American Gods: Shadows #1

Story: Neil Gaiman
Script/Layouts: P. Craig Russell
Artist: Scott Hampton
Letterer: Rick Parker
Cover: Glenn Fabry
“Somewhere in America”: P. Craig Russell and Lovern Kindzierski
Publisher: Dark Horse Comics

A review by Stephanie Pouliotte

If you’re as excited as I am for American Gods to premier on Starz next month, then you’ll likely need something to tide you over until then. You could re-read the Hugo, Bram Stoker, Locus, World Fantasy, and Nebula award-winning novel (quite the mouthful of accolades!), but I’m sure your copy as is war-torn as mine. So instead of gingerly turning each well-loved and yellowing page, stop by your local book shop tomorrow and pick up American Gods: Shadows #1, the first issue of Dark Horse’s comic adaptation by P. Craig Russell (The Sandman: The Dream Hunters), illustrated by Scott Hampton (Hellboy, Batman, The Books of Magic).

American Gods: Shadows #1 covers the first chapter of the book, chronicling Shadow Moon’s incarceration leading up to his release from prison after his wife Laura’s death, and ending in the erotic snare of Bilquis’ bed of worship. So far the story doesn’t diverge from the book, and retains much of Gaiman’s sharp dialogue and eloquent prose. That being said, the panels are a bit cluttered with text because of it. Having longer excerpts of text above panels is something I’m used to seeing in Gaiman comics, especially in The Sandman, but it seemed to stand out a bit more here, perhaps because the prose wasn’t originally written for a visual medium. I also think it will be a particularly tricky balance to adapt American Gods simply by nature of Shadow’s character. He’s rather quiet and introverted, and much of his thoughts are internalized, so he can be a difficult character to put on the page. Shadow lacks the charisma and intrigue you usually see in the protagonist of a fantasy story, so the issue itself lacked momentum. Just like Shadow, it’s a slow burn. Russell relies on thought bubbles to get bits of Shadow’s character across here and there, but these were clunky for the most part, and with Hampton’s skilled character renderings, somewhat unnecessary. It’ll be interesting to see how they adapt such a lengthy and complex story into a 27-issue comic run. Though I don’t expect it to go off book too much, I do hope Russell takes a bit more creative freedom in how he adapts certain passages.

One difference I did notice was the character of Sam Fetisher, who in the book is described as “one of the blackest men that Shadow had ever seen”. From what I remember, he only makes one appearance and his intent in warning Shadow of the coming storm is never revealed. Well he certainly isn’t black in the comic, and I may be off the mark, but to me he bears a striking resemblance to a dearly departed friend and colleague of Gaiman’s, though lacking the signature fedora. Since the original dedication in the novel reads: “For absent friends”, it seems very fitting if it’s the case.

“The hat is a Zen disguise; when I take it off, nobody knows who I am.” – Terry Pratchett

I’ve loved Scott Hampton’s textured artwork since I read The Books of Magic, and I was really excited to hear that he’d be working on the comic adaptation of American Gods. Just looking at his composition and textured colouring, you can tell he has a knack for this whole drawing thing, but in this first issue I felt his artwork didn’t have as much presence as it usually does, and took a backseat to Gaiman’s writing. The backgrounds were largely stark and flat, with a dull, washed-out colour palette mirroring Shadow’s bleak prison life and subsequent lackluster emotional response to his wife’s death. It certainly allows his daydreams about Laura to pop from the page, breaking up the monochrome layout with bursts of colour at just the right moments. I wasn’t completely won over by the artwork though, mainly due to some small inconsistencies, and because Hampton set a high bar for what he’s capable of creating, but I’ll reserve my criticisms for the next issue when the story moves to more intriguing locales. With Shadow’s character as plain as the walls of his cell (though you warm up to him eventually in the book, in a manner of speaking), it’s hard to really create dynamic artwork.

Once we escape the bland trappings of the prison and airplane cabin, Hampton gives us a beautiful stretch of American highway that leads Shadow to Jack’s Crocodile Bar, and Russell paints a lusciously sensuous and disturbing scene featuring Bilquis. I received American Gods as a gift from my older brother when I was thirteen, along with a copy of Good Omens. Though I picked up American Gods first, I didn’t make it past this first chapter because of this very scene, and I set it aside for another two years until I could wrap my head around it. At the time I had a fairly frustrating love-hate relationship with my own lady garden, so I really wasn’t ready for man-eating vaginas just yet (are we ever?) I was curious to see how Russell would depict this scene about the divine, primal connection between life, sex and death, and though it wasn’t as carnal and bloody as my thirteen-year-old mind envisioned it, it certainly is something to behold.

Buy It! For those of us that think April can’t come soon enough, American Gods: Shadows #1 is a great refresher that eases us back into this strange world of mysterious coincidences and living myths, where gods walk the earth looking like smarmy used-car salesmen. Knowing what Hampton is capable of, I’m still looking forward to seeing him hit his stride in this run, even if this first issue was a bit of a muted start. The variant covers are wonderfully bizarre, and the series will feature interior art by many well-known Gaiman collaborators!

Stephanie Pouliotte
Comics junkie. Internet lurker. Fantastic beast. I spend most of my time immersed in strange and fantastical stories, be it through books, comics, video games, movies or TV shows. Oh and I sometimes writes things down and stuff.

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