The issue as a whole continues to take the readers on a journey across America and makes us think about the country and what it is to be American. Early on, when Wednesday says, “Nobody’s American. Not originally,” he complicates the ways that individuals might identify themselves based on time and space. Later, he talks about the country’s sense of self-identity as if America were a person. In this series, the country certainly seems like a character—a complicated, vast body that can never be truly known. Visually, America is marked by its landmarks and structures. These are real spaces, some of which may hold their own magic. Scott Hampton’s art is a perfect revelation of a mysterious, but still familiar, version of the country. Madison’s capital dome looks ghostlike, a stunning, fixed blur against the night sky. Driving through America allows for the characters (and us) to learn about the intricacies that compose the country.
This issue also juxtaposes human power and godlike power. Wednesday scams people for money the way a petty criminal would, while telling Shadow to control the weather. Shadow’s ability to use his mind to make it snow is believable in this world, and Shadow continues to have some sort of connection with atmospheric elements. P. Craig Russell continues to excel in adapting Neil Gaiman’s text, creating a beautiful balance of reality and fantasy and keeping the readers on edge.
This issue builds up to Wednesday and Shadow reaching the world’s largest carousel. It feels like the men have entered an entirely new world, as if there is a hidden magic realm within the depths of American soil. The carousel has both real and mythological animals, further bridging the real and fantastic that we have seen both subtly and blatantly throughout the first four issues. Riding the carousel is like taking an adventure within an adventure. The shapes and layout of the panels take us along for the ride on as Shadow loses himself, without a care in the world. We are reminded of the magical power that a carousel has—its ability to enamor and awe children who dare to climb on.
American Gods: Shadow #5 literally brings us to the funhouse and brilliantly interweaves magic, fantasy, and carefree living with crime, darkness, and uncertainty. The bright colors behind the carousel counteract the issue’s prominent darkness, reminding us that we are in a world that contains a little bit of everything. This is America as we know it, but also everything that we don’t know. It is a layered America that is deeply filled with mystery.