Right in time for October spookiness, Gaiman’s cheeky and heartfelt tribute to both Arthur Conan Doyle and H.P. Lovecraft is a lovingly crafted mystery clad in horror. Gaiman’s short story won 2004 Hugo Award for Best Short Story and the 2005 Locus Award for Best Novelette, and had been adapted to the comic book medium by Rafael Albuquerque, Rafael Scavone, and Dave Stewart over a decade later.
I must admit I did read the short story back in the time, but the comic book adaptation somehow made a much greater impression on me. Maybe it’s the Lovecraftian vibes, which so greatly lend themselves to the dark, shadowy frames filled with menacing tentacles and splotches of vivid green, or maybe it’s the structure of the story, beautifully misleading the readers, throwing red (or rather emerald) herrings left and right, only to reveal its true nature to the careful reader (and indeed, half the pleasure from reading Gaiman’s take on the world’s best detective stems from knowing all necessary facts about Sherlock Holmes ;))
Let’s take a tour through the streets of the fabled city of Bulikov, where gods lived, where they created and destroyed, took care of their followers and inevitably issued edicts. Bulikov, city of grand spires and beautiful gardens, shining like an immense jewel of the world. A seat of gods, a place of power, a source of pride – and hubris – for the people dwelling on the Continent.
If you were to walk through the streets of Bulikov now, you wouldn’t see any of the wonders. You’d see a forest of decrepit, half-ruined buildings, hundreds of thousands of stairs ending in the thin air, as if cut by a gigantic scythe, and a sea of poverty, resentment and anger.
Because the gods weren’t omnipotent, omniscient or immortal. They were killed, and with their destruction came the destruction of everything they have ever built. Bulikov is now a gaping wound in social memory, a festering boil waiting to burst at the slightest pressure. And guess what? That pressure is easily applied, from many directions at once.