Monday, January 03, 2011

The future? Like... with jetpacks?

Scott Pilgrim may be my kryptonite. Or my ambrosia, whatever. It perfectly combines virtually everything that I like into one compelling package, and I can't help eating it like candy.

I'm talking about the comics here, although I'm now highly curious about the movie as well.  The comics combine:
  • Humorous characters and situations
  • Video game references
  • Manga drawing style
  • Epic fight sequences
  • Fantastic situations rendered matter-of-factly
  • Rock music
  • Politeness


I enjoyed the books from the very beginning, but didn't realize how special it was until... probably about halfway through the first volume. The story opens on a group of friendly young folks, mostly in their early 20s. Some of them play together in a rock band, and otherwise they work simple jobs, hang out, reflect on past experiences, and date one another. It's enjoyable because of the great attitudes everyone has. I was initially tempted to use the word "slackers" to describe these folks, but that doesn't really fit. This isn't an early 1990's-style sense of ennui, pointlessness, and general alienation from the universe. These people seem interested, interesting, dynamic; they just haven't sorted out exactly what they want to do yet, but they're enjoying the journey, not rejecting life.

The cool bit comes after Ramona enters the scene. She's a delivery girl for It turns out that she's the ONLY delivery girl in all of Toronto. They only need one, because she's so fast. Why's she fast? Well, she uses roller blades, for one thing. For another, she can access subspace to teleport between points nearly instantaneously.


Scott doesn't understand Ramona at first, but his lack of understanding doesn't come from a place of, "That's physically impossible!" Instead, it's the same lack of understanding that makes Ramona think that Canadians worship the Queen: it's more of a cultural gap than anything else. Once Scott gets his head around subspace (which he can do more easily than, say, realizing that he knows someone who owns a car), it becomes a matter-of-fact part of his life, just like video games and sushi.

I absolutely love this attitude, and it permeates the whole series. The author doesn't slyly wink at you about how there's a mixture of "real" and "imaginary." He's fully enthusiastic about every aspect of the comic. This is a work of fiction: EVERYTHING is equally real and imaginary. And it isn't just Scott and Ramona; the whole ensemble approaches subspace, glowing heads, destructive martial arts combat, and more with the same elan that they bring to concerts, cooking, and romance. I love how much the book downplays the really amazing stuff; after Scott defeats a villain, he complains that he didn't take the skateboarding proficiency in 5th grade and so cannot use the skateboard item the enemy dropped.

Random thoughts:

Scott may be the most endearing dope I've run across yet. He's so ludicrously dense about so many things in life; my favorites included how he was convinced that the second evil ex-boyfriend was Luke Wilson, his vague recollections of prior romantic relationships ("omg scott u r so awesome!!!"), the way he fails to recognize people who he's met multiple times the day before, and on and on. For all that, he's so cheerful, and pleasant, that you have to root for him. (I do find it hard to believe that he's dated so many great girls, but whatever, it's fiction!)

I liked pretty much everyone in this entire series, with the sole exception of Julie, who you aren't supposed to like. Even the evil exes are mostly good guys; you can imagine them hanging out with Scott, and sometimes they do, before attempting to kill him.

I think the video game angle was played just about perfectly. When I had first heard that there were video game references in SP, I had assumed that it would be a significant part of the comic. Instead, they're just accent notes, perfectly inserted in small amounts at just the right places. When Scott defeats an evil ex-boyfriend, they typically drop coins. He levels up a couple of times, obtains two special swords (the POWER OF LOVE and the POWER OF UNDERSTANDING), an extra life, and the aforementioned skateboard item. This isn't played as a Penny Arcade type of thing, where those in the know are rewarded with extra humor; it's more proletarian, something everyone can enjoy. (Well, I guess there are a few exceptions. At one point Scott asks Stephen Stills whether working as a dishwasher will be like a "job system", which is a Final Fantasy reference; and, Scott and Ramona's special move that finishes off the final villain looks an awful lot like one of the combo attacks from Chrono Trigger.)


Like I said before, I like pretty much every character in this book, to the point where I could have been perfectly happy if Scott had ended up with one of the other love interests. I mean, Ramona is great, but I also really really like Kim. For a while in Book 6 it looked like they might get back together, and I thought that would be a great ending. Knives is extremely sweet, even when she's in assassination mode, and Lisa has a really refreshing openness. That said, I'm perfectly content with where the storyline ended up.

That said, just who is going to get these great girls? I was amused and surprised to discover at the end of the book that, other than Scott and Young Neil, every character in the book is either a girl or gay. Young Neil seems likely to end up with Stacey, another great female character who we don't get to see enough of.

The ending itself was perfect. Not exactly ambiguous, but open-ended. I liked the thoughtful but low-key way that they worked a message of sorts into the story at the end. "People change, but you can find the right people and then change together."


Like I said before, I'm curious now to check out the movie sometime. I tore through this series very quickly, and find that I'm still hungry for more.

One last random thought - as I continue to read more and more comics, I've been interested to notice that the most idiosyncratic ones seem to come from singular artists, dedicated individuals who both write and draw their own ideas. The two I'm thinking of right now are Bryan Lee O'Malley and Jeff Smith. In contrast, more mainstream comics usually follow the standard combination of separate writers and artists. I'm not totally sure what to make of this. It isn't that there isn't anything important happening from within the comics establishment, of course; Neil Gaiman, Alan Moore, and Frank Miller all came out of more traditional comics publishers, and did really inventive things to the medium. Still, I don't think any of them come off as quite as out-of-nowhere as Bone or Scott Pilgrim do... those latter two comics have a unity of vision, and a vision so utterly unique, that it would be hard to imagine it coming from a collaboration.

Um, that's it. Ooooh... I just discovered the Power of Understanding! New T-Shirt unlocked! Yay!

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