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Odds Off By Matt Martin
Highwater Books Ė Matt Madden (w/a)
Odds Off is a book that I had wanted to read for a long, long time. Somehow, I stumbled across its publisherís website, where I read a plot synopsis, saw a little preview artwork and was immediately intrigued. The problem lay in the fact that Highwater Books apparently did not, for quite some time, have a distribution deal with Diamond and, as such, basically made it impossible for me to get my hands on the book (sure, I couldíve ordered it through the website, but Iíd have had to pay full retail for it, a concept that Iím pretty unfamiliar with after a couple years of working in a comic book store and enjoying my substantial employee discount). Evidently, Highwater eventually worked out a deal with Diamond and Maddenís original graphic novel was in their initial offering through Previews, allowing me to finally find out if it lived up to my expectations.
So Iíll say it now, in case some of you are too impatient to read the whole review: itís a flawed book, but itís also a book whose flaws are not so great as to overshadow what is a really solid effort (and, to the best of my knowledge, a creatorís first substantial outputting).
Odds Off deals, centrally, with a twenty-something couple, Morgan and Shirin. Their story and the consequent breakdown of their relationship is the sun in the storyís solar system, but orbiting around them is the story of Lance (whose name Iíve often claimed is one of the gayest names in the English language, due to its phallic connotations, second only to Rod), a homosexual man whose chance encounter with Morgan at a New Yearís Eve party leads to infatuation and obsession.
So Morgan and Shirin have problems; that much is clear. Sheís Iranian, but he canít be bothered to remember any of her cultural holidays or their significance. At the same time, heís a rambling Francophile who expects her to indulge him in his obsession. She struggles to overcome her poor academic history and make the grade on the MCAT that will allow her entry into medical school. His incessantly upbeat attitude grates on her nerves; dealing with her overtly Christian co-workers is bad enough by itself, but his unflagging perkiness is the straw that breaks her back.
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Meanwhile, Lance is a writer who canít write. His writerís block has become a metaphorical virus to him, a plague whose touch taints any work that it comes contact with. And itís the Lance-related sections of the book that highlight what I saw as a flaw in the storytelling, a point where I feel that Madden tried too hard to be clever.
Lance engages in a series of visits to a student health center where he is diagnosed with a literary virus. Under a microscope, his printed letters are seen to be crawling with a mite of some sort, a pest that is in turn infecting all the rest of his work. Itís an interesting device, but at the same time, itís sort of confusing to the casual reader (for example, my fiancťe read the book and I was practically counting the minutes until she would ask me what there were bugs crawling all over his papers; she didnít disappoint). Of course, this all assumes that Madden is, in fact, attempting to intellectualize something as simple as writerís block. Or rather, that Lance does not actually have tiny bugs in all his pages.
On the visual side of things, Maddenís reputation preceded him and was not, I must say, overblown. He really is a tremendous talent and his thickly inked pages all carry the story rather well.
So, aside from my previous complaint about the infestation of Lanceís literature, as well as a slightly rushed ending, I was very satisfied with Odds Off. Itís sad that I had to wait almost two years from its initial release to finally get a chance to read it, as it really is a solid, twisted bit of slice-of-life graphic literature.