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Jason Schachat Vs. All Six Volumes of Scott Pilgrim

Scott Pilgrim's not entirely stupid. He's definitely a bit stupid, but not ENTIRELY stupid, and he'd be the first to admit it. But the world around him is complex, filled with memories of video games, comic books, rock songs, and girlfriends past. You may not notice this at first, being distracted by Scott's stupidity. Don't worry: it all makes sense in the end and manages to be pretty funny along the way.

Now, before you sit down and read this series of graphic novels, it's advisable you put on the right soundtrack. The rhythm of the books is disjointed and unfriendly to orchestral scores, hip hop, and even a lot of classic rock. Creator Bryan Lee O'Malley himself offered this playlist for volume 5:

Beulah - If We Can Land a Man on the Moon, Surely I Can Win Your Heart
Black Lips - Off the Block
Be Your Own Pet - October, First Account
Blondie - Heart of Glass
The Rolling Stones - Under My Thumb
Neko Case - Lion's Jaw
Lou Reed - Perfect Day (Acoustic Demo)
Art Brut - Fight
Badfinger - Without You
Spoon - I Summon You
Sloan - I'm Not Through With You Yet
Fleetwood Mac - Don't Stop

Taking a cue from his indie-heavy list, I put on Sleater-Kinney's album One Beat as I read through volume 1 (mostly because I can't separate "Perfect Day" from the overdose scene in Trainspotting or "Don't Stop" from Bill Clinton's re-election campaign). This turned out to be a less than ideal choice...

Scott Pilgrim's Precious Little Life
Scott Pilgrim is 23, broke, plays bass in a band called Sex Bob-Omb with longtime friends Kim and Stephen Stills (no, not the famous one), and shares a single room apartment and bed with his gay roommate, Wallace.

Oh, but Scott's not gay. He's actually dating an underage Asian schoolgirl. They haven't done anything, of course, but the very possibility creeps his friends out.

So Scott resolves himself to introducing girlfriend Knives Chau to his friends... and that's when he starts having dreams about this strange delivery girl. He's never seen her before and doesn't think it amounts to much. Then he sees the girl at the library. And at a friend's party. Her name is Ramona Flowers, and he has fallen instantly, completely in love with her; the girl from his dreams.

The Walkthrough:

MISSION 1: Scott's still dating Knives Chau.
MISSION 2: Scott talks to Ramona.
MISSION 3: Scott has to break up with Knives.
MISSION 4: Sex Bob-Omb tries not to suck at their first gig.
MISSION 5: Scott must defeat Ramona's Seven Evil Exes if he wants to date her.
MISSION 6: Boss Fight.

This first volume of Scott Pilgrim was always charming, but I don't think any of us realized it was the beginning of something much larger. I won't lie and say the pieces of the puzzle are all there, because they're not. If you really pay attention, you may notice Gideon and Envy Adams in a dream, Ramona's subspace bag, or The Glow, but only one of them begs for attention. This isn't like the first volume of, say, Bone, where you know there's a long, established history you're just getting a glimpse of.

For the most part, this is a slice of life story that gets a bit mystical and finally shifts into full Bollywood fantasy fight scene. If not for the setup of the Seven Evil Exes, the story could easily have ended at one book.

Even the visual motifs taken from video games and manga have yet to arrive. The style hasn't yet coalesced into Bryan Lee O'Malley's definitive clean lines and use of negative space. It could be mistaken for early work by indie artists like Craig Thompson, Jim Mahfood, or Andi Watson, (which makes sense, as the latter two are also Oni Press alumni).

The lines are rough and chunky, much like the Sex Bob-Omb's music, and the use of tone is minimal. While the close-ups and composition hint at O'Malley's keen eye, he's still a newbie who has yet to delve into the digital toolbox.

So, why read Scott Pilgrim's Precious Little Life? Hey, every story has a beginning, and this one is pretty entertaining.

However, I'd advise against my early choice of Sleater-Kinney. Going back to the well for something more Canadian, I blast The Arcade Fire's Suburbs as I start volume 2.

Scott Pilgrim vs. The World
Scott Pilgrim is 16, a troublemaker, friends with another troublemaker named Lisa, and smitten with a drummer named Kim. So, they decide to form a band (not called Sex Bob-Omb). But life goes on, and Scott's family moves to Toronto.

Years later, Scott Pilgrim is 23, still a troublemaker, once more in a band (called Sex Bob-Omb) where Kim plays drums, and still dating a high schooler. A high schooler named Knives who is madly in love with him and his band. A high schooler he has to break up with because he's fallen for Ramona Flowers, a delivery girl using his subconscious as a shortcut on her delivery route.

The Walkthrough:
MISSION 1: Scott still has to break up with Knives Chau.
MISSION 2: Boss Fight.
MISSION 3: Scott really, really has to break up with Knives.
MISSION 4: Knives turns creepy stalker over Scott.
MISSION 5: Enter Scott's own Evil Ex, Envy.

