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Greg finally gets around to reading Scott Pilgrim

by  in Comic News Comment
Greg finally gets around to reading <i>Scott Pilgrim</i>

Yes, I did.  I have heard so many good things about Bryan Lee O’Malley’s magnum opus that I figured I should read the confounded thing.  I never contributed to the discussions about it, pro or con, because I hadn’t read it (remember when people reserved judgment until they read or saw the thing in question?).  My only thought about it was that it didn’t sound like something I would be interested in, but I didn’t want to opine more than that.  So it was with some trepidation that I approached it, because I wanted to make sure I didn’t allow my pre-conceptions color my reading.  But can we ever do that?

Well, with regard to Scott Pilgrim, I’d like to tell you a story.  In 1989, I saw Lethal Weapon 2 with a friend of mine.  We were 18 and fairly typical American boys.  The theater, not surprisingly, was packed, mostly with other young men who wanted to see Mel Gibson kick some ass.  And boy howdy, we were not disappointed.  I was totally swept away by the action, and when Mel dropped that cargo carrier on the dude who killed his wife and poor Patsy Kensit (and after she showed us her breasts and all, too!), my friend and I actually stood up and cheered.  It was that kind of kick-ass awesome movie.  You just had to cheer Mel’s totally awesome way of killing the bad guy, even though he, you know, couldn’t hear you.

Well, these days, I still enjoy watching Lethal Weapon 2 (it was on cable a few days ago, and I did watch it), but it doesn’t have the same effect on me.  The Three Stooges thing that Mel, Glover, and Joe Pesci have going on is funny, and the bad guys are nice and evil, but it’s kind of a ridiculous movie, when it comes right down to it.  These days, I think Lethal Weapon 2 is much more suited for my 18-year-old self than my 36-year-old self (damn, I’m going to be 37 in a few months – I feel old).  And I feel the same way about Scott Pilgrim.

Now, keep in mind that I’ve only read volume 1, “Precious Little Life.”  That’s probably important.  Anyway, it’s not that Scott Pilgrim is bad.  It’s mildly entertaining, and O’Malley’s rather kinetic art makes it zip smoothly along.  But.  I can’t imagine anyone over the age of about 23 (which is how old Scott is) liking this any more than as a somewhat pleasant way to spend an hour or so (depending on your reading speed).  I certainly don’t understand the constant stream of praise the series gets.  Maybe the later volumes become much, MUCH better.  This first volume, however, is kind of like Lethal Weapon 2: it’s the kind of thing I probably would have liked 20 years ago but now look back on it and see far too many flaws to really think it’s all that good.

First of all, I should point out that there are a lot of funny lines in this volume.  O’Malley has very nice timing with regard to his layouts and how he sets up jokes.  There are a few laugh-out-loud moments, and the band that precedes Scott’s on stage (Crash and the Boys, with their 8-year-old girl drummer) is awesome.  The humor is somewhat juvenile, but it’s not crude (an important distinction), and it keeps the book afloat when the not-as-good parts threaten to drag it down.  Similarly, Ramona is a fine character, and, as one person halfway through the book puts it, “way too good” for Scott.  Her story about her relationship with Matthew Patel is cleverly done, too, as the art becomes much more sketchy and childlike to reflect the fact that it happened when Ramona was in seventh grade.  It’s just another way that O’Malley shows that he knows how to put together a good-looking comic.

              

There’s a lot that’s wrong with the comic, though, and most of it, I imagine, stems from my own personal prejudices (which, of course, are always present in a review, no matter how lofty someone claims they’re being).  The very idea of Scott dating a high-schooler is creepy.  Scott may be presented as unlikeable in this volume so that in later volumes we can witness his personal growth (as I’ve heard happens), but even if he’s just walking around with Knives Chali and occasionally kissing her and nothing further, this plot point is creepy and hard to figure out.  In this volume at least, there’s no reason for Knives to be in high school beyond the fact that it shows how shallow Scott is.  But if he were that shallow, he’d be, if you’ll pardon my language, fucking her.  His relationship with Knives is almost like something from another century, where Scott is courting her while her entire family comes along on dates with them (see: Good Morning Vietnam).  So he’s not being shallow when it comes to Knives, because he’s very respectful of her.  I’m not sure what purpose her high school status serves.  Obviously, O’Malley isn’t going to have Scott nail her, because not only would that be creepy, it would probably be illegal (based on laws here in the glorious United States – those sybaritic Canadians might have a younger age of consent).  So he has to have Scott treat Knives well, which undercuts the idea of Scott being shallow and dating a high-schooler just for the cachet.  Their relationship is so G-rated that it almost doesn’t register, until Scott falls for Ramona and he starts stringing Knives along.  Maybe in future volumes the importance of Knives’ age will become more of a factor, but I didn’t read those, did I?

