Indie Comics Spotlight: American Gods #1, Royal City #1, and Cosmic Scoundrels #1
By: Jonathan Pilley (@omnicomic)
American Gods #1
“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 information 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. Hampton’s artwork is difficult to adjust 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 now.
Royal City #1
“Sometimes I wonder if it was hard growing up in Royal City…or just hard growing up.”
Talk to anyone and they’ll likely tell you that they came from a small town. Growing up in a small town typically means you know a lot of people, but “getting out” can be a challenge. Still, there’s something about the small town mentality that always draws people back and Royal City is such a town in Royal City #1 from Image Comics. The issue is written and illustrated by Jeff Lemire and illustrated by Steve Wands.
Patrick Pike, a fading literary star who reluctantly returns to the once-thriving factory town where he grew up, is quickly drawn back into the dramas of his two adult siblings, his overbearing mother, and his brow-beaten father, all of whom are still haunted by different versions of his youngest brother, Tommy, who drowned decades ago.
There’s a very poignant tale in Royal City #1 as Lemire’s script leisurely works its way through the inner-workings of the Pike family. Lemire’s approach to their dynamic certainly isn’t new as far as families go in that there are some stereotypical relationships at play here. Having said that, Lemire infuses each character with their own unique backstory that allow for some fantastic dialogue exchanges. These exchanges help the reader feel as if they’ve known the Pike family for a long time while also providing plenty of context for their troubles to come. The ease with which Lemire transitions from one family member to the next is astounding and reflects a very clear understanding of what the end-game is on his part.
Like every good family, Lemire makes sure that the Pikes have a very unique look to them. Each of the family members is illustrated with an attention to the lives they’ve led, from the sister Tara’s professional appearance to Patrick’s somewhat disheveled, novelist persona. Lemire’s approach is very fluid and relaxed as characters are rendered with a loose style that vaguely defines them. Layouts are very methodical and the characters are illustrated as wearing their emotions as indicated by an emphasis on facial features. The colors are light and washed out – something that allows Lemire to underscore the relative harmlessness of the town of Royal City and its inhabitants.
Royal City #1 is very much a family drama wrapped in a city drama. The Pike family have dealt (and are still dealing) with their own share of family woes, but that doesn’t mean that they’re not a family at the end of the day. Royal City is a place struggling to let go of the past and Lemire gives the Pike family plenty of that as well. His artwork is almost haunting in its approach, emphasizing an almost ethereal composition. Royal City #1 is a great first issue that will resonate with a lot of readers because there’s so much of a personal aspect to it.
Royal City #1 is available now.
Cosmic Scoundrels #1
“But just like excrement, appearances can be deceiving…”
Life in space is hard enough just trying to survive and relying on the basic resources necessary to do so. Survival is further compounded by the need for money with which to get some of the aforementioned resources necessary for sustaining human life. You can either work hard for the money or steal it – the latter is definitely more entertaining. In Cosmic Scoundrels #1 from IDW Pulishing, Love Savage and Roshambo want to entertain readers. The issue is written by Matt Chapman, illustrated by Andy Suriano, and lettered by Suriano with Comicraft.
Space-faring bachelor scalawags Love Savage and Roshambo – along with a little mothering from their ship’s AI, Mrs. Billingsley – shuttle from job to job and continually find themselves on the wrong side of the law. Despite their best efforts to look out only for themselves, they usually end up involved with alien crooks, shady black market baby schemes, and space sickness-inducing drugs. They’re on the loose and on the run – from everyone!
It’s very apparent from the first few pages that Chapman is going for a tone that’s essentially irreverent. Love Savage and Roshambo are two characters who Chapman writes with a nod toward the zany in that their adventures can be better described as misadventures. Chapman provides both characters with an abundance of rapid-fire, vapid dialogue – all of which constantly reminds the reader that these two are pretty whimsical in their approach to life. The story showcases a series of capers to help characterize them as such and Chapman doesn’t hesitate to infuse the book with plenty of instances that are comically entertaining. The issue falters a bit in its delivery, in that Love Savage and Roshambo are supposed to be riotous dude-bros but a lot of their jokes fall a little flat.
Suriano’s artwork is very aggressive and in-your-face. Part of this aggressiveness is a sense of incompleteness in the illustrations, in that Suriano looks to have sketched out panels before loosely inking/coloring them. The linework also has a detached sensibility to it as Suriano seems content to illustrate things in a way that’s pretty rough in its appearance. There’s some pretty interesting looking characters though as Suriano does a pretty solid job of filling out the space of Cosmic Scoundrels #1 with a sense of otherworldliness. The colors are fairly vibrant throughout the issue and reinforce the fact that there are some different characters floating through the universe.
Cosmic Scoundrels #1 is a buddy comedy in space that mixes in a light criminal aspect. Love Savage and Roshambo are partners completely confident in their abilities to break the law and get away with it, having a great time in the process. Chapman’s script aims for a lot of buddy-buddy humor and entertainment even if some of it doesn’t really land well. Suriano’s artwork is brisk and rough around the edges, perhaps mirroring the personalities of the two main characters. Cosmic Scoundrels #1 has a lot of potential and could be appealing to those looking for something that’s a little off-kilter.
Cosmic Scoundrels #1 is in stores now.