One of my favourite comic series (and favourite films, for that matter) of the last few years has been Scott Pilgrim. Let's discuss and explore it somewhat. Mostly, it's a comic.
Oh alright. Expect spoilers.
Bassists, Now Not Just The Guys Who Hang Around With Bands.
Scott Pilgrim is an American quasi-Manga comic series by artist Bryan Lee O'Malley (who is Canadian-Chinese and not at all Irish, somehow). The series is divided into six books or volumes, following the series namesake as he attempts to hook up with the girl of his dreams, Ramona Flowers. He's a avid gamer, bassist with a grunge-y rock band (the excellently monikered 'Sex Bob-Omb') and a absolute scrounger, seemingly existing exclusively off the charity of friends. He is also the star of one of my favourite series of the last three years.
While so far all this seems fine if a bit ordinary for a comic series, it should be noted that Scott Pilgrims world seems to operate on the same physics and logic as the world of computer games. The awesome, awesome logic of computer games.
It's That Awesome
Characters can spontaneously utilise super-powers (often in the most over the top computer game form), emotional problems become boss battles and power-ups can appear under certain conditions to help further the characters. In what can be regarded as both hilarious and extreme use of metaphors Scott's battles to win Ramona's love and defeat the "League of Evil Exes" are symbolic of his (and other characters) growing up, maturing and coping with issues from the past. So there is depth even if yes, it can be seen as somewhat tongue in cheek at times. The positively ancient archetype of boy fighting for girl is off-set by the fact the Ramona is no damsel in distress herself but tougher and more world-wise then the naive Scott, at least to begin with.
While the comic does have a light tone thats specific for the generation X readers (comics and game references, the young adults still not living up to their age), its also got a surprising amount of heart. No character is presented as perfect, in fact most are a bundle of neuroses, immaturity and selfishness. Yet they are all strangely endearing. Scott is the best example, as he cheats on girls, fails to learn from his mistakes (expressed simply but perfectly in the comics by a dark-side gaming metaphor) and drifts in his life with no real aims or motivation. As characters repeatedly point out, he can be a jerk, several stating if Scott's life had a face they would punch it in the balls. In spite of this, he is the hero of the comics and as the story goes on you learn why he is worthy of the title.
You do grow to feel for most of the characters far more then you may expect for a relatively short series and even pick a few favourites as the story goes on, mine being Knives Chau and Kim Pine, two exes of Scotts who provide two very different approaches to dealing with how he treated them (badly). The characters may deal with problems in very unique ways but their problems are very similar to everyday young adults, much more so then most comics. For example...
A Typical Tuesday For Me Right There
By far the greatest strength of the series is its characters. The wealth of individuals and their personalities is one thing (well, two things) but how well fleshed out they all are in amazing, especially given the relatively brief times we get to spend with most of them. Every character has an independent relationship with every other character that the comic devotes time to exploring, even if the reader is usually left to plug in the gaps as they see fit. Theories regarding Julie, a bitchy and abrasive character, secretly liking Scott in college or debates as to how morally right or wrong a characters actions are do not get spoon-fed to the reader, instead allowing for a more organic and far more realistic social scene to form in the book. Much like any social scene or any group of friends there are mistakes made and secrets kept that sometimes never fully come to light. In particular a great running plot-point through-out the comic regarding a character coming out of the closet is only revealed to Scott at the end, but observant readers may have figured it out as early as Volume 4 if the keep their eyes peeled.
Having said that, the series does have faults. The tone of the comic can swing wildly. Typically there is a great balance of pathos and puns but it occasionally can be quite jarring. An often quoted example is the battle at the end of Volume 1, where Scott must battle the first evil ex. This section, while better then critics give it credit for, is poorly handled, the switch in tone feeling goofy instead of epic (through personally I still enjoyed it). The battles do feel continually more spectacular as the series continues and very exciting in their own unique way.
Plus What May Be The Greatest Cat-Fight Ever. Fact.
The odd emotional moment is also off-putting, with the later half of Volume 4 feeling very sloppy and rushed in parts, a scene involving Ramona apparently cheating on Scott with an evil ex being completely ignored as soon as it occurs. Personally I adore the first three volumes of the series and find the final three somewhat lacking by comparison, but I stress only by comparison to the first three volumes and certainly as a series it is nothing short of incredible.
Lastly, a quick look at the art. As you may have noticed from the panels, the art is not exactly atomically correct. The manga style, vaguely reminiscent of Gosho Aoyama's work on the series Case Closed, is still quite unlike most conventional Manga work. While this style has it's haters and gets criticism for being perhaps too minimal, I find this style very expressive. Rather then have Manga-esque background explosions to convey shock or extensive use spread sheet images to imply importance, Bryan uses expressive eyes and computer game effects. Scott and Ramona kiss inside the Sonic The Hedgehog 2 logo to convey a sense of bliss and perfection, as well as make an excellent title image for Volume 4. Tricks like zoom panels (panels gradually drawing closer to an object in focus), dutch angles (tilting a view 45 degrees to imply discord) and the occasional shattering of the 4th wall are all thrown in to give the comic a feel halfway between an indie film (think Juno or perhaps Eagle Vs Shark) and an old school 90's RPG video-game. Bryan occasionally shows art (particularly in advertisements and background pieces) in great detail, just to prove that yes, he can actually draw if he has to.
Scott Pilgrim is an amazing series and I couldn't recommend it more. Rather then give it a score, I have opted to instead note some amazing moments from the series. This proved more difficult then I had expected. In fact, there are so many great moments in the series that I have a really hard time picking my most loved, so obviously I just made lists. Thats how I roll. And It is going to rock ultimate.
Expect a brief description of the top ten moments from each volume in the series in the coming weeks and I hope in the meantime this review encouraged you to give the series a look and see what your missing, your welcome by the way.
Til next time!