Best Shots Advance Reviews: SATELLITE SAM by Fraction/Chaykin, More

Satellite Sam #1
Credit: Image Comics
Satellite Sam #1 Variant
Satellite Sam #1 Variant
Credit: Image Comics

Satellite Sam #1
Written by Matt Fraction
Art by Howard Chaykin
Lettering by Ken Bruzenak
Published by Image Comics
Review by Scott Cederlund
‘Rama Rating: 9 out of 10

In this first issue of their new series, Matt Fraction and Howard Chaykin take us back to 1950s television and a kids show called Satellite Sam on a day when its star didn't show up on time. This was live television, so the director, the crew and other actors were scrambling to put out a show that could entertain the kiddies. For just a simple kids show, everyone has to jump through hoops, because it’s all about the money and the sponsorships, which Fraction reminds us about as investors just happen to be touring the studio on this fateful day. It’s not a good day for the star of Satellite Sam as we slowly learn why he didn’t show up for work, but it’s even a worse day for his son Michael White, an engineer on the show, who learns just how easy it is for him to substitute as his father even as he discovers just how little he really knew his old man.

Satellite Sam #1 is a slightly paradoxical comic because it wears its influences on its sleeve. And that influence just happens to be drawing this comic. Fraction, like a whole generation of comic creators and readers, has grown up reading Howard Chaykin comics. It’s a bit scary to think that someday someone should do a study on just how Chaykin books like American Flagg!, The Shadow and Black Kiss has warped the minds of everyone who read those books at ages when they probably shouldn’t have. This comic reads like a love letter to those Chaykin comics as Fraction introduces these strange little perversions into the lives of his character. It’s those clear sexual overtones that color so many of Chaykin’s stories that Fraction borrows for this story. Fraction is playing with that Chaykin luridness and it stands out so much more because Chaykin is the artist he’s working with in this issue.

Fraction is doing his best Howard Chaykin impersonation, from the 1950s setting to giving Chaykin the opportunity to draw women in lace lingerie (although there’s not that much of that in this issue). Chaykin obviously influences Fraction, and you could see this in a lot of Fraction’s writing from The Last of the Independents through Casanova. There’s also that bit of Aaron Sorkin in this book, as Fraction delves into the working of something that we only generally see on a surface level. Like Sorkin’s The West Wing, Studio 60 or Sports Night, Fraction takes this subject that we think we know of on some level (old time television) and exposes the hidden personalities and workings of that subject.

More than his influences, there’s something that’s wholly Fraction about this book as well. It’s a story about family. We’ve seen that repeatedly in Fraction’s work. It’s even the focus of his current work on Fantastic Four and FF. In Satellite Sam #1, the focus is on a father and son. We don’t get much of an idea of their exact relationship other than they work together, the father in front of the cameras and the son behind it. Chaykin’s stories are usually about a hero versus the system but Fraction’s tend to be about the complexity of relationships. How much do we really know the people we should be closest to? Fraction sets up the riddle of Satellite Sam in this issue as Michael is put into one unpleasant situation after another all because of his father.

Michael is the prototypical Chaykin hero. A handsome man with a strong chin, there’s little difference between Michael, Reuben Flagg or Dominic Fortune. While Chaykin has this standard for his hero, it’s not like he can’t draw a multitude of different styles of characters. In this issue, there’s a number of different characters, all with their own distinct features and looks. Once you get beyond the heroes of his pieces, Chaykin is a master at creating fully formed characters, defined by their own senses of fashion. No one today can draw a man wearing a suit the way that Chaykin can. Using a variety of methods, Chaykin give almost every panel of Satellite Sam #1 a clear texture. You feel like you should be able to rub your fingers over an image and feel either the smooth cottony fabric of a woman’s dress or the wrinkled surface of a dress shirt that hasn’t been properly pressed. Chaykin is not a realistic artist but his way of portraying the texture of the world is more realistic than almost any comic artist has ever been able to do.

There are elements of Satellite Sam #1 that you could point to and say “that’s a Chaykin comic” or “that’s a Fraction comics” but that misses the fusion of these two creators who are creating a true fusion of their two styles. Fraction has learned from Chaykin that glee in pushing comics boundaries. You would almost think a book by the two of them would be full of both of their excesses. Instead Satellite Sam #1 offers the best of both creators; a strong family story told through images that excite, that tease and that have so much energy in them that you can’t help but get excited to see what’s going to happen on each new page.

Ten Grand #3 Cover
Ten Grand #3 Cover
Credit: Image Comics

Ten Grand #3
Written by J. Michael Straczynski
Art by Ben Templesmith
Lettering by Troy Peteri
Published by Image Comics
Review by Richard Gray
'Rama Rating: 9 out of 10

Since DC brought Constantine over to the New 52 mainstream, many have lamented the loss of the grittiness that was intrinsically associated with that title. Ten Grand is aimed squarely at those readers: fans waiting to willingly let the hounds of hell wash over their hungry brain vessels. J. Michael Straczynski’s series might knowingly reference the familiar concept of a world-weary supernatural detective that straddles the worlds of the living and the dead, yet it shouldn’t be mistaken for a mere carbon copy of our favourite hellblazer. Infused with a modern sensibility that mixes magic, mayhem and hard-boiled mystery, if you haven’t already jumped on board, Ten Grand is a book that deserves your attention immediately.

