American Gods: Shadows #1
Written by Neil Gaiman and P. Craig Russell
Art by Scott Hampton, P. Craig Russell and Lovern Kindzierski
Lettering by Rick Parker
Published by Image Comics
'Rama Rating: 7 out of 10
Neil Gaiman’s American Gods is unquestionably one of the author’s most epic and beloved works. A world he has returned to multiple times, in Anansi Boys and various short stories and novellas, the weighty tome might seem unadaptable, although the buzz surrounding the forthcoming Starz series seems to indicate otherwise. Frequent Gaiman collaborator P. Craig Russell adapts a faithful version of the text, although this may not necessarily be the best approach for this particular novel.
Based on the first chapter of Gaiman’s novel, and solicited as American Gods: Shadows for this reason, Russell brings an incredibly close translation of Gaiman’s words to the comic book page, just as he did for Coraline and The Graveyard Book. Shadow emerges from prison and begins his trip home following a family tragedy. On the way he encounters the mysterious Mr. Wednesday, a man who comes with the offer of a job.
There are few surprises or deviations from the text, with Russell taking wholesale slabs and inserting them into sequential art. Some is straight narration, occupying vast pieces of real estate on the page. At its best, Russell has converted some of Gaiman’s inner monologue to speech bubbles, making for an easier flow to the reading. This might lead some to question the necessity of such a transliteration, and beyond the accompanying pictures, the first two thirds of this issue doesn’t offer anything the book does not.
Exacerbating this is the nature of the story in this early part of the book. Gaiman’s American Gods definitely takes a few chapters to get the rhythm of the work into your system, so the inclusion of explanations of the inner workings of the e-ticketing system and transfers at the airport for several pages may be true to the text, but it also threatens to hinder engagement when presented as the first issues of a comic book series.
This translates artistically as well, with art often forced to accommodate the text rather than the other way around. Artist Hampton is saddled with the “talk”’ bit of the book here, really only getting to cut loose on the dream sequences. Yet for the most part, it comes across as an educational piece, and far more like a novel than it should.
Where the art really soars is during the “Somewhere in America” supplement, where Russell himself takes over the reins alongside Lovern Kindzierski. Here we are introduced to Bilquis, the prostitute who makes men worship her before devouring them with her vagina. The art mirrors her act of blasting the poor young man’s mind “into the void,” a psychedelic mix of stars and body horror. This shows the promise of what the series could be beyond this introduction.
American Gods: Shadows would potentially work best as a collected edition, although given the closeness of the text - and that this is only adapting the first chapter of a 600-page paperback - that too would be several volumes long. The problem is not simply one of the adaptation being unneeded, as there’s a good argument that it even changes the way that the reader interacts with the text. Yet in the currently monthly format, it also dictates the pace of the text, which is problematic when the story is as completing enveloping as Gaiman’s.