In the first issue of American Gods, P. Craig Russell and Scott Hampton effectively bring to life the darkness and mystery of Neil Gaiman’s brilliant novel. The variant covers, drawn by several different artists, illuminate terrors of mythology and provide a glimpse of the intensity this thrilling story promises to provide. The covers are enticing and spellbinding and serve as perfect entry points to a visualized adaptation of Gaiman’s masterpiece.
From here, we meet Shadow Moon, a well-behaved prison inmate who is itching to be released. Shadow is a likeable convict, one who loves his wife and looks forward to a life out of prison. Russell made wise selections from the novel in choosing how to best convey Shadow’s character. His introduction to Shadow doesn’t bombard the pages with text. Instead, he offers just enough to encourage readers to follow Shadow’s journey and even sympathize with his pain. Watching Shadow avoid prison fights and count down the days until his release makes me think that Shadow isn’t a ruthless criminal but a regular guy who just wants another chance at life.
The mystical elements emerge gradually, which helps make them seem more believable in this world. First, there’s the dream, which is clearly not really a dream but a prophetic warning. Then, there’s the all-knowing Mister Wednesday (nod to Norse mythology). As a potential god in human flesh with creepy eyes, a strange scar, and an ape-like grin, Mister Wednesday does not really fit the image of a celestial being. This is why he is a perfect Gaiman creation—one who embodies mystery. It’s hard to tell if Mister Wednesday is good or evil, but he doesn’t really give Shadow much opportunity to resist his job offer, so we will likely be seeing much more of him.
After being introduced to some subtle elements of mythological fantasy, we are literally forced in—full thrust—to witness an unreal event. Intense feelings transform a scene into an experience charged with mystical energy. It’s pretty wild and slightly disturbing. Hampton captures the sexual intensity of the scene and blends it with vibrant colors and silhouettes. This effectively left me wondering what, how, and why. Bilquis is Gaiman, Russell, and Hampton’s version of the queen of Sheba, but this scene raises many questions regarding her agenda on Earth. The gods seem to need humans, but we aren’t yet given any hints as to what they are needed for. One thing is certain: Shadow is headed into a dark world where there aren’t boundaries between gods and humans.
With a brilliant start in the first issue, this series looks really promising. The pacing is perfect, which highlights Russell’s craft of effective adaptation from Gaiman’s original novel. Hampton’s art is a clever balance of darkness, shading, and obscurity with brightness and vibrancy. Combined, they show just enough to get us curious about the characters and open up the plot for a world of possibilities. Even though I’ve read the novel, I still am left wondering what is going to happen next and what it will look like.