Tuesday, October 6, 2009

In Odd We Trust (OEL manga) by Queenie Chan and Dean Koontz, illustrations by Queenie Chan

I have this devious little plan to slowly get more graphic novels and manga into the library I work at, in the form of educational titles. In Odd We Trust wasn't something I requested as part of that plan - I'm guessing a Koontz fan asked for it after seeing his name plastered on the cover. I haven't been impressed with the various manga-fied books that have come out as publishers have tried to milk the manga cash cow. This one was no exception.

In Odd We Trust isn't all that exciting. I've read several other Odd Thomas books and, for the most part, enjoyed them. Had I not read any of those books before, this one would not have prompted me to do so. I love the character Odd Thomas, but, in this Original English Language (OEL) manga (or whatever you want to call it), he seems to be lacking the qualities that make him enjoyable. Plus, I'm not terribly impressed with Queenie Chan's artwork. It's possible that part of the problem is due to trying to depict someone else's characters, but I don't really feel compelled to try Chan's The Dreaming to find out. However, samples of her artwork and more can be found here.


This book takes place before the events of Koontz's Odd Thomas. Odd Thomas, a young fry cook who can see ghosts, sees the ghost of a young boy and later finds out via a newspaper and the chief of police that the boy was killed during the half hour he was home alone waiting for the housekeeper to arrive. The only lead so far is a note, left at the crime scene, composed of letters cut out from magazines and newspapers.

Odd is shocked to learn that the housekeeper is Sherry Sheldon, who grew up in an orphanage with Stormy Llewellyn. Odd doesn't know Sherry well, but he and Stormy are dating, so this still hits close to home. When Odd and Chief Porter arrive at the crime scene, they find out from Sherry that the creepy letter was meant for her and that she was probably the one who was supposed to have been killed. Two months ago, she started getting similar letters. She reported them to the police, but, because they contained no explicit threats, nothing was done about them.

Now that one child is dead, Sherry is worried about another. The other family she works for has a little girl named Angelica. Chief Porter assigns a lookout on Angelica's house, but not Sherry's - the police are a little short-staffed right now because of a parade that's coming up. That's apparently not a problem, though, because Stormy has a gun and plans on protecting Sherry if the police can't or won't. As Odd looks over some of the letters Sherry saved, he somehow decides that the killer will strike again, sometime within the next four days. Don't ask me how he knows this, he just does. Maybe it's magic.

Anyway, Odd hopes that the ghost of the little boy can help him somehow. For some reason, the ghosts Odd sees are never able to talk, but they can usually still manage to make their wishes known to him. It helps that, to Odd, the dead are as solid as the living. He tries to communicate with Joey, the little boy, but, unfortunately, Joey's shy and keeps running away. It isn't until Joey finds out that he can't talk to Sherry, no matter how much he wants to, that he decides to trust Odd, the one person who can see him.

Joey spots the killer, and Odd runs after the man but loses sight of him. He later finds out from Chief Porter that the killer has sent notes like the ones left with Joey and Sherry to several households with young children. Chief Porter thinks the killer has done this to divert attention from his real target, maybe even a child at a household that hasn't received a note, but Stormy is convinced that the real target is still Angelica.

With the parade happening soon, police resources are spread thin. Angelica's house only gets one officer, so Odd and Stormy decide to stay over with Angelica and Sherry. While Odd bonds with the somewhat annoying Angelica, Sherry and Stormy talk a little about Stormy's past. Although Stormy loves Odd, terrible things happened to her as a child that she still hasn't quite gotten over. (There's more detail on this in the book Odd Thomas.)

Eventually, the cop watching the house calls Odd out to take a look at a suspicious car across from the house. Inside the car is a mutilated mannequin. As Odd stands there, pondering the possibility that the killer is still nearby, watching everyone's reactions, he spots a suspicious-looking van that the police officer somehow overlooked. Inside the van is a creepy guy who doesn't seem to care that he's been spotted and that Odd has identified him as the guy he was chasing after earlier. Stormy wants to shoot him, but Odd makes her let him go, reporting the van's license plate number to Chief Porter.

