About a year ago I read American Gods for the first time. Or rather I listened to it, unabridged full-cast audio recording. I remember the opening very clearly. As the character of Shadow started feeling anxious about getting out of prison, I started feeling anxious as well. I knew as a reader that something bad was coming up and I’d already felt bad for the character. He’d done his time, paid his debt to society, and just wanted to take the second chance the was laid out in front of him. And then it all went to shit. I marveled at how quickly Neil Gaiman was able to make me connect with a character that in retrospect I had almost nothing in common with, but I did connect with him and felt his anxiety and then pain as he went on the trip of discovery.
Starz is putting together a TV series based on the novel that is going to be debuting on April 30th. But before that, Dark Horse is adapting it to comics. P. Craig Russell is writing the script and doing the layouts while Scott Hampton does the art. The comic is visually striking and does a good job of setting the mood for the series. The scenes of Shadow in prison feel claustrophobic and dangerous while the scenes outside prison feel large and bit overwhelming, both work well for what Shadow would be feeling.
The artist changes for the Somewhere in America segment, it’s co-written and illustrated by P. Craig Russell with colors by Lovern Kindzierski. They make what in the novel is a pretty graphic scene into something a bit more artistic and spiritual. This is one of those scenes I have no idea how they will do in live-action.
As for the story itself, I have to look at this from two different perspectives. If I was picking up this issue having never read the novel, I would find it to be an interesting setup up for a series and maybe a bit confusing. But most first issues are confusing now-a-days. We meet Shadow, we get a feel for who he is and why he was in prison. We know what he plans to do with his life and how that quickly gets derailed and we meet Mr. Wednesday. These are all the thing you’d need from the first issue and if you are the aforementioned first time reader. Grab this comic and enjoy it.
But the novel is still somewhat fresh in my head and certain omissions from the story bug me a bit. Things a first time reader wouldn’t even know to look for. And I know going in that you can’t adapt a novel word for word, things need to be cut and changed for the different medium. But things like the coin tricks and the reading in prison were just briefly mentioned and his time sharing a cell with Lyesmith… all of which seems important enough to warrant more time. Also, Mr. Wednesday seems a too blunt in the comic. He was determined in the novel to get Shadow to work for him, but he started off more subtle in his approach from asking Shadow his name or referring to Wednesday as his day… not how it was handled in the comics. This may seem like nit-picking, and maybe it is, but the early chapters where we meet Shadow and Mr. Wednesday are very important to the overall story and I wonder how the feelings for the characters will be different for those who just read the comics.
Those thoughts aside, I think Russell, Hampton and Kindzierski have put together a good comic adapted from a good novel. It will appeal to new readers and those existing fans. And I think this is a story that could not only stand up to being shown in multiple formats, but it is likely to be enhanced by it, giving readers some slight variations based on the creative people behind each version.
Updated to include the final preview images along with the covers by Glenn Fabry, David Mack, Dave McKean and the ECCC17 exclusive cover by Becky Cloonan.