Like much of Neil Gaiman’s other work, American Gods continues to transcend itself nearly 20 years later. There’s a reason that an Emmy-nominated TV adaptation was just greenlit for a third season. Gaimain’s masterwork of Americana, dark fantasy and mythology has become a benchmark of contemporary grit and archetypal drama. It might seem like a crime that artist Scott Hampton hadn’t read the book before he started working on a three-part graphic novel adaptation, but that may be the key factor in why this take on the book works both as a retelling and an entry point. This version of American Gods—a collaboration between Hampton, P. Craig Russell (script/layout), Jennifer T. Lange (colors), Rick Parker (letters) and Gaiman himself—draws to a satisfying conclusion on this third and final volume, The Moment of the Storm.

This is technically the climax of American Gods, but The Moment of the Storm reflects the restraint displayed by this creative team up until this point. Shadow, our fish-out-of-water protagonist, just watched his boss, Wednesday (or Odin, depending on who asks), get shot in the face. With his anchor in this strange world forcibly removed, and the world on the cusp of a god-war, this should be the point where the story goes full Avengers: Endgame. This is the perfect opportunity for flying through the air and punching villains through buildings. But Hampton’s illustration and Lange’s coloring continues to rely on believable, impressionistic nuance.

Preliminary confrontations between the new and old gods play out like dialogue from The Godfather, and the culminating conflict itself is rendered so impressionistically that it might take a few moments to register exactly what is happening. This allows Gaiman’s metanarrative to remain in focus—a Nietzschean perspective on the gods’ power varying directly with how much people pay them mind.

From Odin and Ibis to the Easter Bunny, Hampton’s anthropomorphized depiction of the old gods points to the decline of their power in the Western world. Hampton envisions their plight as a battle of concepts—once-mighty ideas starved for sacrifices and worship in the wake of new gods like media and automobiles. Hampton balances accessibility and obscurity, in keeping with how Gaiman’s narrative thrust blurs the line between reality and metaphor.

Hampton’s last-minute introduction to American Gods defies the usual adaptation process, in that his work on the graphic novel coincides with his first reading of the book. His work demonstrates a genuine, real-time engagement with the property. This is best displayed by the fact he drew a character as a sweet old man, not realizing how despicable the old man would reveal himself to be by the end. The artist didn’t know about the plot twists right up to the point of drawing them, making them much more effective than most graphic novels.

These pragmatic visuals give new life to Gaiman’s protagonist. Hampton knows just when to open a floodgate of vivid emotion in Shadow’s face, and when to treat him more as a blank-slate everyman. This makes Shadow’s evolution from a hapless mercenary to a reluctant hero easy to empathize with. His interactions reflect both a longing for peace and the inner throes of having nothing to lose.

Even when Shadow’s decisions seem apathetic to the point of suicidality, it’s not impossible to understand his reasoning. He left prison, discovered the unsavory circumstances of his wife’s death and became the muscle for Wednesday’s haphazard road trip—only to witness Wednesday get his brains blown out. Why would he not offer himself as a living sacrifice to the vagabond god? What else could he do? Shadow’s arc is as much a tool for worldbuilding and pushing the plot forward as it is a personal journey from bewilderment to epiphany.

Where previous volumes diverged into various side stories, The Moment of the Storm dials into a much more linear approach. Russell and Parker synthesize Gaiman’s wordplay seamlessly with Hampton’s pictures. From Purgatory to the shores of Iceland, the flow between visual and verbal storytelling retains the standard of Gaiman’s graphic novel library. Supernatural upheavals maintain a grounding in the known world, just like Gaiman’s matter-of-fact language serves as a guide when Hampton’s artwork gets more surreal.

Hampton, Russell, Lange, and Parker work wonders with Gaiman’s story. American Gods now has not only another solid adaptation under its belt, but another solid first-encounter for newcomers. The Moment of the Storm concludes a spirited reinterpretation of what many consider to be Gaiman’s crowning literary achievement.

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