- Neil Gaiman is back in the world of comic books; this time as co-writer with P. Craig Russell (The Sandman: The Dream Hunters) in an adaptation of Gaiman’s classic fantasy novel, American Gods. In American Gods: Shadows #1, Dark Horse have presented the story of how and why Shadow, the novel’s protagonist, leaves jail and meets the mysterious and oddly knowledgeable Wednesday.
Shadow Moon just got out of jail, only to discover his wife is dead. Defeated, broke, and uncertain as to where to go from here, he meets the mysterious Mr. Wednesday, who employs him to serve as his bodyguard—thrusting Shadow into a deadly world of the supernatural, where ghosts of the past come back from the dead, and a brewing war between old and new gods hits a boiling point.
There are several ways of adaption from novel to comic book, and in this case, Gaiman and Russell have taken the faithful route. Of course, only fans of the novel will know this, but this is important in context, as this book is quite likely to be picked up by Gaiman fans. Shadow is in prison and he’s keeping his head down. He is more than capable of looking after himself but he doesn’t want trouble. He has a beautiful wife waiting for him and he wants to do his best to get to her as quickly as he can. He spends his time working out, reading Greek histories given to him by a fellow inmate who then disappears, and by practicing some prestidigitation with coins. Three days before Shadow’s release, he receives some tragic news. He flies home but his plane is diverted by a storm. On the plane, Wednesday – who knows all about Shadow – offers him a job. All this is known to those who have read the novel.
Is this an interesting adaptation? I would say so. Of course, reading a novel puts the descriptions of the characters and the scenes firmly in the mind of the reader, no matter how they are described. Here, we have someone else’s visual interpretation. The art for this main section of this book is from Russell (layouts) and Scott Hampton (Hellboy, Batman). So here we have their interpretation of how the characters look, and how prison life feels like to Shadow. I have to say that while it counters my own perceptions from reading the original novel, there’s an impressive job being done here. It feels familiar, yet fresh. Like greeting an old friend you’ve not seen for years, and they look different from your mind’s eye, but that level of comfortableness remains.
The dialogue is typically Gaiman-esque and there are no real surprises. There’s a lot of ‘voice-over’ as there often is within issue #1s. A lot of scene setting is required. Sometimes, this means there is a lot of words in a panel, which is a little distracting. However, most of the scripting is just fine.
The characters are all drawn well, without being remarkable. I sense an attempt to do something a little different here. Nothing looks comic book; stylised. But at the same time, nothing looks quite real. The prison backgrounds and characters are all flat grey colours with more shadows creeping in as the story progresses. However, the governor’s office is portrayed much darker and shadowier. Many of the colours throughout are flat. The airport scenes are again, grey, while the inside of the plane Shadow travels on is all bland blues. It is an counter-intuitive and effective technique.
Of course, this is a timely release from Dark Horse, as the TV series is finally imminent. It will be interesting to compare and contrast these mediums, especially for tone and visual style. I’m guessing the TV show won’t have as an explicit scene as shown in the Somewhere in America section (drawn by Lovern Kindzierski) where a man is subsumed into the goddess Bilquis’s vagina, while she demands his worship. Bilquis is also known as the Queen of Sheba. This section is kinda fun, and a darkly comic coda to contrast the bleak emotions of Shadow’s introduction. Again, it remains faithful to the novel in tone. It is darkly explicit and erotic, and clearly adult in content. It is what these American gods are all about . . . “worship me”. This section is all reds, browns and oranges, again contrasting with the main section of the comic book.
American Gods: Shadows #1 is an oddly monotone experience that feels familiar to this reviewer. Some of the art will be of interest to the casual reader, especially how the colour tones are used. However, the story is an intriguing – if far from perfect in this format – introduction to Gaiman’s world. It’s hard to know if the unfamiliar reader will be disappointed by this book, but I certainly wasn’t.
Published 15 March 2017
Title: American Gods: Shadows #1
Publisher: Dark Horse Comics
Reviewer: Ian J Simpson