|“If your life had a face, I would punch it.” -- Kim Pine.|
A month ago, I really felt it would be easy to put together a piece on the Scott Pilgrim series. Bryan Lee O’Malley’s renowned graphic novel/anime-hybrid was my latest discovery, and I was eager to share my thoughts with both those who had and had yet to make that discovery for themselves. But leading up to my deadline, after I had watched the movie and seen the four-minute Scott Pilgrim vs. the Animation on [adult swim] and gone through the books again… I really had no idea where to start, where to end, or even what the hell I could possibly say. The Scott Pilgrim books are simply unlike any books, written or illustrated, that I have ever read, or likely will ever read again. They are that good. How could I begin to do them justice?
But since I am such a fan of these books, and since they were written by a fellow Canadian, (national pride at its finest), I realized it was just easiest to tell my own tale of finding the books.
Scott Pilgrim was introduced to me in a conversation a few years back by a good friend who was -- and undoubtedly will always be -- obsessed with video games and comics. He told me about the storyline, mentioned the frequent use of pop culture and gamer references, and also the vague notion that Edgar Wright (director of the two of the funniest films of the last decade, Shaun of the Dead and Hot Fuzz), would be directing the film version. I cannot fathom it now, but I had no inclination to run out and read them. But, slowly, I became more interested in them as the stills and trailers began to pop up for the film (that same friend tried out for and sadly did not make the cut as an extra in the film), and then, about two months ago, I finally broke down and borrowed Scott Pilgrim’s Precious Little Life (Volume 1) and Scott Pilgrim vs. the World (Volume 2). My friend told me that I should have borrowed all five books at once (Volume 6 had not then been released just yet), but I was not sure I would love them as much as he did, or thought that I would.
As it turns out, he was right. I should have borrowed all five.
I read Volumes 1 and 2 in rapid succession, and then skimmed through them again immediately after. I do not even think I fell asleep that night. I was totally hooked.
I am not sure what it was about the story of the lowly 23-year-old slacker Scott Pilgrim, a native of Toronto, Ontario, and his ultimate quest to defeat the seven evil ex-boyfriends (“exes”) of Ramona Flowers, the love of his life, but right from the first page -- with Scott’s friends discussing the “disturbing” notion of his dating 17-year-old Catholic high-schooler Knives Chau (“What kind of idiot would knowingly date a girl named Knives?”) -- I knew there was something emotionally endearing and fascinating about his plight. And with each subsequent page, it just became bigger and better.
I got my hands on Scott Pilgrim & the Infinite Sadness (Volume 3), Scott Pilgrim Gets it Together (Volume 4) and Scott Pilgrim vs. the Universe (Volume 5) the following day, and again, blasted through them in a matter of hours. Volume 4 delivered the same awesome rollercoaster ride of the first two; Volumes 3 and 5 less so, but I readily forgave them for their flaws. O’Malley continued pumping out the awesome video game references (“That glowy thing by the door…I think it’s a save point” is one of my favorite gems), and the ultimate goal of defeating all the exes was still there. After I finished Volume 5, I found myself at a loss. It was still weeks before Scott Pilgrim’s Finest Hour (Volume 6) was to be released, and in the meantime I had no new Scott Pilgrim book to read. This would have been of little interest a week earlier. But now, I was like a gamer without a console.
I waited. Patiently. Ever so patiently. And on July 20, the book was released! I was ecstatic, overjoyed, pumped, hyped -- I whipped right through it, only stopping briefly to eat, finishing in record time.
