Publisher: Image Comics
Story: Matt Fraction
Illustration: Howard Chaykin
Matt Fraction (Hawkeye, Sex Criminals) and Howard Chaykin (American Flagg!, Black Kiss) continue their romp through the early days of television in this erotic 1950s murder mystery. Satellite Sam: Volume 2, subtitled “Satellite Sam and the Kinescope Snuff”, collects issues #6 to #10 of the ongoing series. You don’t want to engage with this murder mystery without first reading the first five issues (collected in Satellite Sam: Vol. 1). This review includes a summary of those earlier issues, in case one chooses to start with the second volume. But, do yourself a favour: start from the beginning and enjoy the bumpy ride.
The quality of a murder mystery is in its ending, and Fraction hasn’t suggested how long this title will run. But, it is certainly off to a compelling start. Satellite Sam: Vol. 2 offers crisp dialogue, art well-suited to the period, and (at least thus far) an intriguing whodunnit. The earlier issues introduced the reader to the staff producing a daily American black and white live sci-fi television programme called Satellite Sam. As the show was airing, its lead, Carlyle White, was nowhere to be found at the studio and an assistant director, Elizabeth “Libby” Myers, was dispatched to seek him out. She sought him out at his apartment he kept. To cover for the missing Carlyle White, his intoxicated son, Michael “Mikey” White, is directed to step in front of the camera to portray Satellite Sam. To address the age disparity between Mikey and his father, the writers explained that Satellite Sam had discovered the fountain of youth. While the live broadcast employed this hokey device to keep the show moving forward, Libby, screamed for an ambulance. Her screams are to no avail – Carlyle White is dead.
Soon, Mikey White is escorted to the apartment where his father died. The police presume it to be a heart attack, but his son believes it not be an accidental death. Carlyle’s apartment is littered with sex toys and women’s undergarments, photography and lighting equipment, and boxes of “good girl” lingerie photographs. Mikey comes to suspect that one of the over one hundred women who his father photographed is responsible for the death. As the story continues, Mikey crosses out the photographs of some of these women, but thus far it is unclear why he has cleared them as suspects.
The earlier issues, collected in Satellite Sam: Volume 1, introduced the reader to the main character, Michael “Mikey” White, who replaced his father as “Satellite Sam” on the small screen. We also meet director Dick Danning, writer Guy Roth, and actors Hamilton Stanhope (portraying “Cadet Corey”) and Kara Kelly (playing “Nightshade”). We are also introduced to Mariangela Melato (“Major Melinda”) and Clint Haygood (“Colonel True”) who also portray members of the children’s programme’s Star Police. Readers also get to know Dr. Joseph Ginsberg, the founder of the LeMonde Television Network, “video shader” and aspiring director Eugene Ford, and technical director Ike Eiger. The cast continued to expand with jazz singer Eve Echol, the studio owner’s spouse Madeline Ginsberg, and Congressional candidate Wilson “Reb” Karnes who promises to battle the twin “menaces” of Communism and homosexuality.
A true period piece, the series covers social issues hovering around the periphery of the 1950s television network LeMonde, such as the Federal Communications Commissions (incorrectly predicted to end “literally any day now”), the transition from black and radio to colour programming, racial discrimination, and the demise of radio. Matt Fraction uses the time and setting to good effect.
As the earlier issues continued, a possible motive for Carlyle’s death develops, though the police appear to have little involvement or interest. Carlyle White planned to move from New York to California when his contract with LeMonde came to an end, and planned to open his own studio on the cheap. This would have destroyed Satellite Sam, the network’s most profitable show. Assistant director Libby Myers also learns that Carlyle had been personally purchasing the kinescopes (basically film recordings) of the Satellite Sam programme. Kara White, a fellow Satellite Sam actress and former sexual partner of the deceased, helps Mikey in his investigation of his father’s death. Kara, baring an inverted crucifix tattoo, is one of the women who was photographed by Carlyle White. We learn that Carlyle took her to Mexico to secure an abortion and paid the press to keep it out of the papers. It was at that point that Kara “found God” and later secured hosting duties for a religious television broadcast on the LeMonde network.
Volume 2 finds Michael White contemplating a lucrative contract to continue in his father’s role as Satellite Sam. Dr. Ginsberg offers Eugene Ford the opportunity to create his own television programme and Ford seeks to use the new show to propel struggling singer Eve Echol to the limelight. As Volume 2 begins, White believes that Dr. Ginsberg directed the murder of his father. Meanwhile, Mariangela Melato is taken into custody for assaulting her boyfriend who scorned her, and she asks the police to call director Dick Danning.
In this collection, readers learn that assistant director Libby Myers kept secrets for Carlyle White and, in turn, he helped to advance her career. Before Satellite Sam: Vol. 2 closes, Michael White learns of another reason someone would have wanted his father dead…
The series is off to a strong start though occasionally the plot seems overly distracted from the murder mystery that ought to take centre stage. One hopes that the main mystery moves forward and this isn’t all just an excuse for titillation. Matt Fraction does an excellent job of putting the reader in the heart of the early television industry and the machinations of its players. Howard Chaykin’s art is strong here. He seems at his best when illustrating period pieces such as his work on the 1985 The Shadow mini-series that helped secure his status as a fan favourite artist. His square jawed male characters and negligee clad females in jazz clubs and drawings of big city backdrops are well suited to this mid-20th Century American noir story. That said, his Michael White looks (intentionally?) like his Clark Kent, or perhaps his Cranston LaMont with glasses. There is little “action” in the sense of comic book violence to be found here.
Satellite Sam Vol. 2 continues a primarily a sexualised period piece, so it may not be the ideal story for readers expecting caped crusaders or dark vigilantes. While the characters in Satellite Sam don’t wear masks, they do have a fair amount they seek to hide. From from the usual violent comic book fare, Fraction and Chaykin offer a slow burn mystery that hopefully will pay off.