“I worship you with everything that is within me, and everything inside my mind, and my dreams, and my… .”

Neil Gaiman’s American Gods novel makes the jump to comic book form courtesy of P. Craig Russell, Lovern Kindzierski, Scott Hampton, and Dark Horse Comics. This opening issue, American Gods: Shadows #1, introduces us to Shadow Moon, Mr. Wednesday, Low Key Lylesmith, and Bilquis.

The comic starts by giving us some basic exposition on the title page, letting us know some basic facts about Shadow Moon and Mr. Wednesday and the world we are about to enter. However, once you get to the first art page, you realize P. Craig Russell and Scott Hampton are actually going to take us through about 25 pages – fleshing out just one paragraph of exposition.

It can make the read a little bit difficult having already been told what is going to happen. But that’s not the only problem making the read a bit difficult. There is a ton and I mean a ton of dialogue and narration in this issue. So much so that it can be hard to keep your attention throughout. It’s a really slow, almost gruesome read. And to be honest, for a comic book format much of it is completely unnecessary.

American Gods: Shadows #1

P. Craig Russell overkills on this script providing multiple scenes and an extraordinary amount of narration to get to the heart of Shadow’s character. There are only so many words and scenes that can capture his love for his wife. Shadow’s love for his wife isn’t the only character aspect that is overdone. Russell overdoes a plot point where every inmate and Shadow’s own gut feeling tell him something bad and ominous is coming. After the second time, we get that something terrible is about to happen, no need to beat us over the head with it.

There are some bright spots in the script. The two dream sequences are definitely mysterious and intriguing. They draw you in, wanting you to find out more about what is happening. They do this by keeping the narration to a minimum and providing a stark contrast in the art work. Instead of being in a plain, sanitized airplane, Scott Hampton puts us in a mystical realm with a mystical being. He uses dark blues and whites to provide contrasting colors along with adding in a piece of dialogue that doesn’t use a word bubble or narrative block.

Russell’s layouts do their best to keep the script interesting. Every page has a different layout with different panels of varying sizes. In some cases this allows Hampton to give us actions in real time when Shadow is getting directions from a flight attendant, while others allow for reality to be intermixed with Shadow’s thoughts.

American Gods: Shadows #1

As for the characters, Russell and Hampton do a great job of showcasing who they are. Russell definitely goes overboard with Shadow, but Mr. Wednesday’s characterization is solid. He’s aggressive, mysterious, and definitely dangerous.

Hampton’s artwork services the book well, but it really shines in the last five pages. Russell and Hampton leave Shadow and his journey with Mr. Wednesday and take us to a completely different scene in America. This scene is absolutely superb. Where you might be struggling with Shadow and Mr. Wednesday, this scene puts you on the edge of your seat. It’s well-paced with little narration and, when there is narration, it’s adding to the moment almost bringing the art to life.

Hampton’s art showcases his range. He’s able to capture intimate moments and transform them into a psychedelic experience and then into an almost horror-filled nightmare. The facial and body language is expressive. You can feel the ecstasy as well as the horror. It’s extremely colorful and definitely graphic with a number of obvious innuendos. However, those innuendos are necessary. They capture the power of the moment – one which is powerful for a number of reasons the first being the obvious climax, the second being the complete shift in tone from one page to the next, and a third being relevant social commentary that isn’t forced down your throat. It makes you think about what you just saw and read. This scene alone might be worth the cover price. It was done expertly and promises hope for future issues.

American Gods: Shadows #1

The Verdict

American Gods: Shadows #1 has its low points and its high points. Most of the book is bogged down in narration and an insistence to showcase the same character aspects of Shadow multiple times. It makes for a slow, grueling read. However, Russell does his best to make it interesting with unique page designs using a number of different panel shapes and sizes. Hampton’s art is serviceable in the core part of the story, but his abilities are really showcased in the final scene where he captures a bevy of emotions with colorful displays. This final scene also sees Lovern Kindzierski aid P. Craig Russell with the script and it pays off as the narration is limited for a very powerful scene. That scene alone is worth grabbing a copy of this book – even if the rest of the issue suffered from poor pacing and an overload of narration and character moments.

Comic Book Review: American Gods: Shadows #1
Pros
  • Everything about the Bilquis scene
  • Interesting page layouts and panel designs
Cons
  • Way too much narration – leads to a grueling read
  • Overuse of pointing out Shadow’s same core character points
  • Opening paragraph spoils the comic
5.5Overall Score
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