Scott Pilgrim Vs. Yr. Heart

Bryan Lee O’Malley’s Scott Pilgrim series advances like a Trojan horse packed with heavy feelings. Volume one, Scott Pilgrim’s Precious Little Life, is the (s)lightest entry, though probably not the funniest. Precious Little Life introduces most of the series’ defining features: the slacker magical-realist milieu, O’Malley’s frequent nods to the visual language of video games and manga, and a deadpan (but broad) wit. What’s not evident from the first book is how easy it is to care about O’Malley’s characters, or how sad these books can get.

With Edgar Wright’s film adaptation only weeks away, the premise of Scott Pilgrim is by now familiar even to non-comics types: an aimless 23-year old dilettante musician meets a girl, falls in love, and then learns that he has to fight (and defeat) her seven evil exes before they can truly be together. (It probably doesn’t need saying, but these are comics that don’t take themselves too seriously.) By the end of volume five, Scott Pilgrim Vs. The Universe, Scott has taken down six of them (including a pair of twins!) in a succession of battle scenes that O’Malley draws with ever-increasing control and verve. But it’s the between-fight stuff in O’Malley’s books, sequences minus samurai swords, that pack the most punch. Scott and his friends inhabit a landscape of lingering crushes and burned bridges, and by volume three or four, the comics are dominated by a sense of how precarious–and how important, still–love and friendship both are.

The series’ sixth and final volume is titled Scott Pilgrim’s Finest Hour, but book starts before the hour does. In the volume’s hilarious first third (maybe the funniest stretch of pages in the series), we find Scott separated from his girlfriend Ramona and at his most pathetic. He turns it around eventually, in time to face Ramona’s evilest ex, Jason Schwartzman Gideon Gordon Graves, in a battle that O’Malley has teased for several previous books. The fight is sufficiently over-the-top–one reads it feeling like there was nothing O’Malley was afraid to try–but true to form, what comes afterward is the kicker. I wouldn’t think of describing it here, so suffice to say our goodbye to Scott and Ramona is like the series distilled to a few deftly drawn pages: a weird, moving mix of video game motifs and vicarious growing pains.

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