Readers of The Lost Art

Scott Pilgrim: Series Review

December 6th, 2010

Author and Artist: Bryan Lee O’Malley

Reviewer: Louise

Note: I assume throughout this review that you’ve either read the books, or don’t mind being spoiled for them. 

Scott Pilgrim is the eponymous star of a set of six books, all of which are reviewed below. He’s also the star of the recent movie based on the books, “Scott Pilgrim vs. The World”, which I’ll get round to reviewing once I’ve seen it. First, a little backstory… 

The first encounter many members of the Readers of the Lost Art had with Scott Pilgrim was the short story featuring him and his friends for Free Comic Book Day a few years ago (probably 2007). I remember little of it except that I was confused about who the characters were, and that it featured Scott puzzling about a girl he knew who’d become an actress after he saw a poster for a film called “The Girl Who Kicked Me”. Most of us were left resoundingly unimpressed by Scott, thanks to this story, and thought no more about it until the film appeared. Suddenly, posters started appearing in the Odeon bearing the legend “Get the Hot Girl. Defeat Her Evil Exes. Hit Love Where It Hurts”. And we were like “Whuh? They turned it into a movie? Back up a little here…” 

Looking back, I rather feel that Scott and his companions (because “Scott Pilgrim” is very much an ensemble book) were sold a bit short by Free Comic Book Day. I suspect the story used for that event is one that would make far more sense to regular readers, or at least people who’ve read book 1, “Scott Pilgrim’s Precious Little Life”, since Scott’s world isn’t quite like ours. Read on to find out how…


Scott Pilgrim 1: “Scott Pilgrim’s Precious Little Life”

 Scott Pilgrim vol. 1 

In which we meet 23-year-old slacker Scott, his sarcastic friends, his cool (and sarcastic) gay roommate Wallace, his slightly stalker-ish 17-year-old soon-to-be-ex-girlfriend Knives Chau, his cool new girlfriend Ramona Flowers, and learn of the Seven Evil Ex-Boyfriends*, including #1, Matthew Patel.  

That more or less sums up the plot, so here’s with the review. Vol. 1 feels fairly slow-paced, yet it’s an interesting little book, inasmuch as it reads pretty much like a straight-played comic about a group of slacker friends in Toronto. We learn that Scott shares a grotty flat with Wallace (and bed, though they’re not both gay – they just only have one bed), doesn’t have a job, plays bass guitar badly with his kind-of-crappy band Sex Bob-omb, and is sort-of dating a 17-year-old schoolgirl with the interesting name of Knives Chau following a bad break-up a year ago. And then Scott meets Ramona Flowers, deliverygirl extraordinaire, and things start to get interesting. 

I’ve read reviews of Scott Pilgrim which comment that the final sequence of the book, where Scott fights Ramona’s Evil Ex-Boyfriend #1, Matthew Patel, in a video-game style aerial battle, is too much of a change from the more naturalistic style of the first two-thirds of the book. Certainly, much of it does read like a straightforward Friends-style tale of the lives of a bunch of twentysomethings, although there’s a fairly hefty clue to the fact that this isn’t set in the real world when Ramona explains that she can deliver so fast by slipping through “subspace tunnels”, and that she and Scott keep dreaming about each other because one of those tunnels passes through Scott’s head. Perhaps the problem is that if you were looking for a story being told in a completely straight way, this isn’t it, but the first two-thirds of the book might lead you to think it is if you don’t read closely. 

I suppose it depends a lot upon whether you enjoy Scott and Matthew’s battle. Personally, after a large chunk of the book in which Scott wanders about being indecisive (albeit in a very funny way) and mucking his young girlfriend around, I found it was about the right point for Scott to actually do something decisive and yell “Guys, get off the stage!” to his bandmates, as Matthew bursts through the roof shouting “Consider our fight begun!”. The clash between the conventions of heroic quests / videogames and the real world is really funny, as Matthew goes from yelling “It is I, Matthew Patel!” to muttering “Didn’t you get my email explaining the situation?”. 

In some ways, it’s actually rather a shame that [SPOILER] Matthew Patel got vapourised so early in the series, as his ability to wear lots of eyeliner and summon demon fireball-wielding hipster chicks to fight his battles was pretty funny. It also sets up the rest of the series nicely. Scott defeats Matthew with the aid of all of his friends, Ramona explains that he’ll need to defeat her remaining six evil ex-boyfriends (“You dated seven evil dudes?” “Not all at once!”), and we get the impression that Scott is going to really need his friends to help him survive the challenges ahead. Buckle up – the ride’s beginning!

