The story for Satellite Sam, set in 1951, follows the fortunes of Michael White, son of television star Carlyle White. Carlyle plays the titular hero in the LeMonde networks sci-fi show. When Carlyle turns up dead, Michael has to step into his shoes on the acting front, navigating the murky politics of the burgeoning medium of television. In addition to this, Michael also attempts to uncover his father’s sordid past in an attempt to discover what lead to his eventual demise.
Issues #1–5 of Satellite Sam all begin with a central, lone image. Sometimes these images are flag bearers for what comes next, but others are firmly nestled in the gap between what’s presented as truth and what remains hidden.
The first issue begins, suitably enough, with a shot of a television set displaying the show’s opening title card, along with an announcer building the viewers (and the readers) anticipation for the coming entertainment. The panel performs the function of its television counterpart by drumming up anticipation for what’s to come. The panel also serves as a microcosm of the issue’s plot itself, based as it is around the impending arrival of the show’s main character in the show’s narrative as well as Carlyle’s arrival at the set, due to him running late. This duality is one of the motifs that begin to emerge more and more as the first issue, and the series, continues.
In this way the panel also serves to establish a set of rules for the series as well as tying nicely into the issue’s climax. Firstly, there’s Chaykin’s black and white art, which not only establish the look of the series but a sense of time and place. But the TV screen itself is a panel within a panel, suggesting from the off there are at least two realities in play here. The supposed truth, and its distorted reality. Carlyle’s arrival never happens, but Satellite Sam’s does (in the ‘rejuvenated’ form of Michael). Again, two realities – a plot point in the show’s narrative about the fountain of youth masks the reality of Michael’s death.
The issue ends with Michael lost and confused amongst a pile of photographs of scantily clad women, all previously locked away within a hidden suitcase owned by his father. Panels within panels, exposing another hidden layer of reality.
At Issue #2’s close we get more mirroring with a splash page depicting a close up on a photo of one of Carlyle’s former conquests, and his former Satellite Sam co-star, Kara. She’s posed in a similar manner to the woman on the billboard, looking at us over her shoulder, though dressed much more seductively, exposing the reality of sex in advertising. Two realities brushing oh so close together.
We then go from looking at the publicity still before turning the page to see the sexually charged photograph of Kara that closed out the last issue, before then moving onto a third shot of Kara in the present with her current ‘born again’ outlook on life. Three different realities in quick succession, separated by time and space, but sitting next to each other on the page. It may not be flashy, but this is something only comics can do.
In the same issue there’s a flashback where Carlyle tells Kara why he takes the photographs, explaining that they capture a moment in time. All of us decay as we move forward through life, but the photos of us remain the same. Image as a reminder of the past. Image as a marker for the lies we tell, an artifact of the past manifesting itself in the realities of the present.
Issue #4 opens with a shot of a shelf full of Christian paraphernalia, and a picture tacked to the wall of Jesus. This perhaps only gains its full resonance with the issue’s climax. This is a close shot of the photo of Kara as she looks back towards us. We’ve already seen the demons of her past laid bare on the page - a woman prone to fits of self destruction and wild abandon. There’s the suggestion then that religion equips some with the faculties for redemption or recovery. Or, it could be suggesting that it’s merely another form of advertising, selling us righteousness so we can feel better about ourselves, our insecurities and our paranoia.
The first panel of Issue #5 breaks from tradition slightly, depicting Michael in front of a cork board full with his father’s photos as he reads their names aloud. Panels within a panel within a panel. Names given numbers, reduced to clues and pictures to be catalogued and organised. This issue’s opening panel suggests the past’s hidden truths are finally starting to gain a foothold in the present.
The opening panels of Satellite Sam’s first arc are purposefully subversive, showing us that the lies we propagate, the lies we tell ourselves and even the ones we’re tricked into believing, will find us eventually. But not before they brush up against us, against our present reality, taunting us for believing, taunting us with their hidden knowledge before they bring everything crashing down around us.