They take liberties in Satellite Sam, especially Howard Chaykin, who’s pacing this thing with or without you. Granted, it’s tough to tell where the divide lays on a book like this, so maybe that’s Fraction steering into the curve, feeding Chaykin’s tendencies until their full, but from the measly perspective of this reader, it appears to be a master dragging the chain. I want to boil Chaykin’s approach into some adjective or phrase, suggesting some kind of ability to do so, but I’m not sure it exists. At least not in me. His stuff … it’s just ever-stylized, yet almost seems to be so because he wouldn’t be able to tell his stories or creates his tones any other way. And that pacing I mention – it’s a signature mark left, certainly, in his contemporary work, bringing us those sinister little bits where the shot zooms in until only a set snarling teeth covered in cum remains in view. It’s a heavy hand, but no more so than that of Miller or really any artist in control. But Chaykin’s just so left-field, sometimes, creating large-scale Tijuana bibles christened in glossy paper.
In ways, maybe many, Satellite Sam stands as a spiritual successor to Black Kiss II, pulling the Hollywood angle away from something character driven into its own ozone. The easiest way to describe it is to imagine Matt Fraction stumbling across a universe already built, but realizing he can still etch something, maybe small, into its fabric. That faint stencil becomes the Michael White narrative, and it’s certainly his because the father/son thread shoots right through Fraction’s catalog. At times, you’ll invest in it and even mingle with the plot points, but it’s difficult to discern anything specific or interesting about it. Chaykin’s just throwing lingerie, lipstick and TV cameras at you, not letting up. And you have to deal with that because it’s his turf you’re squatting on.
Of course, that’s interesting in itself – the idea of Satellite Sam being more so atmospheric, like a Fraction-fueled dip into Chaykin’s general aesthetic. Things can wander, after all. It’s not all rush. Peer into Joe Casey’s anti-Butcher Baker comic book, Sex, and you’ll realize sometimes masters just want to float and flirt before signaling someone special toward the bedroom door. And, of course, Fraction is an admitted student of Chaykin, so see this, maybe, as one man basking in what the other does, trying little to interfere.
That still leaves something to desire, though, even with the sometimes agile and classic feel bouncing around in it. I’ll go back to that Claremont quote, again, which references a true balance between writer and artist: “it’s what all of us in comics strive for … to create a whole which is much, much greater than the sum of the parts.” I can’t blame either side. Fraction could push harder, but Chaykin’s who he is. You can’t read this and invest in it as a whole piece, but as a splinter of something, it’s fun to toy with. There’s something of Satellite Sam, as a fan of Fraction’s Casanova, that is rewarding. Like all those back matter pieces got together and made something happen. And as for Chaykin … it’s a master directing. How could you not watch?