Chief Porter calls Odd back - conveniently, the van is registered to a person named Kyle Bernshaw who lives only a short distance from both of the families Sherry works/worked for. Odd and Stormy decide to go break into the guy's house. Stormy acts as a lookout while Odd goes inside. Odd not only finds stacks and stacks of magazines, but also a note from Bernshaw addressed to him - Bernshaw has left behind an aggressive and very hungry dog (I won't say "large" - the dog may be compact, but it's also extremely short). Luckily for Odd, Joey shows up and scares the dog away.

Odd's psychic magnetism (a fairly unreliable power that has helped Odd locate killers - in the manga, it comes off as merely a convenience for Chan and Koontz) kicks in, and he spots Bernshaw driving past. He finds out that Bernshaw has tricked the police into watching his decoy instead of him, and Odd fears the worst for Angelica. When he arrives at her house, he discovers that Angelica is fine but Sherry, now jobless, has left on foot. It finally dawns on Odd that Sherry was the real target all along. Duh.

Odd and Stormy go looking for Sherry. Once again, Odd's psychic magnetism kicks in and they practically stumble over Bernshaw's car, which is parked at an abandoned slaughterhouse. Odd calls Chief Porter, but, worried that he'll arrive too late, Odd and Stormy enter the slaughterhouse. Odd see Sherry tied to a chair and goes to untie her, only to discover that it's Bernshaw in disguise. Stormy shoots Bernshaw in the leg with her gun, and Odd beats him upside the head a few times. Then Odd and Stormy find out that Sherry is locked in Bernshaw's truck. They can't find the key at first, but the ghost of Elvis points out the key's location to Odd, and Sherry is saved.

In prison, Bernshaw threatens to tell the world about Odd's psychic abilities, unless Odd agrees to talk to him in private. Somehow, Odd knows just what to say, and it's not long before Bernshaw is telling him that he sold his soul to the devil in exchange for immortality. Bernshaw is convinced that Odd's abilities are the result of a similar deal with the devil, and Odd lets him believe what he wants. As Bernshaw is about to be taken back to his cell, the guard has a heart attack. Bernshaw steals the man's gun, Odd picks up a chair to swing at him, and Bernshaw shoots, only to have the bullet ricochet off the chair and hit him in the throat, killing him.


With manga and graphic novels, probably one of the first things people notice is the artwork. One of the first things I noticed about the artwork in this book was that many of the characters looked very awkward and, in some cases, just plain strange. Chan seemed to have the most difficulty drawing older people. Terri and Chief Porter, for instance, both look a bit frightening. In general, the way Chan drew eyes made me think of Invader Zim when he was in his human disguise. That, combined with her weird nose and very prominent cheekbones, made Terri look very odd. Chief Porter wasn't much better, although I suppose you could blame that on the difficulty Chan had getting his "look" right (Chan writes about this a little in the "sketchbook" section at the end of the book). Besides having trouble with older characters, Chan really had trouble with Elvis and Lyndon B. Johnson. Elvis was only recognizable because of his outfit, and I only recognized Lyndon B. Johnson because the text said that's who it was.

I didn't think Odd and Stormy were too bad, although Stormy's design upstaged Odd. The designs of Chan's original characters, Sherry and Bernshaw, bothered me a bit. Maybe I'm just too big of a manga and anime fan, but I thought Bernshaw looked remarkably like a combination of Fullmetal Alchemist's Majhal and Belsio. With Sherry, the thing that really annoyed me was her headband. Chan seemed determined to draw the full curve of that headband, no matter the angle of Sherry's head. Seriously, watch the headband, it defies perspective.

Aside from my problems with the character designs, the story itself isn't all that good. The mystery/suspense aspects play out very simply and predictably. For a little bit, I thought Chan and Koontz might be gearing up for the revelation that Sherry was the real murderer. I thought Bernshaw might be a red herring. He didn't act nervous enough when Odd found him in the van for me to believe that he was really the killer. Also, there was that comment Stormy made about Sherry taking the letters and Joey's murder remarkably well. So, was there an attempt at cleverness on Chan's and Koontz's part? No. It's kind of like M. Night Shyamalan's Signs - you think "it couldn't possibly be that obvious" and then that's what it turns out to be.

