The first issue of Dark Horse's American Gods adaptation is faithful and fantastic.
Almost 16 years ago, I scrounged together what money I had from my part-time office store job. I was in college, and twenty some-odd bucks was a big deal back then – a big deal and a lot of meals. I took myself to the nearest bookstore, and bought a weighty hardback I’d been anticipating for some months – all thanks to Neil Gaiman’s blog, started to chronicle his writing of his latest novel. American Gods. I was a student of mythology and fairy tales, well on my way to earning my degree in same, and this novel was right up my folklore-strewn alley.
I savored reading American Gods, as I’ve done many times since – especially when the author’s preferred text came out 6 years ago. When I heard Bryan Fuller was going to make a television show out of American Gods, it was a dream come true – my favorite visionary, quixotic TV director working on one of my favorite mythology-filled questioning-the-power-of-belief stories. If it goes wrong, it’ll be a nigh incomprehensible travesty.
The announcement of the comic was just a bonus, and felt like the most natural development in the world. After all, Neil Gaiman made his name in comics with The Sandman. Of course, his magnum opus would eventually be translated into sequential art.
Of course, that comic would be cleverly and accurately done.
American Gods: Shadows #1 dropped a couple weeks ago, and features something like 7 variant covers – some of which you could only get at events like Emerald City Comic Con. All the covers perfectly capture the many faces of American Gods, and you’ll find magnificent artists like Dave McKean, David Mack, Becky Cloonan, and more among the contributing artists.
Glenn Fabry is actually doing all the standard covers, which are also awesome, while the interior illustrations are by Scott Hampton. P. Craig Russell, who’s adapted many Gaiman prose stories into comics over the years, is on board doing the scripts and layout.
The first issue does a good job with the beginning, the prison narrative coming across staccato and dissociated from the real world. Many of the inmates and guards seem misshapen, half-fading into the grey and labyrinthine setting of incarcerated life. The most clearly defined and delineated characters are Shadow himself, his cellmate Low Key Lyesmith, and his wife, Laura – though she’s more a dream than a person. It’s Shadow’s dreams and distractions that burn brightest of all, with deft touches in the comic imagery: a bird of prey soaring free through cloud-filled skies, coins gleaming in the dark, Laura in technicolor paradises of thought.
The story is driven by Shadow continually being trodden on by life, by society, by forces that both lead and service humankind – the casual racism and callousness of the prison guards, the self-assured arrogance of Mr. Wednesday who essentially hires him against his will, the all-too-accurate insistence that ex-cons are treated like shit without help once they’re released back into America. All of this is crystal clear on the page, with Shadow’s interior life compellingly picked out in the red of a stoplight, his movement between panels, the storm both real and imagined of his life.
Shadow’s dream of the buffalo-headed man is perhaps the most perfect panel in the entire issue – fire burning in the skull of a forgotten god, and the imperative to believe – EVERYTHING.
Also, they kept the Bilqis scene in all it’s shocking glory. If you’re new to American Gods, and don’t know what I’m talking about – you’re in for a serious moment of WTF, amazingly illustrated with lush and passionate intensity. Just know it’s an integral fragment of the book, among so many other small stories of old gods.
American Gods: Shadows #2 will be out in a couple weeks, and it’s just as strong as the debut issue. We continue our journey with Shadow – and what’s more American than a roadtrip, especially one beset by disaster? We’re already beginning to see that so much of this tale has been cons and tricks from the very beginning, mixed up with vague portents.
When Mad Sweeney turns up, he’s larger than life and leaps off the page – the mountain-tall leprechaun with fire-bright hair and poor taste in wardrobe. Even though the majority of the story takes place in a bar over drinks, it doesn’t feel slow at all – deals are made, tricks are learned, and a bar fight ensues just for the heckin’ joy of it.
A coin is given, from Mad Sweeney to Shadow to Laura’s dirt-covered coffin.
It makes the pain of later revelations sting a bit less, for all they reverberate straight through Shadow’s soul. By the time we meet the Fat Kid, first introduced of America’s new gods, we can’t believe the shit we’re having to deal with. Shadow takes the snark right out of our mouths – even while the limo stretches around him, one moment a cathedral and the next just a tacky car.
These first two issues are a strong hook for the twenty-seven issue run. Grab the first one from your friendly neighborhood comic store now, and reserve the next for April 12. You don’t want to miss where we go from here.