Warning: This review ABSOLUTELY contains spoilers for both the upcoming film Scott Pilgrim vs. The World and the entire Scott Pilgrim comic book saga.
Scott Pilgrim vs. The World is the second volume in the story of Scott Pilgrim, 23 years old, and Ramona Flowers, American ninja delivery girl. Volume 2 picks up right where volume 1 left off. Scott is still dating Knives Chau, 17 years old, but is obsessed with Ramona, who keeps turning up in his dreams whether he likes it or not – a convenient sub-space highway runs through his subconscious and Ramona uses it for deliveries. Scott desperately wants his relationship with Ramona to work and, at the insistence of his roommate Wallace, Scott breaks up with Knives. What he didn’t count on is Knives’ fury in the face of this breakup, nor could he have predicted that she would become a vengeful stalker, bent on ruining his new relationship by any means possible. As if that wasn’t bad enough, Scott has to face Ramona’s second evil ex: pro skater turned action star Lucas Lee, and in addition to this, Scott’s ex-girlfriend-now-successful-musician Envy Adams is in town. Envy wants Sex Bob-omb to open for one of her shows, and as it turns out, Envy is also dating one of Ramona’s evil exes…
Scott Pilgrim vs. The World follows all the rules for making a good sequel, which I outlined in my article on the best sequels of all time. To tackily quote myself: the best sequels always seem to expand the universe established by the first movie, but in a way that seems natural to the progression of the story being told and the characters at the center of it, and Scott Pilgrim vol. 2 does exactly that. The writing, humour and overall style of Scott Pilgrim vs. The World haven’t changed since Scott Pilgrim’s Precious Little Life. The tone, the thick-lined drawings, and the movie and video game references are all still present in full force. But that doesn’t mean that volume 2 is just a copy of volume 1 – far from it! In SPvsTW, Bryan Lee O’Malley has begun to up the ante when it comes to the cartoonishness of the world he has created while still keeping one foot grounded in reality, and the result is one heck of an awesome second instalment. Everything is bigger and wackier, and the characters all begin to grow before your eyes. There’s MORE of everything you loved about volume 1, and it’s great.
For starters, there are more meta fourth-wall-breaking moments in SPvsTW. Such as Scott’s remarking on the funny lines that appear around Ramona’s head whenever she is distressed, Scott’s ideas about Rome (“Vespas? Are those Italian? Rome is in Italy, right?”), and the Sex Bob-omb dinner party vegan shepherd’s pie recipe/cook-along. These little outside-the-comic-frame moments are funny and really enjoyable, as they make the reader feel more included in what’s going on in the story. Having Stephen Stills look out at you from your book and teach you how to make vegan shepherd’s pie makes you feel like one of his bandmates, there at the dinner party with the rest of the gang, and I’d be lying if I said I didn’t want to make the dish and eat it as I read the scene.
Another element that has increased since the last Scott Pilgrim instalment is the video game references. Rather than engage in a big fight with Lucas Lee, Scott instead challenge Lucas to do some tricks on a massively long staircase. Lucas tries,but ends up going “TOO FAST TO LIVE” and bursting into flames. After he disintegrates, he leaves behind a pile of coins (much like Matthew Patel did after his defeat), but this time a special item pops up: a Mithril Skateboard. Unfortunately, Scott doesn’t possess the prerequisite skateboarding skill, so the item disappears in a blink. It may seem like just another video game reference gag, but it paves the way for some seriously cool items that Scott will recieve/unlock in future volumes. But I’ll talk about those more in my reviews of the other volumes.
One thing I find truly remarkable about the Scott Pilgrim comics is the way the characters develop. O’Malley isn’t afraid to change his characters’ clothes and hairstyles, which might seem like a minor detail, but take a moment to think of how it sets Scott Pilgrim apart from most comics. Pick a comic, any comic, and I guarantee that through most issues, the characters’ clothes and hairstyles stay exactly the same. Even Calvin and Hobbes, which I consider to be the greatest comic in all of history, generally features Calvin wearing his trademark red stripey shirt, black pants and red sneakers, with his hair always spiky in the same way. And, I mean, that’s fine. There’s really nothing wrong with drawing a character the same way every time. It does mean, however, that when we see Ramona’s hair change colours, or we see Scott wearing different clothes from the ones we first saw him in, it registers with us that these characters are changing. O’Malley also pulls this trick in the opposite chronological direction by giving us glimpses into the characters’ pasts. SPvsTW opens with a long flashback showing how Scott and Kim met in high school, formed a band, briefly dated, and how Scott saved Kim when she was kidnapped by a rival school and held prisoner (ending with an epic rooftop battle in the rain). But it goes even deeper than that. What I found even more effective than this (granted, awesome) flashback is the inclusion of side characters like Monique and Sandra, Scott’s former classmates. They only appear in one scene and they say very little, but these side characters imply a history beyond what we’re privvy to in the Scott Pilgrim books. These kinds of friendly acquaintences turn up in our lives all the time, and their inclusion, even just in the background of some scenes, adds depth to the characters at the forefront of the story. As I said in my review of Scott Pilgrim’s Precious Little Life, the characters in the Scott Pilgrim universe feel three-dimensional and realistic – the kind of people you already know.
I’m starting to run long with this review, so I’ll start wrapping things up, but before I do I want to talk about one character who is introduced in this volume: Envy Adams. We’re given very little insight into who Envy is in SPvsTW, but what little we do find out foreshadows much drama to come. Envy (a nickname derived from her initials: N.V.) broke Scott’s heart one year before the start of volume 1, and Knives is the first girl Scott has dated since the breakup. We aren’t given the specifics of Scott and Envy’s relationship, but we see the effect she has on him very clearly in the scene where she calls him on the phone to ask him and his band to perform at her show. Nothing malicious or nasty is said, but by the end of the conversation, Scott is completely broken. Wallace returns home to find Scott crumpled in a ball on the floor, whimpering, soul destroyed. Wallace’s hostility at the mention of Envy is another indicator of the damage this girl has caused to our hero. It’s an interesting moment, and you just know that it’s setting the stage for something big in the next volume.
Scott Pilgrim vs. The World is another great entry into the Scott Pilgrim series. It’s visually terrific, the characters are great, the story is awesome, the fights are wicked…it’s everything you could want in a comic, I say! If I had one complaint, it would be that the Scott Pilgrim/Lucas Lee fight was pretty lame, but Scott even comments on how lame it is, and it’s totally made up for later with a fight between Ramona and Knives in the Toronto Reference Library! So in case you hadn’t gathered, I loved this book. If you haven’t read it, I definitely recommend checking it out!
5 out of 5
Coming Soon: Gill’s review of Scott Pilgrim & The Infinite Sadness