This is where the story of Scott Pilgrim starts taking shape. Opening on Scott's high school romance with Kim, O' Malley reinforces the importance of past relationships, fuzzy memories, and how we live with those we once loved. With a more somber character, it'd be depressingly emo, but Scott Pilgrim's short attention span and immaturity swap the Charlie Brown "Nobody likes me..." observations for gems like "Bread makes you FAT??"

It should be noted that, as the true beginning of many of the plot threads in the Scott Pilgrim series, this volume does a lot of the heavy lifting skipped in Scott Pilgrim's Precious Little Life. Envy Adams goes from being a nameless past girlfriend to the most soulcrushing loss in our hero's young life. Kim is no longer just a girl playing drums, but possibly the best friend Scott's ever had.

We also start to see more from Knives' perspective. No longer the focus in Scott's life, it's through her eyes we see what happens when someone you desperately love no longer wants to be with you. Sure, it may not necessarily turn you into a sai-wielding uber-ninja, but it damn well hurts.

The mysteries also start to emerge. Some, like The Glow, are more pronounced. Others, like the holes in the moon, are just background oddities. Then there are the mentions of Gideon and the League of Evil Exes that seem like simple exposition, but foretell tragedies yet to come.

Artistically, O'Malley's style matures greatly, removing clutter from his panels without drowning in minimalism. Tones are used to much greater effect, but the art still has a rushed quality that would be lost after the third volume when he adopted a less breakneck pace. The use of captions and videogame elements increases, and the resemblance Scott's world bears to ours begins to slip away.

And this is where we have to question what genre Scott Pilgrim falls into. It's too fantastic for slice of life, too down to earth for fantasy, too hip for superhero, too light and funny for urban contemporary. With Ramona's constant trips through subspace, kids suddenly exhibiting superpowers, and video game rewards popping up at the end of a fight... well, one might be tempted to call it magical realism, but that label almost seems too tame.

Regardless, reading Scott Pilgrim vs. The World will get you hooked on the series.

Arcade Fire, while appropriate, wasn't nearly manic enough, so I head into volume 3 with a hint from Young Neil's shirt worn during the gig in volume 1: Sloan's Parallel Play.

Scott Pilgrim & The Infinite Sadness
Scott Pilgrim is 23, dating the mysterious Ramona Flowers, in a band with his high school sweetheart Kim, and opening for his superstar ex-girlfriend Envy Adams' band, which his last girlfriend, Knives Chau, is smitten with. He also must defeat Ramona's third Evil Ex boyfriend, Todd, who happens to be Envy's bassist and boyfriend. Todd's also a Vegan with Super Psychic Vegan Powers. And the drummer is an evil, teleporting, cyborg girl.

The Walkthrough:
MISSION 1: Scott and the band need to survive hanging backstage with Envy's band.
MISSION 2: Knives is confronted with the fact her idol is a complete bitch.
MISSION 3: Boss Fight.
MISSION 4: Scott must hone his psychic powers to overcome the Evil Exes.
MISSION 5: Scott realizes he has no psychic powers.
MISSION 6: Kim has to get over not having a boyfriend.
MISSION 7: Scott has to get over Envy.
MISSION 8: Boss Fight.
MISSION 9: Boss Fight.
MISSION 10: Boss Fight.

As the title of this volume suggests, Scott spends much of the book recalling his relationship with Envy. How it started, how it went bad, and how it went worse. But, true to form, Scott's memories are disjointed and brief, dropping us in abruptly to see Stephen Stills (even more not the famous one), his longtime bitchy girlfriend Julie, and Envy back when they were a bunch of nerdy college kids eating pocky and playing Bomberman.

Almost as if a switch had been flipped, Envy changes from geek to chic and abandons their band, taking the lucrative record contract and Scott's still-beating heart with her. Does it completely make sense? Yeah, if you're ready to assume Envy's just an evil bitch-- but the clues to bigger things have been planted here.

Scott Pilgrim vs. The World was the first book in the series to delve into the importance of Scott's relationships. By breaking plot linearity even further, O'Malley is able to create a vortex of romantic doom. We see how Scott worshipped Envy, how Ramona evolved and fell for Evil Ex Todd, how Todd's fallen for a completely inaccurate notion of Veganism, how Envy's been tricked into living a fairytale that really kinda sucks...

True to form, Scott Pilgrim & The Infinite Sadness surpasses those that came before in art as well as story. O'Malley finally embraces Photoshop and all its powerful tools to take the production value beyond late 90's indie fare and into the big leagues. Every line is now crisp and vital, shading is studied and done with care, and the use of greytones makes a compelling argument for colorization.

Character design has also taken a step forward. Each character appears distinct, not just the same cartoon head with a slightly different haircut. Envy's features mark her as harshly beautiful rather than the pretty girl hinted at in previous books. You can understand her being someone millions of people would fall in love with, but the fame also appears to be eating away at her body.

Parallel Play lasts a good way through this volume, but it still isn't manic enough. I try to reconcile this by switching to Be Your Own Pet's Get Awkward, but that's not Canadian enough. Volume 4 is read to the sounds of Sloan's rapid fire 30-track Never Hear the End of It in hopes of bridging the gap.

Page 2: Scott Pilgrim volumes 4, 5 and 6


Jason Schachat

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