SATELLITE SAM is the best kind of period piece, because the aesthetic of the book -- from Chaykin's black-and-white art to the unordered balloons -- matches its setting so well. It's immersive in that sense, and paired with Fraction's quippy, on-the-nose dialogue, it's easy to drop directly into the story world and feel comfortable. As comfortable as one can be amidst bigots, politicians, and hacks, that is.
Issue #4 dives deeper into some of the less savory aspects of the world of SATELLITE SAM -- not that a murder was terribly savory -- and exposes the corruption, xenophobia, and homophobia that have been bubbling under the surface of various cast interactions since the book began. These ugly things are plain now; exposed without euphemism, and it's a shift in tone from previous issues that simultaneously firms up our opinions of certain characters and makes us feel more included as readers. We're past subtlety; it's time to show that there's real stuff going on behind everyone's snappy banter, and not much of it is nice or pretty. How fitting that the centerpiece of the book is a fantasy television serial -- equally snappy on the surface, with ugly, half-baked writing and acting cobbled together behind the scenes.
SATELLITE SAM started out as a murder mystery, and while I can't fault an ongoing series for unfolding slowly and revealing details at choice moments, it seems like most of the cast has forgotten about Carlyle White and his murder. They may be focused on the gaps he left -- including those his son is unable to fill -- but this issue shows a marked departure from anyone but Michael behaving as though there's an unsolved, high-profile murder case in their midst. Maybe tv people in SATELLITE SAM are just that self-absorbed, or maybe Fraction and Chaykin don't want it to be about the crime so much as the drama in its wake, but the narrative is observably veering away from that initial mystery plot.
Fraction and Chaykin continue to give us a deliciously sensational peek at '50s serial television drama (on-, but mostly off-screen), and draw us further into the story by exposing more plainly the ugliness of some characters and the reactions of others to that ugliness. These vignettes are wonderfully intercut with snippets of a television serial being hacked together, a reminder of the setting and a powerful analogy for everything else that's going on. I'm missing the heavier focus on the murder mystery that was set up in the first issue, but enjoying the complexity and intrigue that's being delivered in its place.