Scott Pilgrim, Volume 5: Scott Pilgrim Vs. the Universe original graphic novel
Writer/Artist/Cover artist: Bryan Lee O’Malley
Editor: Randal C. Jarrell
Publisher: Oni Press
Price: $11.95 US
God, I’m so fucking old.
This week’s release of the latest episode of Bryan Lee O’Malley’s pop-culture fantasy series is already cause for celebration throughout the industry, and O’Malley seems poised to be one of the big stars and stories of this weekend’s New York Comicon. His Scott Pilgrim books have been almost universally praised as genius, as a breakthrough concept and as a success, both in terms of storytelling and sales. I definitely see the appeal. This book, like the others before it, is irreverent, frenetic, ambitious and kind of sweet at times as well. And while I enjoyed it, I have to be honest: I don’t completely get Scott Pilgrim. And I think it’s ’cause I’m so fucking old. At least, that’s how I felt as I read Scott Pilgrim Vs. the Universe. Of course, it doesn’t help that a birthday last month left me just two years shy of 40. (My wife tells me I’m not old, but her assertion is easily dismissed as she needs to believe I’ll be vital father figure to our yet-to-be-conceived children.)
Scott Pilgrim faces his latest challenge in his quest to completely win the heart of his girlfriend, Ramona. He’s defeated four of her evil ex-boyfriends thus far, but this time, the fight for her love is doubly difficult, as he must defeat twin ex-boyfriends, both of whom happen to be robotics experts. As Scott does battle with their mechanical soldiers in ambush after ambush, he, Kim and Stephen Stills work to re-establish their band’s reputation on the Toronto bar scene. Meanwhile, Scott’s ex decides it’s time for Ramona to learn a dirty little secret about her beau, while Scott discovers a clue that might indicate that Ramona’s not quite over her final evil ex-boyfriend.
O’Malley’s cartoony style really brings out the fun and goofiness that’s so important to this series. The wide-eyed look of the characters also reinforces their youth and energy. The manga influence on his work is undeniable, as is the synergy his art has with American animation from recent years (one can’t help but be reminded of The Powerpuff Girls house style at times, for example). What’s more impressive is how Pilgrim can shift gears and offer a radically different visual approach. When a minute detail is needed to advance the plot, he’s able to bring a realistic, meticulous look to the linework, as he does with a view of the contents of a desk drawer. His panel layouts are inventive and also help to sustain the energy of the storytelling.
In my review of the first Scott Pilgrim graphic novel, the over-the-top, video-game-esque ending, featuring the title character’s first grand battle, didn’t appeal to me at all. I wrote that it wasn’t enough to put me off of the book overall, though. Now I appreciate the fantasy/video-game riff that’s an integral part of the property. I see what O’Malley’s doing; he’s incorporating magic into the grounded lives of his 20-something cast. It’s fun, and it allows Pilgrim to stand out from the slice-of-life genre as something unique.
I was struck by the fact that if I were to meet Scott Pilgrim in real life, I don’t think I’d like him all that much. Sure, he’s fun, but he’s a Peter Pan archetype, desperate to cling to his youth. He’s irresponsible and either oblivious to or ambivalent about the feelings of those around him. He’s defined by his coolness and his fighting ability and little else. Perhaps O’Malley is offering the audience a glimpse of our misspent youth or wants to hold a mirror up to his younger, hipper readers. But ultimately, I don’t get why Ramona is into him, other than the fact that he’s not nearly as much of a dick as her previous suitors.
Ultimately, I was torn. There’s no denying the power and skill of O’Malley’s storytelling, and there’s definitely an infectious kind of fun and energy to be found in this book. I also applaud him for offering up such an accessible script; my memory of the previous chapters is hazy at best, but I found I didn’t need to reread them. Hell, I don’t think one need even be aware of the previous volumes to appreciate and understand the plot in this fifth one. Despite the strengths of Scott Pilgrim Vs. the Universe, I found there were elements that didn’t sit right with me or that I didn’t really get. I have to chalk it up to the simple fact that I’m not really a member of O’Malley’s target audience, that I’d be singing a different, more positive tune if I were able to turn the clock back 15 years. 7/10