Welcome back to Heroes and Villains, the column where I get to live my geek dreams and talk about comics with a captive audience!
This week I had the opportunity to read Volume 1 of American Gods from Dark Horse Comics and a few quick reads from Image, so let’s get started!
American Gods, Volume 1
Story and Words: Neil Gaiman; Script and Layouts: P. Craig Russell
Art: Scott Hampton
One of my favourite Chris Rock comedy bits is his defense of Rap music by looking at certain rappers work as “art.” Similarly, when defending the medium of comic books as art, a name that will invariably be dropped is Neil Gaiman. The man is a legit writer (of books with and without pictures) whose work on Sandman for DC/Vertigo is looked at as a high watermark for the genre and a literary classic in its own right. As a capes and spandex kind of guy, I never really got into Sandman or any of Gaiman’s work, but I know of its significance.
As a (slightly) more grown-up person these days, I have found myself drifting away from the super-comics and toward different genres in the medium. I also really enjoyed the episodes of the American Gods TV series that I have seen, and not just because Ian McShane is in it, so what better time to dive into the first volume of the comic?
I’ll start with the first, most obvious thing I can say about this story: It’s really, really good. Gaiman is clearly an intelligent and informed writer that crafts a world that is both foriegn and familiar, immersive and distant. Taking the idea of old world gods and placing them in a contemporary setting could be done in so many different, terrible ways, yet Gaiman nails it. The dialogue is sharp and driven by clear characterization and each scene has been thought out and delivered for maximum impact in the issue and greater arc of the story. This is a piece of art.
For those unfamiliar with the story, American Gods follows Shadow, a newly-released prisoner of three years, as he finds himself wrapped up in events he can’t understand following the death of his wife. Shadow, as a character, is something of an everyman; his character rolls with his strange new circumstances as Odin’s wheelman (which would also make a great name for a Scandanavian rock band) without ever having the “what the f*** is going on??” moment the situation seems to demand. He has a bar fight with a leprechaun, rides a magic carousel, works in a funeral home run by a Mr. Jaquel (Anubis, the Jackal-headed god of the Egyptian underworld) and takes it all in amazing stride.
Along with some incredibly well-done history segments, where some of the gods origins are explored, there is also the unfolding story of the “new” gods, not to be confused with Jack Kirby’s famous DC creations. These new gods—Television, Credit Cards, Technology—have put the old gods on notice in a slow-burn background story only hinted at here in the first volume.
The art in American Gods is also top of its class. P. Craig Russell, who also provides the script, lays out simple but textured story beats that are perfectly brought to life by artist Scott Hampton. There is a real, working collaboration here between the three men chiefly responsible for this book and it shows. Internal chapter breaks feature art from Glenn Fabry (Preacher) and David Mack (Daredevil/Jessica Jones) and several other artists including Walter Simonson are featured in the “coming to america” shorts.
As I said at the beginning, American Gods is a work of art. This is literature combined with visual storytelling that crafts something truly special. At times I did find the pacing slow and the text heavy, but as a modern comic reader I feel we have been somewhat conditioned to focus on the visual element of the stories and to expect easy to digest reading material. American Gods is not a snack; it is a meal. It is layered and complex and well worth the time it takes to chew over. In fact, in may be worth taking a few bites and letting it sit before consuming the rest.
All in, this is the medium at its best.
IMAGE COMICS : Quick Shots
Rat Queens #7: Rat Queens follows a D&D style party of vulgar female adventurers as they quest, slay and drink their way through a fantasy real. This issue involved a depressed Orc, a homicidal chef monster and a guy that grows delicious mushrooms on his body. Fun stuff, especially if you have ever rolled a D20.
Youngblood #8: Has a “previously” jump on the first page which I really appreciate. It’s cool that this Image original is still out there, but the comic itself wasn’t very strong. The ad at the back calling the original Youngblood a “creator owned masterpiece” seems like quite a stretch, IMO.
Port of Earth #3: Near future sci-fi with the earth as an alien spaceport and all energy replaced by a new water-based system. Easy jump in as its early in the story. I really liked the story and the art; I look forward to the next issue.
Witchblade #2: All I know about the original Witchblade series is that it featured Michael Turner and his love of scantily clad and impossibly proportioned women. This female-helmed reboot/relaunch features neither. Cool detective story, mysterious weapon, good hook. Art was a little dodgy, but worth a read.
Well, those are the comics I got to read this week. Til next time, this has been: Heroes and Villains!