The story is really pretty boring. There's slight incorporation of supernatural aspects, but it all feels like surface stuff. Odd can see ghosts, but nothing actually comes of it except during that bit with the dog (after which Joey disappears and isn't brought up again - I guess his only purpose was to look sad and keep the dog from eating Odd). Oh, and Elvis pointing out the location of the key. Bernshaw says he sold his soul to the devil for eternal life, but then he dies, proving that he's just a murderous nutjob who developed an unexplained obessession with a housekeeper. Finally, there's Odd's psychic magnetism, which, in this book, might as well be a code phrase for "convenient plot device." Psychic magnetism might have a habit of popping up during especially convenient moments in Koontz's books, too, but at least in the books some of the drawbacks of psychic magnetism are brought up. In this book, it's, "Can't find [blank]? Psychic magnetism to the rescue!"

Overall, this book just wasn't very good. Like so many OEL manga that get churned out now, it doesn't seem to get the manga visual conventions quite right (Chan is overly fond of sweatdrops, to the point that they're a bit overused). The story itself doesn't assume much intelligence on the part of the reader and ends up just being boring. According to Chan's website, there's a second volume coming out sometime in 2010, but I think I'll just stick to the Odd Thomas novels (which are having their own problems, if the latest one I've read is anything to go by).


There's an afterword by Dean Koontz, an excerpt from Odd Thomas, and Chan's planning sketches, along with comments from Chan.

Read-alikes and Watch-alikes:
  • Odd Thomas (book) by Dean Koontz - Odd Thomas is a small town fry cook who seems like a perfectly nice, normal guy. Only a few people know that Odd can see ghosts. Odd can also see creatures he calls bodachs, horrible creatures that seem to gather around anyone and any place that will soon have a link to pain and tragedy. When Odd notices the growing number of bodachs gathering around a stranger who has just come to town, he investigates and discovers things that lead him to believe that the stranger plans on killing lots of people. It's up to Odd to figure out how to stop him in time. Those who'd like to try the series that In Odd We Trust is based on should start with this, the first book.
  • Kindaichi Case Files (manga) by Yozaburo Kanari (story) and Fumiya Sato (art) - The main character of this series is Kindaichi, a crime-solving high school student whose grandfather was a famous detective. As far as I know, each volume is a self-contained story (for the most part). I usually advise starting with the first volume of a series, but, if that's not possible, find a volume with a mystery that sounds good, and you should be fine. Those who'd like another mystery manga with a crime-solving teenager might want to try this.
  • Case Closed (anime TV series); Case Closed (manga) by Gosho Aoyama - High school detective Kudo Shinichi is well-known in Japan as a genius crime-solver. Unfortunately, after he is drugged by two mysterious men in black, he wakes up to discover that his body is now that of a child. Shinichi hides his identity as he tries to find clues about the men in black through the clients and cases of a pathetic, second-class detective. Those who'd like another story involving a boy crime-solver might enjoy this title.
  • Bleach (anime TV series); Bleach (manga) by Tite Kubo - Ichigo Kurosaki has been able to see ghosts for as long as he can remember, but it's not until he meets Rukia, a Soul Reaper, that his life really gets strange (not to mention dangerous). When a battle with a Hollow goes badly, Rukia tries to lend Ichigo some of her Soul Reaper powers but ends up accidentally giving him everything. Now a full-fledged Soul Reaper, Ichigo battles Hollows with Rukia's help and guidance and gradually becomes even more powerful. Those who liked the idea of a teenage boy who can see ghosts but want more action might want to try this.
  • Descendants of Darkness (manga) by Yoko Matsushita; Descendants of Darkness (anime TV series) - Even after death, there's paperwork to do and criminals to catch. Tsuzuki Asato is a somewhat goofy (yet powerful) shinigami (god of death) whose job involves ensuring that the dead remain properly dead and out of the lives of the living. Tsuzuki gets a new partner, Hisoka, and the cases they investigate keep bringing them up against Muraki, a serial killer. Muraki seems to know an awful lot about Tsuzuki and Hisoka's darkest secrets. Those who'd like another story involving supernatural aspects and (at first, anyway) short, one-shot mysteries might enjoy this title.
  • Tactics (anime TV series) - Kantaro is a folklorist who can see monsters (in the loose sense of the word) that others can't. All his life, he's been determined to find and befriend the demon-eating goblin. One day, he does, but the relationship is a bit bumpier than Kantaro might have hoped. Those who'd like another series composed mostly of one-shot stories and mysteries, mixed with supernatural aspects, might like this anime.

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