Lisa: Oh my god. You killed him.
Scott: Maybe we should go.
Scott Pilgrim first appeared in 2005's Scott Pilgrim's Precious Little Life; the first half of his adventures have been considered elsewhere at this site. His pilgrimage concluded in three more manga-sized editions, published between 2007 and 2010. Writer and artist Bryan Lee O'Malley hits his stride here, with developed characterization and improved artwork. The story and its subplots unfold over the course of a year without the confusion that occasionally mars the earlier chapters. Scott also matures, while continuing to deal with his unfocussed life, the girl of his dreams, several problematic exes, twentysomething slacker angst, and killer robots. In addition to the League of Evil Exes (superpowered former partners of his girlfriend Ramona Flowers) and people from his own past, someone else stalks him-- someone with a katana that can slice through streetcars. Once again, the Toronto settings—from Sneaky Dee's to the Beaches1 to obscure streetcorners—lend a real-world weight to the often ridiculous and fantastic events.
Scott Pilgrim Gets It Together (2007)
Scott Pilgrim vs. the Universe (2009)
Scott Pilgrim's Finest Hour (2010)
Writer and artist: Bryan Lee O'Malley
The first eight pages of Volume Four coloured by Steve Buccelloto
The fourth volume, Scott Pilgrim Gets it Together, won a number of awards, and it represents the high point of the series. It recalls the first volume, improved. Much of it eschews the videogame mayhem, focusing instead on the ongoing relationships among the characters. Stylized and exaggerated though they may be, I recognize Scott and his friends. And while we needed to see the hero grow, I liked Scott even when he was a self-centered dork.
Indeed, a significant part of the series' success lies with the fact that we can like the central characters even when they're unbelievably trying. They know this, at least, and recognize that their problems, like those of most middle-class young people, are relatively trite. "Oh, hey," Scott says to an ex-girlfriend as he shows her around, "maybe I should have mentioned that my friends are retarded douchebags." One of those friends elsewhere notes the luck Scott encounters as he mopes along and notes, "if your life had a face, I would punch it in the balls." O'Malley could have written some version of this story with the videogame/media perspective only-- things like the depleted "Cash bar" contrasting with a full "Thirst bar" to show Scott's drinking dilemma-- never slipping into the surreal, videogame style adventures. I doubt, however, he would have attracted as broad an audience.
When the villains draw their weapons and the chapters turn fantastic, they have an oddball freshness that bests many of Scott's earlier fights. The role of hyperspace, the use of Ramona's bag, and the identity of Scott's mystery stalker—all of these work effectively and with bizarre internal consistency. The characters continue to react as though these things just happen in their world or are, at most, "a little weird."
The graphic novel permits a more expensive plot and greater character development than the later film adaptation. Once again, Knives Chau stands out; you could place her in an entire realistic setting and she would seem somewhat histrionic, but not implausibly so. Scott's cluelessness, on the other hand, exaggerated for comic effect, gets carried a little too far at some points.
The final volumes have other weaknesses, to be sure. The final fight occupies approximately half of volume six. Important as this conflict is, that's a few too many pages for one fight to carry, especially against such an utter, like, douche of a villain.
I also wish O'Malley had left the overt metafictional remarks behind. We've already got quasi-realistic elements, filtered through media, and fantastic elements, inspired by comic books and videogames. The characters references to themselves as fictional characters adds another, unnecessary element. Such remarks do not appear often enough to feel like an integral part of the story, and they're not worth the sporadic cheap laughs they generate.
O'Malley's influences are many, but the results remain surprisingly fresh, half a decade later. For those of you familiar only with the movie, these volumes deviate more significantly than the first three from the story you know. Indeed, volume six had not been finished when filming started. They do, however, end up at something like the same place. Once you get past the silliness that drives most of Scott Pilgrim's adventures, you realize they comment with some intelligence on relationships, and on the computerized world that the current generation inhabits. It's glitzy, fun, and filled with pushbutton convenience—but it hasn't made better people, it doesn't give useful direction, and it often blunts our understanding of others. If you're a fan of comics, a reader in search of something light and different, or if you were ever an aimless twentysomething, you should read this Canadian stab at manga. If your local comic shop's usual fare had a face, Scott Pilgrim would totally kick its ass.
1. It's "the Beaches' or just "Beaches." Everyone in Toronto knows this. Everyone with a passing acquaintance with Toronto knows this. Scott Pilgrim certainly knows this. Unfortunately, when Toronto's City Council decided to do what Toronto City Council loves to do— make neighbourhood nicknames official and put them on signs— it gave the voting public three options: The Beaches, Beaches, and The Beach. The first two split the vote among the majority, and "The Beach"—a name which no one in the history of Toronto has ever used for the region—slipped through the middle. So now the neighbourhood boasts signs insisting it's "The Beach."
If Toronto City Council had a face, I would punch it in the balls.