The term "cliffhanger" is said to originate back to the nineteenth century, where serialized characters were literally left hanging at the end of chapters. Straczynski kind of turns that concept on its head in this series, where those heroic cliffhanger moments and subsequent "deaths" are semi-craved by the hero, for they lead to five-minute windows he can spend with his dear departed wife, trapped in limbo for an eternity. After trying to save a client in the previous issue, and failing, her demise leads him to the morgue, which would normally be a dead end for most private investigators. Not so for Joe Fitzgerald, who uses his unique set of skills to pull the fragments of memory from the deceased’s mind.

Straczynski had previously stated that this series has no definite length in mind, and that it will run for the amount of time it takes to complete the story: “no more, no less”. With his world firmly established in the first two issues, this third issue is a perfect example of that approach to pacing. Just as Brian K. Vaughan has done with his longer arcs, we pause some of the present day story in this issue and get the gaps filled in on how Joe became the browbeaten man we see before us. The skill of Straczynski is in weaving these bits of exposition in seamlessly without losing the forward momentum, adding a few more puzzle pieces in the pursuit of the enigmatic Brother James.

There couldn’t be a more perfect artistic companion for this series than Australia’s Ben Templesmith. The 30 Days of Night co-creator has such a unique art approach, enhancing the simple but confident line art with a distinctive set of watercolour styled washes. The morgue is filled with blues and greys, so that the otherworldly white lights appear to dance on top of the panels. Flashback pages are cracked and weathered, while others are ready to burst alight in the reds and oranges of hell.

Ten Grand marked the return of Joe’s Comics, Straczynski’s creator-owned imprint. With upcoming works including a limited series from Bill Sienkiewicz (sure to be its own kind of magic) and Straczynski’s own Sidekick, it’s a solid foundation. If this is your first issue of Ten Grand, you will undoubtedly seek out the rest. It’s simply that addictive.

Mice Templar v4 #4
Mice Templar v4 #4
Credit: Image Comics

Mice Templar, Vol. 4, #4
Written by Bryan J.L. Glass
Art by Michael Avon Oeming, Victor Santos and Serena Guerra
Published by Image Comics
Review by Forrest C. Helvie
'Rama Rating: 9 out of 10

Bryan J.L. Glass stated that this issue was the darkest story he’s ever written, and after reading it, most fans of Mice Templar will be hard-pressed to disagree. This issue is both the tale of Captain Tosk and the making of a monster.

The only criticism I would raise with what is an otherwise compelling and dark journey that explores the motivations of one of the two most feared villains within this epic is the amount of gore depicted in certain scenes. It isn’t that the brutality in this issue necessarily lacks context, which is an occurrence in many other comics that is little more than an easy tactic to shock readers without having laid the necessary groundwork to create a more lasting response. We grow to see how Tosk lived a barbarous life, and all aspects of the art employed in Issue #4 – from the lines and inks to the colors and even lettering - are used to drive the point home to the reader about how severely warped Tosk has become from his early years in spite of his less than honorable beginnings. However, I think the message wouldn’t have lost any of its poignancy had a little more detail been left to the horrors of the reader’s imagination and less on the page. It still works though because it does have a purpose within the narrative, so it’s not a major problem.

Although this is certainly the grimmest story Glass has brought to Mice Templar, it continues to exemplify his ability to flesh out his characters – both good and evil - into fully realized beings. It’s a riveting tale that removes Tosk from the simple sort of two-dimensional villain who is evil solely because that is the way he was created. Instead, we discover he was something of a simple, villainous rat at first, but he would go on to reach new lows through the betrayals and emotional scars from his personal life. It provides an interesting commentary on how there are certain types of hurts that cross all boundaries – even persons of evil cannot escape their painful after-effects. This makes Tosk interesting because we gain a better understanding of what motivates him to do the horrendous things he does. While his rat soldiers are unsavory, immoral beasts, Tosk shows himself to be a truly vile and depraved being.

Oeming, Santos, and Guerra are really at the top of their game with this issue as well. I continue to enjoy the ways in which this artistic team demarcate shifts in time artistically. Not only will readers quickly see the difference, the line work and coloring all lend to an “older” feel, including a sort of parchment-like background. I thought the continual contrast of light and darkness was applied quite well. The image of Tosk standing in the pen with the ratlings is one such example of his appearance as a perverted guiding light to his soldiers, and yet, he is also seeped in darkness and spreading this baseness to the next generation– the exterior representative of his interior self and an interesting foil to Karic. I also found the depiction of the mice who are offered a chance for escape after being recaptured especially chilling when comparing their facial expressions and eyes to that of the ratlings during their “challenge.” It raises an interesting question as to what would one do for the chance to be free? The implications here are quite grim indeed.

Finally, we do see Karic’s thread progress somewhat as he confronts the fish gods, and from this episode, he gains a slightly greater understanding of both their role in the grand scheme of things as well as some hints as to his fate as well. Although it is a short scene – the first in the issue, actually – it is important as provides a sort of “bookend” to the final panel of the issue. In the same way past volumes of Mice Templar ended with a memorable conflict, it is clear the same can be expected from Vol. 4.

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