By James Anders II
The hype has been heavy. The promotion? Intense. The look? Impressive early. The outcome? Not quite sure as of yet. American Gods, arguably one of the best novels written here in the early 21st Century has gone full circle. Written by master scribe and Literary legend Neil Gaiman in 2001, this multi-awarded visually descriptive tale of myths and legends and old vs. new has always been ripe for development in other mediums. It was too good not to expand. It simply demanded more. It may have taken a little longer than anticipated, but 2017 appears to be the year of reckoning as a television series through Starz is scheduled to drop on April 30. And not to be outdone, Dark Horse Comics announced its intent to create a dedicated graphic rendition of the novel spanning some 27 issues releasing on the Ides of March. And they had gone full on in promoting it. For the past couple of months, comic aficionados have been teased with renderings of "The Buffalo Headed Man" and promises of a faithful graphic presentation of the novel. So here it is! Issue #1! The beginning! My response? Meh.
For the record, it hurts me to describe a graphic novelization of one of my favorite books as "meh." Maybe I had too high expectations. Maybe I watched the trailer to the Starz series (which was quite satisfying) before I read the comic. Maybe???Maybe???Maybe??? I do not have a good answer. But for whatever reason it was, this opening issue can only be described as "meh." There is something that is missing, that I do not know what it is. Hopefully, I can figure it out as I write this review.
American Gods follow the story of one Shadow Moon, a prisoner who is quietly doing his time in the hopes of a release and return to the woman he loves, a life lived on the up and up, and maybe (definitely) a bubble bath too. All Shadow desires is for his jail time to expire and his return to normalcy, or maybe even a better form of normalcy. But a storm is coming, and Shadow cannot seem to shake the feeling of unseen dread that is on him. Shadow does eventually get his release, and even a couple of days early. But while being released, he is told of the tragic happenings outside regarding is lady love. She was killed in a car accident. Devastated, Shadow enters the world a free man, but one with no idea of what to do next. Enter the mysterious Mr. Wednesday who though met through a chance encounter, seems to have a knowledge of him as well as an interest in offering him a job. Should Shadow take Wednesday up on this offer? That response will be the crux of this issue. Well that, and a rather interesting form of worship and/or sacrifice at the hands (or other body parts) of a lady named Bilquis, quite graphically displayed in its full super sexual glory. But I digress. Let's get back to why I feel this issue is "meh." Why is it "meh" dammit! Why?
It certainly is not the writing of Neil Gaiman, surely not! Or could it be? I cannot believe that I just said that. Gaiman's words are in the comic, and the issue is faithful to the book in that regard. Maybe a little too much so to be honest. I still cannot believe that I just said that. Scripter P. Craig Russell has worked very diligently to capture Gaiman's writing. The words, they resonate everywhere. And by everywhere, I mean everywhere. The comic frames...The margins...Everywhere. The words fill up every available open spot. Almost to the point that you do not pay as much attention to the visual art on display, which is well done. Because of these words, you very nearly would not have to view a single frame of art to know the story being told. In fact, with the exception of a sequence with "The Buffalo Headed Man" and Bilquis' rather graphic introduction, much of the quality of the art by Scott Hampton is lost in a sea of words. This is truly a pity as Hampton's art brings Gaiman's words to life when they are allowed to do so. You just don't notice them because of the many words all over the comic. The words actually choke out the art in many areas.
Now I do not expect the words to be as flowing in future issues. Character interaction will become focal and all the words being used to establish the tone will go away, replaced by direct dialog and response. But for Issue #1, perhaps Russell wanted to make sure someone who had not read the book had a feel for who Shadow is as a person. Maybe Russell wanted to make sure that readers of the book saw Neil Gaiman's words so they could feel that this effort was authentic or real deal. I have no answer for that. But for whatever reason, I believe that this first issue of a very long series did not quite hook me as I anticipated. It was just, well, meh. Of course, I will still be reading it. As I said, this is one of my favorite novels of all time. I am in it for the long haul. But as for Issue #2, I will go in with a little less enthusiasm and more objectiveness. Here is hoping that Gaiman and Russell will right the ship on the words. As for Hampton's art, I am fully on board. Let's start this ongoing road trip and make it right guys.
American Gods: Shadows #1
Writers: Neil Gaiman, P. Craig Russell
Artist: Scott Hampton
Publisher: Dark Horse Comics