't get it up. This is what you have to look forward to.