Tuesday, July 20, 2010

Happy Scott Pilgrim Day: The Top Five Moments Thus Far.

If you live near a comic book shop that doesn’t completely suck you’re probably celebrating Scott Pilgrim day. The final volume of Brian Lee O’Malley’s slacker opus hit stores yesterday, leaving me to weep bitter tears and avoid spoilers with all my might as I wait for the stupid bookstores to get their hands on my reserved copy.

To fight off the tears I’ve decided to highlight my five favorite moments from the five prior volumes that make up Scott Pilgrim.

Scott Pilgrim for those poor bastards who don’t know, is the story of the titular hero. A slacker in his early twenties, who lives in a world where videogame logic works. Which is why nobody finds it very odd when Scott is forced to duel his new girlfriend’s seven evil ex boyfriends to win the right to date her.

Scott Pilgrim is a frothy, mix of mid twenties angst, indie rock, comic books, and video games, that goes down easy. But its also one of those wonderful and strange pieces of art that is actually much richer then it appears. Sure its still at its core a work about attractive twenty somethings occasionally sleeping with one another and more occasionally leveling entire city blocks. But it develops into a story about why we fight. For anything, love, friendship, art. What it is that makes people who don’t put themselves on the line as a matter of course put themselves out there and make a stand. And sometimes the answers it finds are kind of beautiful.

And its always goofy and fun as can be.

So without further ado, the five moments that make Scott Pilgrim kick ass.

5: Scott Pilgrim And The Infinite Sadness: Vol 3: Showdown at Honest Ed’s.

Scott has shown up to duel the new boyfriend of his rockstar ex. Who has vegan fueled psychic powers. Believe it or not, that’s pretty par for the course for Scott Pilgrim. That’s an important frame of reference for you to keep.

Because shits about to get weird.

What happens when the two run into Honest Ed’s can perhaps be described as a scene from Evil Dead II reimagined as a scene from Akira. The savings from Honest Ed’s overwhelm our heroes to the point where even hockey gloves and wrap around shades can’t protect them from the talking deer heads. Or as a secondary character puts it, “Do you know how when a baby is first born it just cries from the sheer horror of being alive?”

The effect is indescribable which is kind of the point. O’Malley for all his other gifts has the rare ability to drop the floor out from under you, and still have it be a surprise after the fourth or fifth time he’s done it. Anything can happen in an O’Malley comic and its never feels anything less then organic.

4: Scott Pilgrim’s Precious Little Life: Vol 1: First Date:

It takes a lot to make a girl seem worth mortal combat with seven evil assholes with varying levels of superpowers. And its to O’Malley’s credit that he totally does. Ramona far from being a simple Maniac Pixie Dream girl, is sketched and layered as a very real person. But even before O’Malley started adding depth to her in some real and unexpected ways, he always made her intrigue.

The first date between Scott and Ramona takes it time. Its not so much in the writing as the way that O’Malley captures the feeling of meeting someone you think is the most intriguing person in the world, with his gorgeous sparse artwork. As the snow moves in and the world moves out Scott and Ramona’s first scene because as quietly a lovely portrait of first connection as I’ve ever seen.

3: Scott Pilgrim Gets It Together: Volume 4: Climax

Where the hell to even start?

It sometimes seems that the mythology and the emotional content of a particular piece of fiction exist on a see saw. Pile more on one end and the other will suffer for it. So watching O’Malley suddenly ramp up both in the closing pages of book four. Is like something that shouldn’t theoretically happen, happen. Call it a miracle if you want. The word’s been chucked at lesser things.

Starting with Scott being chased into Ramona’s mind, and realizing very quickly that there are dark things in there. Things that he is no where near ready to handle. It’s a stellar example of O’Malley’s skill at literalizing metaphor on a narrative level. How many times have we been confronted with something ugly in a significant other and been forced to choose fight or flight? Speaking personally I can say that twice I've looked into that "room" turned and ran in the other direction. Once I feel I was justified. The second time, I still feel ashamed of.

Things stack up out in the real world, and just when it seems that flight has won out. Scott shows a heretofore unknown depth of character, and chooses to fight past his/their issues. And also a ninja. He has to fight one of those as well. Actually two ninjas, if you count the father of his ex. And an evil version of himself.

And that’s what I’m talking about. O’Malley just has scenes like this that are running at four or five different levels. Ranging from Ninja fighting, to heavy exposition, to the emotional core of the series hitting new heights. The kind of grace with which he waltzes in between these shifts in tone, often from panel to panel, is just crazy.

2. Scott Pilgrim Vs. The Universe: Volume 5: 32:

Lets face it, a lot of Scott Pilgrim is just plain lifestyle porn. Illustrating the kind of twenties that nobody ever quite has and everybody wants.

So its shocking the ferocity with which O’Malley takes a baseball bat to the knees of the fantasy he’s so intricately constructed. Bringing every truth ugly to the forefront of his story. Watching casually as the characters rip into each other and things fall apart. Scott Pilgrim Versus The Universe ends with the world of its characters in tatters. And all hopes for a happy ending seemingly gone.

It makes the ending of The Empire Strikes Back look like the ending of Return Of The Jedi.

And it all starts here. One Page. Five Panels. O’Malley sums up the rot that can creep into even the healthiest relationships like sepsis. And he does it using the exact same iconography he used to document the original infatuation.

1. Scott Pilgrim Vs. The Universe: Volume 5: Sorry About Me.

The ending of Volume 5 is pretty devastating. But it’s the moment when one of the characters gets to prove they’re better then both we the readers and they the characters, think he is, that really breaks my heart.

I don’t want to give away to much about this scene. I’ll just say that it involves Scott and my favorite character/shameless fictional crush, Kim Pine (And the fact that she hasn’t shown up on this list should tell you just how much great stuff there is in Scott Pilgrim) as one of them leaves the other.

Though out the series, Scott, though likable, has basically been rather shallow, and really kind of a douche. This is a scene of him rising to the occasion, of him slowly making himself the better person he needs to be. And it is genuinely a moving one.

To give away the build up to what makes this scene so moving would be too much. But to describe what happens in it I’d like to turn to a quote from Glenn Kenny on a recent piece on The Searchers.

“And yet when it comes down to the wire, both characters are visited by an irresistible force. One could call it grace, as I have; one could call it the Holy Spirit. One might be best off in calling it love.

I’d say that’s a fair description of what happens to Kim and Scott at that lonely bus station.

It's an emotional cresendo that I can only hope that O’Malley can sustain through the climax. Not love in the romantic sense, but love in the knowledge that the person before you deserves better then you can give. And if you want to look yourself in the mirror, then you will have to be better then you are. Recognizing that leap, and then making it.

I think he will.

After all, as those five moments demonstrate he’s surprised me before.


The Dirty Mac said...

I owe you, Mr. Wilson, for my love of Scott Pilgrim. It's easily been one of the best parts of my College career so far, and I'm pretty sure I throw a quote from it into normal conversation everyday. I can't wait to see how it all ends, as well as the surely excellent movie.

Bryce Wilson said...

Glad I could be of service.