Jockeying For Position

Howard Chaykin and Matt Fraction are no strangers to showing how sex relates to class. In that regard, Satellite Sam isn’t unique in their bibliographies. It is, however, the best of both Fraction’s High-Concept plotting and Chaykin’s explicit storytelling. The scratchy, rugged glamor Chaykin lends to the characters invites readers to pour over every line and wrinkle on a person’s skin, which seems to ooze sweat and oil and hormones. Like in his Black Kiss and its sequel, the effect is pornographic. Artist and writer use this approach to explore four relationships, a cross-section of 50s Hollywood elite: born again actress Kara and stand-in Mike reflect suburban desire for privacy when they dredge up secrets from the past; tech-obsessed Gene and lounge singer Eve, suffering gender-based communication breakdown; an affair between an FCC commissioner and Madeline, the wife of TV executive Ginsberg, demonstrating Old Money/New Money rivalry; and finally, flashbacks to Kara’s time with deceased actor Carlyle (Mike’s father).

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These various tugs of war show class in flux. Whether it’s the careerism of Gene or Madeline assuming managerial authority in her adultery (“So get on your fucking knees and get to work.”), the characters struggle to control their destiny.  an inverse of Black Kiss 2‘s theater scene: private, upper-class, and female-dominant where that was communal, poor, and male-dominant, Chaykin and Fraction equate sexual appetite with wealth and power, with the artist adding in how it is all a messy business (a reality severely lacking in the Photoshopped babe art of the Greg Lands, Gillem Marches, or Jim Lees of the world). Nowhere is this more evident than in Ginsberg adopting working-class, “rich get richer” rhetoric while enjoying the luxury of a spacious estate and servants; Madeline comments on this hypocrisy by saying, “He married the first rich girl he could find.” Meanwhile, Eve ends up spurning Gene after the man ignores her in favor of a technological anomaly–a camera recording a monitor playing what the camera records–then has him thrown out of the jazz lounge she performs in. It’s a lovely, decompressed sequence, with Chaykin’s panels allowing letterer Ken Bruzenak to stretch lyrics across the width of a page to show how much can happen within the space of a few lines from a song. In both cases, Madeline and Eve are emasculating the men, embodying fears about the rising feminist movement post-WWII as one where women asserting their sexuality and their gender will force men to relinquish their status.

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Similarly, Kara’s dual narrative as Evangelical Christian and party-hard bad girl (symbolized by her cross tramp stamp), links Puritanical repression with a desire to maintain status. Both with Carlyle and Mike, she worries about illicit pictures of her reaching circulation, drunkenly slurring “Gotta career ta conshidder” to the former. Though she never gets explicit with her recollections, she does tell Mike “he had his ways,” implying Carlyle’s stature as celebrity played a role in his dalliances (marked by a pathological stash of pictures of each conquest). Her shame matches Mike’s, who becomes terse to avoid talking about wartime experiences–feelings which have caused some measure of impotence (the previous issue had him unsuccessfully masturbating to the pictures he’d discovered). Their shame is socially dictated, though: Kara’s for being too sexual, Mike’s for not being sexual enough, a pernicious double standard where the opposite is considered the natural order (Satellite Sam seems overly-obsessed with this theme, which limits the psycho/sexual/sociological exploration solely to upper-middle to upper class whites).

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Fraction explored similar class and gender neuroses in his Marvel comic Hawkeye. Clint Barton and Kate Bishop were shown as masters of archery and hand-to-hand combat, but complete fuck-ups in their personal lives. This was largely down to their social status–he a working class schlub who lucked into money, she a media heiress whose father is in constant mid-life crisis–which made their relationship awkward. In both Hawkeye and Satellite Sam, Fraction illustrates masculinity which needs to be redefined for feminist equality, and the rough business of striking that balance. Yet, Hawkeye never rose above pretext for twee Pop Art, which led to the series’ current wave of downtime fill-in issues. Unfiltered and paired with Chaykin’s line work, Fraction allows his tics and gimmicks to follow a theme.

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