Not only do we get a screen adaptation of American Gods, coming to Starz on April 30th, but we get a comics adaptation of the novel to wade around in. It’s going to open up questions about how we perceive the book and take us down new avenues in terms of characterization and interpretation of events, as well. And these are good things. Works of art with a kind of deep spectrum of possible meanings can be further teased out by presenting them in multiple formats.
American Gods: Shadows #1, released this week, is adapted from the prose by long-time Gaiman collaborator P. Craig Russell, no doubt the perfect person for the job, and illustrated by Scott Hampton, who you may remember worked on Sandman Presents: Lucifer, and who is known for his painted artwork. The series is also hand-lettered by Rick Parker, who did excellent lettering on both volumes of the adapted Graveyard Book graphic novel, and hand-lettering seems to be something that Gaiman tries to bring into adaptations of his work whenever possible. It certainly adds considerably to the mood and tone of the storytelling to have hand-lettering, and in a book that’s going to have a lot of text—as most Gaiman books do—that becomes very important.
Reading the first issue of this comic, I come to the conclusion that this does feel like I’m reading a Gaiman comic, but one from the days of Signal to Noise, or The Black Orchid. In fact, the latter particularly. That’s not to say that the comic feels nostalgic or somehow attempts to recapture an atmosphere from another comic. That’s instead to say that the authorial “voice” of the comic is coming through clearly and there is a good amount of harmony between the artwork and the narrator’s voice that makes for an immersive experience. In other words, the adaptation is seamless enough that you might forget you’re reading an adaptation and experience it as an original comic.
American Gods focuses on a central character, Shadow Moon, who has been serving a three year sentence in prison, hoping for a better future, and then has that future turned upside down in painful ways and proceeds to get caught up in a grand conflict between gods walking among men—old gods and new gods in a turf war. That’s the short version. In this first issue we meet Shadow in prison, and we watch his life, his hopes, and his reflections on his identity take shape before the oncoming storm engulfs him, and it’s an important time to get a sense of character. We learn he is a quiet and reflective person, who knows (now) how to stay out of trouble. We learn he has a lot of strength to him but that he moves in a world where bigger forces are at work. This issue takes us into the storm he’s facing through very interesting gradual reveals and focusing on the barometer by which daily life can morph into—at times quite unnerving—magic realism.
It’s an excellent start for the series, and one which you’re well prepared to have high hopes for, based on this issue. The secondary back-up stories in each issue are also a major feature to look out for, as significant to the series as to the main narrative, giving you an idea of the wider world Shadow Moon and these gods move in and what a fine line “normal” human existence can be. This issu, drawn by P. Craig Russell in his wonderfully mythic style, contains a very direct sexual encounter with a goddess and shows exactly the gradation between realism and magic realism in this comic, to interesting and terrifying effect.
American Gods: Shadows #1 is out in shops now. American Gods: Shadows #2 arrives on April 12th, and is currently listed in Previews right here.