             

Then Ramona shows up, and Scott falls hard for her.  This is when he starts treating Knives kind of dickishly, because she, after seeing his band, gets more into him just as he’s getting into Ramona.  This leads to the band’s gig, where the two girls (hilariously!) show up, and for a few pages, it becomes an episode of Three’s Company.  I’m certainly not faulting O’Malley for writing Scott that way, because he’s an immature jerk, but it’s still a juvenile stunt, and worse, it’s unoriginal.  It’s boring to read about Scott’s troubles with two girls at the same place at the same time, because we’ve seen it before, and it was dumb the first time.  But that’s a minor point.

Where the book really falls apart for me is when Matthew Patel shows up.  This sets up the remaining volumes, presumably, as Ramona tells Scott that he needs to fight her seven evil ex-boyfriends if he wants to date her.  This is why I didn’t think I’d like the book, and I’m kind of disappointed that I wasn’t proven wrong.  The fight between Scott and Matthew Patel is fine, I guess, but let’s look at it logically, if we can: Matthew gives Scott two warnings that they will fight, warnings that Scott ignores.  Then Matthew attacks, and the book turns into a video game.  Well, okay, not literally, but Scott and Matthew fight as if they’re in a video game, and then everyone else joins in, and absolutely no one thinks this is strange.  They take it all in stride.  Plus, Matthew has “mystical powers” and a posse of demon girls.  When Scott defeats him, he turns into coins.  Then, when Ramona tells Scott he has to fight all these evil ex-boyfriends in order to date her, Scott doesn’t ask her “Why?” which is the first question any sane person would ask.  Scott’s 23; he’s not a moron.  But he’s so smitten he doesn’t care.

            

People will tell me I’m being too square to appreciate the glory that is Scott Pilgrim.  Maybe I am.  I can suspend disbelief for plenty of things, however, but this pushes it beyond my limits.  First of all, there’s absolutely no indication that Scott and his pals are anything else than normal until Matthew Patel shows up.  Suddenly, they’re all super-fighters with cool moves who can deflect laser blasts with their bare hands.  It’s completely out of the blue, and simply makes no sense whatsoever.  If we’re going to accept that Scott has to fight evil ex-boyfriends (and why does he want to date a girl who only seems to hook up with evil boys?), we have to accept that the characters recognize the oddness of the situation and comment on it.  The bizarre shift to video-game mode is too jarring for me and takes me right out of the story, and I can’t get back into it.  I guess that’s my problem.

I have often said I don’t like video games.  I have never liked video games, partly because of the inanity of doing something for hours and accomplishing nothing tangible.  Yes, you’re involved with the game, which is more than you can say for watching television, but I have never played a game where I felt like I actually did something or learned something or was even entertained, which is where television is better than video games.  Now, of course, I’m just an old fart, so I doubt if I’ll ever get into video games.  But Scott Pilgrim shows another problem with video games – the randomness of it all.  Things just happen for no good reason whatsoever, and we’re supposed to accept it.  Maybe that’s fine in video games, but in relatively inconsequential comic books about a shallow kid who wants to date the interesting newcomer, it’s annoying.  (And yes, I’m completely aware of how much I’m making sweeping generalizations about video games, especially recent ones.  But that’s how I feel about them, whether I’m wrong or not.  If there was a video game called “Writer” and at the end, you had a complete novel about star-crossed lovers set against the turmoil of pre-Revolutionary Cuba, then maybe I’d change my stance.  Anyone recall a game like that?)

I’m conflicted about this comic, because I don’t hate it.  It’s fluff, though, and the love it inspires is baffling.  I can imagine people reading it and saying, “Well, that was pleasant,” but I can’t imagine anyone thinking it’s one of the best comics of the year.  To be fair, the fourth volume, which is the one people are praising, apparently shows Scott “getting it together” a bit more, so perhaps it’s not as minor as this is.  But people praise the whole series, and I just don’t get it.  I have no desire to read further, even if they do get better.

I’m not going to say I’m too old for this, because older people than I love this series.  So, please, explain to me why this is such a great comic book.  I’m not being snotty, I’m actually very puzzled.  It’s fine for what it is, but nothing special.  What am I missing?

(By the way, Scott Pilgrim’s Precious Little Life is by Bryan Lee O’Malley, is published by Oni Press, and costs $11.95.  If you’re interested.) 

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