Friday, March 10, 2017

Review - American Gods #1 (@DarkHorseComics)


"One day the magic door would open and he would walk through it."

When you're Neil Gaiman you get a lot of attention. And rightfully so, as much of his work is unparalleled in all of literature. One of his best-known works in American Gods is about to get the screen-treatment and the comic treatment in American Gods #1 from Dark Horse Publishing. The issue is written by Neil Gaiman, script and layouts by P. Craig Russell, art by Scott Hampton and letters by Rick Parker ("Somewhere in America" by Russell and Lovern Kindzierski).

Shadow Moon just got out of jail, only to discover his wife is dead. Defeated, broke, and uncertain as to where to go from here, he meets the mysterious Mr. Wednesday, who employs him to serve as his bodyguard—thrusting Shadow into a deadly world of the supernatural, where ghosts of the past come back from the dead, and a brewing war between old and new gods hits a boiling point.

Russell's work in American Gods #1 is a very, very slow burn. Obviously, it's based on the original source material, but Russell manages to cram a ton of expository into the issue as the reader follows along with the end of Shadow Moon's prison term. Russell's style is extraordinarily personal as it allows the reader to connect with Shadow and his plight by tapping into a sense of belonging that everyone strives for. The issue is paced in such a mundane, daily routine sort of way that it allows Russell a lot of flexibility in setting up the series to come by framing the inevitable strange occurrences against the normal.

The artwork in American Gods #1 takes some getting used to, only because it feels too polished. Hampton draws the characters in a way that emphasizes their form over their features and it's enough that the reader knows what's going on, but some of the panels feel too static. Characters are presented in a way that feels staged, although Hampton does seem to loosen up a bit as the book unfolds. It's odd because it almost feels as if Hampton is emphasizing the characters in a way that reminds one of the Uncanny Valley in that none of the characters "feel" real. And the panel layouts are pretty frenetic in the entire issue, as there are some pages where the number of panels on a page crowd the page almost too much for any action to really stand out.

American Gods #1 is very much setting the table for what's slated to be a fantastic meal. Shadow Moon is a fantastic protagonist who is trying to get his life back on track even if there seems to be a storm brewing that will affect him in ways even he can't plan for. Gaiman's story is phenomenal and Russell's adaptation hits all the right notes. The artwork by Hampton is difficult to get adjusted to, but its style does reinforce the notion that routine feels mundane. American Gods #1 is going to get a lot busier as the series unfolds.

American Gods #1 is available March 15.

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