 * As they are referred to in the books, and as the series creator prefers them to be referred to. Yes, I know. You’ve seen the movie poster. I’ll deal with this in my review of Vol. 4.


Vol. 2: “Scott Pilgrim Vs. The World”

 Scott Pilgrim 2

In which Scott’s ex-girlfriend and current girlfriend battle it out in Toronto’s Public Library, we learn more about Scott’s friends and bandmates, and Scott gets thrown into a building by Evil Ex-Boyfriend #2, Lucas Lee.

 Scott has defeated Ramona’s Evil Ex #1, and is now hanging around waiting for Evil Ex #2, ex-skateboarder and “sell-out” film star Lucas Lee to put in an appearance, so they can fight. We also learn a bit more about Scott and his pals’ histories, and about Scott’s very own Evil Ex, Envy Adams. 

For those who were wondering, it’s pretty clear throughout this book that Scott and his pals aren’t stuck in a videogame being controlled by someone else. It’s just that in their world, the conventions of videogames apply; so Ramona can run through subspace tunnels, Knives Chau can battle with a pair of sais and run up walls, and when Scott defeats Evil Ex-Boyfriend #2, Lucas Lee, Lee turns into a pile of coins and a Special Object (a Mithril Skateboard, which Scott can’t use since he failed to pick up a Skateboarding Proficiency earlier on in life). 

We also learn here that, happily, the series will not just be about Scott fighting Ramona’s ex-boyfriends over her whilst she hangs around in the background like a swooning maiden. Ramona’s a pretty nifty fighter herself, which comes in handy since Knives Chau has turned from heartbroken schoolgirl into love-crazed stalker. It  becomes clear that, whilst Scott may be the protagonist of the series, he’s also something of a… well, I think the word “douche” is flitting across my mind here. His treatment of Knives in the first book was pretty self-centred and unintentionally cruel. As Wallace comments, playing his role as the Gay Best Friend and Voice of Wisdom to perfection, perhaps Scott and Ramona are a perfect match for each other, given that a woman with seven demonically angry ex-boyfriends maybe didn’t treat some of them too well, either.

 Scott and Lucas’s final battle is a bit of an anti-climax; but this book is really more about the history of the characters, and O’Malley has a knack for creating an interesting set of people. Oh, and there’s a really good recipe for vegan shepherd’s pie, as well.


Vol. 3: “Scott Pilgrim and the Infinite Sadness”

In which Scott’s very own Evil Ex, Envy Adams, appears, Envy and Ramona slug it out in a battle royale featuring high-kicks and giant mallets being swung at people’s heads, and Scott faces off against Evil Ex #3, Todd Ingram, in a Bass Battle. (Which Scott is destined to lose, since Todd Ingram can actually play bass.)  

Scott Pilgrim 3In which Wallace, Stephen Stills and Julie Powers are still very cool and very awesome, and it’s about time for Envy to appear, since she’s been built up throughout books 1 & 2 as a major figure in Scott’s life (a mere phone conversation with her leads to Wallace finding Scott curled in the foetal position on the apartment floor), and book 2 ends with the revelation that Envy is in a band with Ramona’s Evil Ex #3, Todd Ingram, and they’re dating. 

Book #3 is very much the story of Scott and Envy’s break-up, told in flashbacks throughout the book. Unfortunately, I found it sometimes a little hard to keep track of which is the current timeline and which is the flashback, although it did help when I realised that the pages with black borders were the flashbacks. Some slightly better signposting would have helped. 

Though the lightness of “Scott Pilgrim” is very much what makes it fun, it wouldn’t work if the characters were cardboard cut-outs, and Scott and Envy’s breakup is a familiar tale well told; two people dating in college who grew apart. Although Envy acts pretty evil, she’s characterised well enough that whilst we cheer for Ramona in their fight (where Ramona whips her giant hammer out of her purse for the first time – no, that’s not a euphemism!), we still care for Envy when the ending leaves her [SPOILER] minus both her boyfriend and her band. 

The same cannot be said of Todd Ingram. Not the characterisation I hasten to add, as that’s done very well. Todd is excellently characterised as the first of the Evil Exes we really don’t like; a self-centred, narcissistic, vegan rock star who we’re just cheering for Scott to take out as fast as possible. You’ve got to love a book where the bad guy’s downfall comes from gelato. Speaking of bad guys, someone very important puts in an cameo towards the end of the book… read carefully!