Wednesday, June 02, 2010

Review: Scott Pilgrim, Vol. 1: Scott Pilgrim's Precious Little Life

Scott Pilgrim, Vol. 1: Scott Pilgrim's Precious Little Life
By Bryan Lee O'Malley
Published by Oni Press. $11.95 US

You might think Hollywood's harvesting of comic book properties would make me happy, at least when they get it right. The fact is sometimes it tickles my inadequacy bone. How? Well, there's still plenty of comics I haven't read, but that isn't what my friends, family and co-workers think. At least, the friends and family and co-workers who don't read comics just kind of assume I'm their personal Comic Book Guy, because that's pretty much how I socially market myself. So when Persepolis or American Splendor or V for Vendetta are about to hit theaters, I know I'm going to be humbled by the familiar confused, almost betrayed expression on the face of that acquaintance who - confronted with the fact that their personal Comic Book Guy has failed to read Ghost World - will feel as if they had just asked their best computer geek friend a question and been answered with "Mac? What the hell is a Mac?" So when I saw a trailer for Scott Pilgrim vs. the World, I was determined that this time I would educate myself on the source material in time to fulfill my end of the social contract.

Library card, ACTIVATE!

Scott Pilgrim is a 23-year-old Canadian slacker on the rebound with a 17-year-old high school girl enthralled by Scott's band Sex Bob-Omb (and I'm really curious how they're going to pronounce that in the flick because even just trying to pronounce it in my head I keep stuttering). Pilgrim soon learns that a girl that's been rollerblading through his dreams, Ramona, is actually a real, live girl. He becomes obsessed with her, grabs her attention, and learns that in order to date her he will have to fight and defeat Ramona's 7 evil ex-boyfriends.

Right away, Scott Pilgrim felt like something I shouldn't like. Hip, witty banter, twenty-something slackers, liberal, working their hardest to make geekery appear cool - it seemed like the kind of stuff I generally balk at, precisely because I feel like it's being aimed directly at me (well, not so much the twenty-something part anymore). Big Bang Theory doesn't impress me, I don't get through many conversations about Kevin Smith without using the word "overrated," and when Kyra Sedgwick cried under the huge Mother Love Bone graffiti in Singles I thought it was such blatant pandering it made me want to smack her more than that fake southern accent does on The Closer.

Scott Pilgrim won me over, though. It distinguishes itself from stories with similar kinds of characters and settings with an extremely likable protagonist and, well. It may sound cheesy. But the overall dynamic of Scott Pilgrim's characters is just so refreshingly warm hearted. There's none of the misanthropic, pseudo-intellectual bull I initially expected from the story. And everyone seems to like each other even when they don't really like each other. It isn't so much that there's no conflict between the characters, but impartial as they might want to be, usually in stories like this it's clear the writer is trying to very hard to make me like these characters over here and hate these other characters over there. Scott Pilgrim doesn't feel like that. Even Matthew Patel, the first of Ramona's evil ex-boyfriends and the first volume's only villain, doesn't really feel all that villain-y.

Speaking of the fight with Patel, that was something else that impressed me. Something, in fact, that every writer bone in my body tells me shouldn't have worked. For the first 3 quarters or so of the first volume, there isn't much that's particularly supernatural or science-fiction-y or any other word you'd use to describe a story that goes beyond the events of what is possible. If you didn't know any better, until the end you might read it thinking it was autobiographical (with a lot of exaggerations, sure, but hell, I know people who thought Coyote Ugly was nothing but an hour and a half of pure FACT).

When Matthew Patel bursts through the roof of the concert hall where Sex Bob-Omb is playing, the story changes dramatically. A fight ensues that feels like equal parts video game and rock musical. Coming so close to the end, I won't lie - it nearly derailed the whole thing for me. I think, when I realized the fight dialogue was rhymed, I actually, really, audibly groaned. It just shouldn't have worked. It was like an average romantic comedy waiting until the last half hour to violently spasm into something more ridiculous and off-the-wall like Airplane or The Naked Gun.

But it works. Don't ask me how. Even though, you know, I'm a reviewer and that's kind of my thing, don't ask me how. It works. I think, again, it's the lighthearted feel of the comic. Even though it's introducing a brand new element to the story, or at least, blasting the volume on an element that was barely audible before, it's not taking itself too seriously and as a reader I felt obliged to follow its example.

Scott Pilgrim is funny, silly, even a little sexy, and I'm looking forward to the other volumes (which I plan on buying instead of borrowing from the library).

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