Nearly a dozen issues in, the mysteries only deepen as plot threads weave in unexpected directions in Matt Fraction and Howard Chaykin’s “Satellite Sam” #11. The original mystery — namely the murder of the actor who played the title character in a 1950s children’s television show of the same name — goes unmentioned amidst all of the other more recent intrigue, but nonetheless remains the focal point of all events that have stemmed from it. Fraction and Chaykin successfully juggle several disparate but related storylines involving blackmail, racial prejudice and alternative sexual lifestyles, making it the kind of comic few would ever wisely open at the office during lunch hour but would anxiously race home to read in privacy.
The series has become a rich and delightfully sordid tapestry of sex, secrets and backstabbing, which has only improved as these stories unfold. Like every issue preceding it, this one provides an introduction to the issue’s key players, increasing to a dozen this time around. Once this primer is presented, though, Fraction gets rolling and expects readers to keep up, relying on their intelligence and loyalty to the series to comprehend what transpires. An occasional snippet of dialogue provides a bridge to past events but, otherwise, the issue hits the ground running and doesn’t slow down. Chaykin’s gift for facial likenesses is an essential tool, as his unique construction of each character helps the story along by making them all readily identifiable.
This issue, like all past ones, benefits from being a black and white comic thanks to Chaykin’s extensive use of patterns that fill the void left by lack of color. Chaykin gives backgrounds like wallpaper, clothing and buildings their own unique shading and texture that not only define the unmistakable, art deco look of the series but also help to further identify some of the characters by their snazzy and fashionable suits and dresses. Some of Chaykin’s pages are works of art based on the usage of digital zip-a-tone alone.
Fraction not only tells an enticingly complex story but also sets a convincingly hostile tone for an era often regarded as a happier one by many. The fifties might have been the golden age of television, sure, which Fraction and Chaykin capture beautifully, but it was also an era of open intolerance based on race and sexual preference, which Fraction and Chaykin also capture with all of the ugliness associated with it. It’s not just intolerance, in fact; it’s downright hatred that gives the issue an especially disturbing tone — not just because it’s part of the story, but because it was also part of history.
“Satellite Sam” #11 is at a point in the series where Fraction and Chaykin have perfected their synergy in an issue that smoothly cruises along even as its story ramps up. It’s the showcase of a series that has consistently remained among one of Image Comics’ best titles.