Scott Pilgrim vs. the World seems poised for cult status, a moderately successful film doing far better as a home release. Given its renewed success, we’ve decided to review the original six graphic novels in two parts, and later, the film adaptation. This review covers the first three volumes, originally published between 2004 and 2006:

Scott Pilgrim’s Precious Little Life
Scott Pilgrim vs. the World
Scott Pilgrim and the Infinite Sadness

Titles:

Scott Pilgrim’s Precious Little Life (2004)
Scott Pilgrim vs. the World (2005)
Scott Pilgrim & the Infinite Sadness (2006)

All six volumes can be purchased as Scott Pilgrim’s Precious Little Box Set
Writer and artist: Bryan Lee O’Malley

Premise:

Scott, age 23, plays in a mediocre band, lacks clear direction in life, and is dating a 17-year-old schoolgirl. His life changes for the stranger when he meets Ramona Flowers, an American-born courier with a mysterious past.

High Points

I really enjoyed Precious Little Life, and understand why it led to such a successful series. Some may find the shifts in tone off-putting. The initial events have a comparatively realistic quality, as though we might be reading a slice-of-life, filtered through various media conventions. We’re not only seeing the obvious hyperbole of comics, but also the influence of various media that have saturated the lives of these characters. Most notably, Scott and his friends see the world in terms of videogames. Humorous labels with names, status lines, and fun facts appear beside characters. Scott’s younger sister gets rated “T for Teen.” People reference the world through game and media cliches. This much is real life; I hear this all the time. At a high school football game awhile ago, I overheard a teenage girl suggest at halftime that she and her friend go to the food stand “while the game’s on pause.” More recently, an acquaintance in the military had a younger person refer to his possible promotion as “leveling up.”) Only in the final portion of the first book do we really understand that we’re in some bizarre world where videogame conventions and actions intrude into real life. Comics are the perfect medium for O’Malley’s approach; we’re used to the graphic world blending everyday concerns with fantastic heroics. And while I cannot shake the feeling that O’Malley started writing a very different story, I found the results satisfying.

So perfectly does Scot Pilgrim’s Precious Little Life tell its story that the first act of the film adapts it almost panel for panel, line for line, changing mainly the overall tone.

Low Points

Both Scott Pilgrim vs. the World and Infinite Sadness move around in time and space in order to flesh out the characters’ personal histories. Scott Pilgrim vs. the World manages these shifts fairly well, but O’Malley overreaches himself in Infinite Sadness, and some readers will find themselves needlessly confused. The individual backstories and events hold up, but O’Malley’s art here lacks the ability of, say, Terry Moore’s to juggle the multiple timeframe and locales.

The Scores

Originality: 5/6. O’Malley’s influences are many, but the results remain surprisingly fresh, half a decade later.

Artwork: 4/6. The manga-inspired drawing works, but the characters have not been physically differentiated to the degree that they should, and at times I had to stop and think about who anyone was. Scott and Ramona resemble each other uncannily (perhaps deliberately, but it’s still confusing), and the minor characters often lack clear distinguishing characteristics. This can be a particular problem given the sheer number of people who populate this story.

This is not to say that the illustrations have no power. Indeed, many individual panels capture beautifully and affectingly the feelings of the characters, most notably the heartbroken Knives Chau, a far more developed and realized character in the novels than in the film.

The story has been set in Toronto. The characters visit the Dufferin Mall and the Metro Toronto Reference Library. They read NOW and play Lee’s Palace. Those who know the city will enjoy this fact, while those who do not will appreciate the real-world weight of the setting.

Story: 5/6. See High and Low Points.

Characterization: 5/6. The key characters are recognizable types, at least, and Scott and Knives, from the beginning, feel like real people.

O’Malley excels in realistically witty dialogue. He captures the essence of the aimless young adult/arrested youth, and weds it to a gaming-influenced comic-book world. Most of these moments require context to really appreciate. Scott, for example, yells a series of increasingly less impressive insults (beginning with “You suck! Surprising no one!” so the bar isn’t high in the first place) at his roommate as the bus he is on pulls away. Moments like this occur frequently and, in context, prove a lot funnier than one might expect.

Emotional response: 4/6.

Flow 4/6.

Overall: 5/6.

In total, the first three volumes of Scott Pilgrim receive 32/42

FUN FACT: Only with the third novel do Ramona and the promotional material (the cover blurbs, for example) stop referring to her “seven evil ex-boyfriends” and shift to “seven evil exes.” It seems possible one forthcoming plot twist had not been imagined yet.

Three volumes remain; Scott Pilgrim’s challenges have just begun.