ADVANCE REVIEW: American Gods – Shadows #1

Written by: Neil Gaiman & P. Craig Russell

Art by: Scott Hampton

Publisher: Dark Horse

American Gods is one of those novels I absolutely adored as a teenager, and unlike most Fantasy books, has actually stayed with me and held up as I’ve became a more well versed reader. I’m especially thrilled at the attention it’s getting recently with the upcoming TV adaptation. This comic adaptation was an unexpected bonus, the book is memorable to me for it’s incredible visual imagery which would be perfectly suited to comics. Unfortunately, this debut lacks any sort of energy of inspiration, feeling more like a bland cash in than the adaptation the book deserves.

The story follows Shadow, a convict released early from prison following the death of his wife. While travelling home, Shadow encounters a series of delays at errors that cause him to cross paths with the mysterious Mr. Wednesday, who seems intent on offering Shadow a job. If you’ve read the book there’ll be no surprises here. As far as I can tell P. Craig Russell in his “adaptation” of Gaiman’s script simply lifts the text straight from the book, cuts and shuffles stuff around and places some images to compliment in. I’m sorry to say, but it just feels incredibly lazy. I’ve only read the book twice, some 5 or 6 years apart, but it was very noticeable the script was not intended to be a comic.  I don’t as much mind the narration boxes as Gaiman employs that type of style even in his original comics, it’s incredibly notices when lines that are in the book as a characters internal thoughts are just chucked into a speech bubble and left as is. It makes the issue an unbelievably clunky read and creates a disruptive element to the narrative that kills the joy of Gaiman’s prose. The issue sticks too rigidly to the original script to the comic’s detriment. We end up paying $3.99 for a script that doesn’t go any further than the slow moving first chapter when you pay $9.99 for the entire novel, and get a much more enriching experience.

Even more disappointing is the art. For the majority the only word I can describe it as is ranging from dull to ugly. The characters themselves don’t look too bad and are good representations of what I’d imagined, the facial expressions are a little less engaging though, including the scene where shadow receives the news of his wife’s death making me laugh rather than feel sad. The major flaw however is the backgrounds. I understand this first issue is largely set in prison, but everything just feels so off. The perspectives can be nauseating and make the settings seem large and empty. There’s a complete lack of life for the majority of the book that sucks a lot of magic out of Gaiman’s original script. There’s even some infuriating moments where the disconnect between the script and art becomes super obvious and shows the little effort put into adapting the story; in a line to the effect of “one of Wednesday’s eyes looked grayer than the other”, we can look at the panel below and see both of his eyes are colored exactly the same, the same as every character in the book for that matter. It’s the little things that make it a frustrating experience, with extra insult to injury being added by some of the beautiful variant covers showing what could’ve been if effort had been put in. The final scene however, depicting one of the book’s most bizarre scenes, is absolutely fantastic however. For fans of the book I’ll say it’s the particularly weird sex scene you’ve probably tried to forget, but will say no more for newbies. It’s the only time in the book where the Hampton lets his imagination run wild and represents the scene in a truly creative way that’s not at all how I pictured it in the book (in a good way) and actually added something to the experience rather than took something away. I understand Hampton was likely trying to emulate the novel’s style of mixing the mundane with the mystical, but when 3/4s of the book are ugly and lifeless with only the final 4 pages being of any interest, it suggests that perhaps there’s  a better way to adapt the source material than adding pictures to text.

Overall, it’s hard to put into words how disappointed I was by Americans Gods. The novel is ripe for a great comic adaptation, Gaiman himself being well versed in great, magical comics proving something brilliant could’ve been made (Gaiman himself rewriting the script with J.H. Williams on art would’ve been incredibly), but the simplest and cheapest road was taken instead. There’s no benefit to reading this over the original novel. If you jump in fresh you’ll get a mildly interesting yet poorly delivered story that doesn’t offer much reason to return, while fans of the book will quickly see through this as a quick cash in. American Gods deserves better, wait for the TV adaption.