Now, I will confess here that my initial thoughts on Book 6 were not the most positive. In fact, I was pretty disappointed at first. After all these years (which, true, was only a few weeks for me, but still), was that all O’Malley had in store all along? Just to…finish. To end things with a whimper, and not an epic finale to end all epic finales? It seemed like a cop-out, an incredible build-up to nothing very much at all. I do not want to spoil it for those who have yet to read the book, but suffice to say, it left a stale taste in my mouth that words cannot properly express. Yes, a lot of what happens is just as random and wacky as the rest of the series, but by the time the conclusion came, it just felt flat. It felt like O’Malley had started out with incredible ideas in his initial books, but the well had run dry, and he just threw together the drips that remained to create Volume 6 and round out the series. A wilderness sabbatical? NegaScott? Cryogenically frozen ex-girlfriends? After the brilliance of what had come before (although, the less said about the goofy robots in Volume 5, the better), this was the best you could come up with, O’Malley? How dare you so alienate your fanbase! For shame!
But did I really loathe a Scott Pilgrim book that much? I had managed to find some semblance of enjoyment from the previous weaker installments, so why was I having so much trouble here?
A second read through was clearly in order, along with further reflection on what it contained. Maybe my expectations had been too high? Maybe I missed something? True, this much-anticipated conclusion to the series had not quite stacked up the way I thought it would, but I hoped my initial reaction was simply an over-reaction. One I could easily correct.
So I read it again. And I quickly realized Volume 6 was actually more story-driven and connecting than any other single Volume of the series. Volume 6 existed and was put together in the specific way that had at first so troubled me because it wanted to show the true motivation behind O’Malley’s stroke of genius. Sifting through the endless array of video game, movie, pop culture, and Toronto-centric references that readers will either embrace immediately or feel the need to Google, I came to a true understanding of what this series is all about. Forget fighting for the love of the woman of his dreams: these books are about Scott’s journey from a selfish adolescent with no grasp of responsibility, to becoming a young man with goals and ambitions, someone who cares about those around him. It is a story about someone who needs to rethink his life and make that harsh transition from adolescence to adulthood -- not unlike the journey much of its target audience themselves no doubt made over the course of the series’ run from 2004 until 2010, and others will make again.
In coming to this conclusion, I immediately looked at the whole series in a different light. It is still the blazingly paced, oft-hilarious and absolutely action-packed series I had first enjoyed, but it suddenly had a much deeper poignancy to it. And in being able to read the books from beginning to end in sequence, the way O’Malley intended, there is an instant emotional depth to them that would not be so easy to place had I read them as they were released over the course of six years. Sure, the series low-points were still its low-points, but much the same, they had a different feel and I found a new appreciation for them (except the robots -- they are still ridiculously horrendous).
As I conclude this reflection, I must note that I finished writing it just after the release of Scott Pilgrim vs. the World, Edgar Wright’s film with the rather bizarre tagline “An epic of epic epicness.” It ended in fifth place at the US box office, making less than half of the gross of the weekend’s winner, Sylvester Stallone’s throwback action romp The Expendables. Despite the enormous amount of marketing and hype surrounding Scott Pilgrim (I could rarely read anything on the web without seeing a story about -- or an ad for -- the film), it appears that it failed to really connect with its potential audience. Is this because everyone has Michael Cera fatigue? Were the trailers too high-concept for a general public not entirely comprised of comic book fanboys and video game nerds? Or were people simply not interested in the critically acclaimed action/comedy/romance? Me? I was satisfied with the film, but remain even more satisfied by the books. This is a series I know I will read again and again, and, much as I did with Volume 6, I am sure I will always find something new to enjoy about it. And while it may not always relate to me as thoroughly as it does now, when I am in-and-around the same age as the series’ man characters, I will look back years from now and remember that Bryan Lee O’Malley created something truly special in Scott Pilgrim. I was lucky to have a friend who encouraged me to read them, and I know I have since gotten a couple of people hooked, and have told even more people to check them out. I can only hope they will do the same.
In the meantime, there’s a Scott Pilgrim vs. the World video game now -- based on the movie -- which may be the most appropriate piece of sympathetic marketing ever, and which promises: “Everything you know about life: rock, music, exes, evil, power-up, Toronto, reality, co-op and love.”
And, of course, save points.
-- David Baldwin