Oftentimes writers and artists from large comic book publishers will embark on several side projects, that are under the banner of a smaller, independent publishing company. This can be a great way for a creative to develop and break free from a overly strict editorial staff or push the boundaries of creativity without the restrictions of a defined universe. In the case of DC writers and artists the latter is usually the case, while currently Marvel is striking a stride of creativity and expansion, thus encouraging their staff’s creative embers.
Matt Fraction is one of the core architects of Marvel; he has had an amazing career, but over the past several years he really has helped move Marvel in the successful era that it is in now. Recently, he released an independent property of his own of his dubbed, “Satellite Sam,” under the Image publishing house along with artist, Howard Chaykin.
Chaykin’s art style lends wonderfully to the setting. It is what I would expect out of comic book depicting a mature, 1960’s plot. I usually prefer the black-and-white, sketch-style of comic books (akin to director’s cuts of issues that publishers sometime release), but -in this instance- I did not prefer it. It didn’t ruin the issue for me, but Cakykin and fellow artist, Jesus Aburtov’s, cover is so vivid, that my sole reason for initially picking up “Satellite Sam #1” was due to its spectacular cover art. The cover grabs you even when you’re just strolling by, so intuitively I assumed that the interior artwork would reflect that specific, gut reaction feeling. Unfortunately (and uncharacteristically), I was disappointed by the lack of color-- In my opinion good colorist could have done wonders with this series.
As for the plot: the premise is solid. It greatly reminds me of Mad Men. It has that 1950s/1960s vibe to it (just swap out the ad agency for the set to a variety show), but the first issue is incredibly slow to start. It nails the ambiance, but lacks in its pacing. The issue concludes with essentially the cover art’s depiction, so if you are an observant reader you’ll see the cliffhanger a mile off. The remaining issue is really just laying down cast and characters, which is an ok tact to take, but audiences want quickness when it comes to the ‘whodunit’ plot structure and a tried-and-true setting.
It borders on the cliche to present anything but. By diving slowly into motifs and familiarities comes off as dry and forced. We want a new lens on the era, not a rehash. It is with this in mind that I give “Satellite Sam #1” two-and-half-stars out of five.
Matt Fraction is an incredibly talented writer, and I always looked forward to reading his take on classic Marvel characters (or even new ideas like his acclaimed “Casanova” series), but “Satellite Sam” falls short. I am going to give it a couple more issues to see if it picks up, but if you are on the fence about this one pass on it and wait for the tradeback and subsequent reviews-- Until then, check back here for any update on Fraction and Chaykin’s “Satellite Sam” with insights and issue reviews by yours truly.