No one does sex and violence in comics with a retro feel like veteran creator Howard Chaykin, so when writer Matt Fraction came up with the idea of a sexually-tinged murder mystery set against the backdrop of the fledgling 1950s television industry, there was no better choice of artist to bring the idea to life in “Satellite Sam” #1.
Chaykin is no stranger to giving television an important and pivotal role in a comics series, as he did in his widely-acclaimed and career-defining “American Flagg!” three decades ago. While that futuristic series had plenty of sex and violence, these vices are strictly behind-the-scenes in Fraction’s series which, after all, is set during the so-called “Golden Age” of TV. In Fraction’s story, “Satellite Sam” is a science fiction adventure TV series, whose eccentric star meets with an unfortunate fate, and his sordid and illicit personal affairs become exposed as a result.
No one does sordid and illicit better than the combined talents of both of these creators. Chaykin brings just about everything to this comic that he’s known for: carefully executed panel layouts, layered storytelling, a hunky lead character, and — right there on the opening pages — plenty of fishnet stockings and leather teddies. Fraction brings the spark of an engaging idea and peppers it with authentic dialogue amidst a cool setting, but it’s Chaykin that ignites it and cooks the whole thing up with a flavor and feel that’s unmistakably his.
There are few artists in comics who understand the possibilities of the sequential art form the way Chaykin does. In typical Chaykin fashion, there is not a panel, nor even an element of a panel, that doesn’t serve a purpose. There’s no reading this quickly; each page, especially the early ones setting up the characters and story, need to be examined carefully and understood before moving along. Although it might sound like a bit of chore for casual readers, Chaykin ensures that it’s a pleasure; a little more effort yields a lot more enjoyment that pays off well before the issue concludes.
It’s also a story that wisely eschews color, better told in black and white and a lot of grey, by way of Chaykin’s extensive and highly effective use of zipatone and a wide array of other patterns. Chaykin wields these patterns the same way a colorist would use a palette, using them to define characters by applying differing patterns for their clothing. He also uses this technique to simply enhance the art, applying textures such as brick and wood grain patterns.
Even letterer and frequent Chaykin-collaborator Ken Bruzenak brings a distinctiveness to the issue. Where often the best praise a letterer can get is that no one notices his work, Bruzenak has a style that’s just unique enough to be noticed and compliment the art, and is so well associated with Chaykin’s work that its absence would make something in the art seem amiss. His simple but effective shading of word balloons to denote when one character speaks into a headset rather than to characters in the room goes a long way towards helping the story along.
While not much mention has been made of Fraction; his presence almost seems minimal in comparison to Chaykin’s. The strength of the writer’s storyline deserves kudos both for its intrigue and period setting, but also for its ability to bring out the absolute best of one of the industry’s most talented and innovative artists. By publishing “Satellite Sam”, Image Comics showcases an excellent example of its charter by giving the industry’s best talent the opportunity to create their best work.