It is my very learned opinion that Bryan Lee O’Malley made an excellent choice in the structure of his first two “Scott Pilgrim” books. In the first book, we didn’t have much ground to stand on in regards to the character-based drama/comedy, and so those bits fall at least a little bit flat. In return, however, O’Malley gave us one of the coolest comic book fight scenes I’ve ever seen. In Scott Pilgrim Vs. The World, however, the fight is almost an afterthought to the growing supporting cast, but because of what he started building in Scott Pilgrim’s Precious Little Life, the focus on Scott’s weird friends and weirder world just flat-out works.
The issue begins by fleshing out Scott’s history with Kim Pine. It’s the first of many brief backstories we get, and among the most pressing. In fact, as early as Volume 2, O’Malley has already started to expand upon the book’s central premise. Last time, I talked about how Ramona’s evil exes were used to represent, in the most entertaining way possible, the worries you always have when you date someone new, the inevitable and subconscious comparisons to past relationships. Of course Ramona thinks they’re evil – in one way or another, those relationships were all broken. And of course Scott thinks they’re evil – they’re the competition, and he needs to fight them all. But here, O’Malley challenges those fundamental ideas, both that they’re evil and that the situation is unique to Ramona.
After all, the supporting cast gets fleshed out A LOT here, but it’s not Scott’s awesome gay roommate Wallace, and it’s not Young Neil, or Stacey Pilgrim or any of the other characters we’ve met, but the exes. Scott Pilgrim Vs. The World is about Scott’s exes and Ramona’s exes, and it’s about treating them as people and seeing some of their side of the story. Scott WAS undeniably shitty to Knives, and, we learn, Ramona was just as shitty, in almost the exact same way, to this installment’s Evil Ex, Lucas Lee. As Wallace remarks, maybe Scott and Ramona really are a match made in heaven, two people who’ve left a trail of bad relationship choices behind them, but who have recently been getting over having their hearts broken for the first time.
So, in the interest of meeting the exes the issue fleshes out, meet Kim Pine.
Kim is one of Scott’s closest friends… and an ex from high school who clearly still has some feelings for him. She doesn’t seem too terribly thrilled about the idea of Scott dating Ramona, or Knives, or anyone really. In Scott Pilgrim Vs. The World, we get to see Kim as a teenager, Kim as a member of Scott’s band, Kim with her roommates, and Kim at work. Kim is kind of a cipher, but in a series that treats Scott and Ramona’s exes as people to be overcome, she’s a refreshing change of pace. For whatever reason, even though Kim isn’t over Scott, she hasn’t let her relationship to Scott define her – she’s low key, bitter, but still ultimately a friend. I don’t know if she’ll become an Evil Ex or not, but Kim seems to be the only major character who seems to have her shit together at this point.
Meet Knives Chau.
Knives is Scott’s 17 year old ex-girlfriend, and she doesn’t take Scott’s clumsy break-up very well. Scott was her first kiss, and her first love (the panel after Knives declares her love to Scott is one of the weirdest, funniest panels we’ve seen yet), and she’s not willing to let him go. It doesn’t help, of course, that Scott’s terse, disinterested break-up leaves her with some mixed signals.
Is Knives emotionally stable? Not even remotely. But she had her heart broken carelessly by Scott, only to find out that he immediately had a new girlfriend. Here, Knives plays the role of Scott’s first Evil Ex, assaulting Ramona in the Toronto Reference Library and providing us with a brief, but extremely energetic fight scene, one that’s particularly funny thanks to Ramona’s utterly nonchalant reactions. Given that Scott’s fight with Lucas is largely a non-event, this helps keep the book’s energy running strong, but it also serves another purpose: Scott isn’t the only one fighting for a new relationship, now. Just like Ramona’s past can’t quite let her go, Scott’s keeps cropping up, too.
Meet Lucas Lee.
Lucas not very bright, but he’s honestly not a bad guy. We got no sense whatsoever who Matthew Patel was, other than one of Ramona’s Evil Exes, and Patel’s cadre of demon chicks helped sell the ‘Evil’ part of ‘Evil Ex’ quite well, but O’Malley gives us a little more depth on Lucas and nothing, really, to dislike. The worst thing anyone says about him is that he’s a sellout – and he certainly is a sellout, we learn – but does that really qualify to make someone evil? Even Scott seems unsure of that.
According to Lucas, Ramona is the evil one, here: she cheated on him, left him for someone better looking, then promptly forgot him completely. Lucas is bitter, and kind of a tool, but he’s not a bad guy. He even drops 14 dollars and a Mithril Skateboard when he falls for Scott’s admittedly juvenile bit of trickery. Would a bad guy drop such great stuff? I sincerely doubt it, sir.
And meet Envy Adams.
Speaking of Scott’s past popping up, Envy appears to have broken Scott at some point in his past, his last major relationship gone incredibly sour… but still at least a little unresolved. Of all the exes in the book, Envy had the most potential to be played as ‘evil’, but O’Malley avoids it even here – at least so far, Envy is a lot like Lucas, an Ex who seems evil more because of her immense success than anything else. The series of six nine-panel pages where we first meet Envy are delightfully disjointed, a confusing selection of images that begins with a stunned, almost blank two-page splash, and ends with Scott passed out on the floor, then curled up in a fetal ball. Her call worries Wallace. Her call worries Stacy. Her call makes Kim jealous and self-conscious. Envy Adams appears to be a force of nature in Scott’s life, and I’m eager to see how her meeting with Ramona will go.
Scott Pilgrim Vs. The World takes O’Malley’s series in an interesting direction by populating it almost entirely by Scott’s exes, rather than Ramona’s. Yes, we have the fight with Lucas, and we meet Ramona’s Third Evil Ex at the end of the book, but we get some depth on THREE of Scott’s exes, all of whom are in town, hell, all of whom are in the same room with Ramona by the end of the book. Something’s gotta give, though I’m not sure what that will be yet.
O’Malley definitely surprised me here. I’d been expecting the book to coast along in the same vein as Scott Pilgrim’s Precious Little Life, but Scott Pilgrim Vs. The World instead offers a new direction for the book, one that combines the hyper-stylized video-game culture with slightly more emotional maturity, and stronger character-based comedy. If Scott Pilgrim’s Precious Little Life looks at the initial surprises of a new or hoped-for relationship, then Scott Pilgrim Vs. The World is an apt way of looking at the first explorations of your significant other’s past, as you learn a little bit about their past, the people who are (and are no longer) important to them, and things they might not be so proud of.
– Cal Cleary
The Unread Canon #10: The Punisher MAX: Up Is Down and Black Is White
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Coming Up August 21st: The Punisher MAX: The Slavers