Matt Fraction and Howard Chaykin’s sordid saga of sex, murder, and live TV comes to a surprisingly upbeat end with this volume. Former army vet turned stagehand turned TV star Michael White has been trying to find out who killed his dad, the original “Satellite Sam.” While progress has been made there has also been a lot of drunken stumbling into the same kind of sexual escapades his old man liked to record on film. This time he winds up in the middle of the political/sexual tug-of-war between LeMonde network owner Dr. Joseph Ginsberg and senator Reb Karnes over whether or not the FCC committee run by the latter will open up enough air for the former to take his network coast-to-coast. Going on alongside all of this are Gene Ford’s problems with his girlfriend and the local branch of the KKK as he passes-for-white, living human taint Hamilton Stanhope’s attempts to blackmail the gay writer of “Satellite Sam” Guy Roth for more screen time, and the effort’s of Roth’s beard-of-a-wife Maria to ensure that these efforts come to naught.
I’ve enjoyed this title’s look at the seedier side of the early days of TV more as it has gone on and this volume is no exception. Fraction doesn’t shy away from the behind-the-scenes depravity and backstabbing that was kept under wraps during the era, but he doesn’t let it define the narrative and keeps the focus on the characters and their personal struggles. While I still think that Chaykin’s gritty art is a good complement to all this, my main complaint -- that it can be hard to tell some of his characters apart -- remains true after three volumes. Most surprising about vol. 3 is how it all ends on a relatively positive note. I was expecting a downbeat “Forget it Jake, it’s Chinatown” wrap-up given how none of the cast seemed capable of getting their act together long enough to do the right thing.
However, Fraction throws us a curve at the beginning of the final issue that leads to just about everyone getting more or less what they deserve in the end. It’s also interesting because the ending suggests that things worked out due to the fact that nobody achieved any real personal change. Michael is still following in his father’s footsteps (and still a drunk), Gene is still passing-for-white, and Guy is still publicly in the closet. Maybe a reckoning will be coming if Fraction and Chaykin get around to delivering the next series, which is set up here as the principal cast sets up shop in Hollywood. After what the creators delivered here, I’d certainly be up for reading about that.