In reviewing this final volume of “Scott Pilgrim,” it’s almost impossible to talk about the book without discussing a few of its events and themes in even the most oblique of manners. So while this review is mostly spoiler free, there are some slight mentions of a plot element or two. No big plot twists are given away here, and the conclusion in particular isn’t ruined. But if you don’t even want to know the most basic elements, like the fact that Scott, Ramona, and Gideon do actually appear in this book, then we suggest you bookmark this review and come back after you’ve read your own copy. What are you waiting for, by the way? Go out and buy it right now.
It’s hard to believe that after six years, the “Scott Pilgrim” series has just come to a close. For a lot of readers, I’m sure the debut volume is still fresh in their minds, full of Nintendo in-jokes and frantic energy as they first met Scott Pilgrim, Ramona Flowers, Kim Pine, Stephen Stills and all the rest of the characters tangled up in a story nominally about defeating Ramona’s seven evil exes so that Scott can become her boyfriend.
If you go back and re-read those early volumes now, the comparison between them and “Scott Pilgrim’s Finest Hour” is a little startling in how the series has changed. The early volumes had a lot of charm and wit about them, and it’s no small wonder that Bryan Lee O’Malley quickly picked up a following for his series. But “Scott Pilgrim” is a series that, perhaps because of its planned six volume run, has let its main character grow and change a great deal, and with his evolution has also been that of the series in general.
It’s that changing and growing part that the first third of “Scott Pilgrim’s Finest Hour” focuses on almost exclusively, and in many ways I think it’s the best part of the book. It’s a process that began in the previous installment, “Scott Pilgrim vs. the Universe,” but as a theme it’s even more clear here. O’Malley draws a series of strong contrasts between Scott and most of the other characters of the series in this final chapter, and it’s done with a underlying confidence that allows the creator to show just how bad a state Scott is in without Ramona, while not making his protagonist look weak or unworthy of our time. That’s in part because, while a lot of “Scott Pilgrim’s Finest Hour” is about the characters growing, O’Malley has definitely grown as well, refining his skills over the past six years. He’s in a different place creatively (and possibly personally) than he was when “Scott Pilgrim” debuted in 2004.
Of course, since this is “Scott Pilgrim,” sequences about characters growing up will inevitably have characters literally wrestling their own demons and denials, and it’s that lighter touch that O’Malley continues to bring to the series. Important discussions will still end with captions like, “And then Wallace bought him sushi” and we still get statistics when characters enter the scene. O’Malley realizes that you don’t have to lose the silly in order to bring in the serious, and there’s a strong balance on display here.
It’s that slightly more serious side that comes back into play for the final third of the book, which of course has the showdown we’ve all been waiting for: Scott vs. Gideon. Unlike most of Scott’s opponents, there’s more to defeating Gideon than just a well-placed kick, although that, of course, is necessary. It’s probably why this fight is the most satisfying since the very first duel against evil ex #1, Matthew Patel. That one stood out because it was such a surprise, but here it’s much more than that. It’s rare that a fight scene is able to effectively tie up so many plot threads in a series, but I don’t think anyone’s going to walk away disappointed. It’s both a physical and an emotional fight, and O’Malley merges the two together effectively.
It’s also nice to see how many plot threads, both major (the mysterious glow around people’s heads, or the strange appearance in subspace during “Scott Pilgrim Gets It Together”) and minor (Stephen Stills’ dating woes, Envy Adams’s career) are tied up in this book as well.
In terms of art, O’Malley’s also improved a great deal since the start of the series. I liked his art even before then (if you haven’t bought “Lost at Sea” yet, do so) but it’s a little startling to compare how much stronger he’s become since “Scott Pilgrim’s Precious Little Life.” Characters are drawn with a much crisper, more confident line; I can’t imagine O’Malley in 2004 being able to pull off scenes like the arrival of an extravagantly dressed singer in the club, for example, with the massive butterfly wings, furls of fabric, and crazily coiffed hair.
O’Malley’s layouts are also stronger than ever. There’s always a clear line-of-sight for a reader’s eye to move across the page from one panel to the next, and his way of using a left-hand column to introduce a character back into the book is eye-catching without ever being confusing. Even the smaller details work out well here; when Scott is running towards the club Chaos on page 93, the perspective on the page lets the top of the panel have the smallest and finest details, growing as your eye moves down the page. By the time you get to the bottom of the panel, it’s anchored by both Scott (much larger than anyone else there, and also highlighted in white while the rest of the page has gray screentones on top of it), as well as the large “ANYWAY” block letters right before the end of the panel. It draws your eyes down to the word and to Scott, providing a transition both from the end of the previous scene, as well as shifting us into the page’s other panel of Scott running. When you turn the page and we’re inside the club itself, O’Malley doesn’t make the change of location feel abrupt or out of the blue; he’s made sure you know exactly what’s going on.
Some of the other artistic touches are a lot of fun, too. The cartoonish “memory cam” sequences of how other characters remember their pasts is a hoot, with O’Malley drawing those panels in a fuzzy, childish, indistinct way (just like the way so many old memories are). Some of the background details just add an extra nice touch to the entire affair, like the spiral-shaped clouds on page 174, or how the sound effect “KRAK” on that same page is in white and looks like it was cut out of the art itself. Even the use of white space is well-handled here, in just the most critical moments of the book.
It’s been a while since I’ve been so emotionally satisfied by the end of a series of books, and I have to hand it to O’Malley for simultaneously giving his readers exactly what they’ve been wanting while still pulling a lot of surprises out of his hat. There’s a lot of closure involved, but it never feels like it’s dragged out too long or that the pacing is even slightly off. “The Return of the King,” it’s not; we dwell on the victories and departures with just the right amount of time needed for each, and then move on.
I suspect if you go back and re-read the entire series, you’ll be struck by how much is different when it’s all said and done. “Things can’t be the same, can they?” says one character towards the end of “Scott Pilgrim’s Finest Hour.” The question and response might as well be talking about the series of books as well as the contents of this particular one. “Dude…things never were the same. Change is..it’s what we get.” In this case, I’d say O’Malley’s shown everyone that change can be a great thing. Well done.