COMICS: John Reviews “Scott Pilgrim Vol. 2” by Bryan Lee O’Malley

Ramona has purple hair!

Ramona has purple hair!

Welcome to part 2 of my series of Bryan Lee O’Malley’s Scott Pilgrim graphic novel reviews.  Today I’ll be taking a look at Volume 2 in the series, entitled Scott Pilgrim Versus the World (which, incidentally, is the proposed title for the feature film adaptation of the series.)

First, let’s catch up.  As we begin Vol. 2, 23-year-old slacker and musician Scott Pilgrim’s life has gotten substantially more exciting and complicated.  He is forced to choose between his platonic relationship with his 17-year-old “girlfriend” (in the most innocuous sense of the word) Knives Chau and his blossoming romantic relationship with the mysterious and spectacular Ramona Flowers (who works as the sole delivery person for amazon.ca and can rollerskate through shortcuts in the fabric of the universe.)  If he picks Ramona, he’ll have to do battle with the remaining six members of The League of Ramona’s Evil Ex-Boyfriends (having beaten the first at the end of Volume 1.)  What’s a guy to do?  And so begins Volume 2.

Rather than pick up immediately where Volume 1 left off, Scott Pilgrim Versus the World begins with an extended flashback sequence, fleshing out some details of Scott’s high school years that will doubtless become important in the present or immediate future.  We are introduced to the first two important women in Scott’s adolescent life: Lisa Miller, whom he befriends after losing his first schoolyard fight (before he can even make it through the front door!) and Kim Pine, who would later become the drummer for Scott’s bands.  Lisa absolutely adores Scott, but he somehow manages to never notice her advances.  He instead falls for Kim, whose antisocial attitude would give Daria a run for her money.  The trio (plus another friend) form a band called Sonic & Knuckles, and everything is fine until Scott’s family moves to Toronto and he must leave them all behind.  Meanwhile, back in the present, Scott has to figure out how to break up with Knives without destroying her self-esteem and how to beat Ramona’s next evil ex-boyfriend.  Things are going manageably until Scott’s most recent ex, Envy Adams (the one whose break-up took a year for Scott to recover from) calls to tell him some good and bad news: Her band, the monstrously successful Clash at Demonhead, needs another act to open for them at an upcoming show.  Scott is jealous and bitter, but it’ll be Sex Bob-Omb’s biggest gig ever, so he agrees to the gig.  The stage is now set for several confrontations that make up the bulk of the book:  Ramona Vs. Knives,  Scott Vs. Evil Ex #2 (Pro Skateboarder-turned-actor Lucas Lee),  and Sex Bob-Omb Vs. The Clash at Demonhead.  Who will perish, and who will live to see Scott Pilgrim Vol. 3?  What does that flashback have to do with any of this?  Find out in Scott Pilgrim Versus the World!

Everything seems to be ratcheted up several notches from Volume 1, from the art (which has taken on a far more cinematic feel, while at the same time embracing more of its manga pedigree) to the story (which is considerably longer this time around, and more action-packed.)  Fight scenes are a joy to behold even without the frequent pop culture and video game references, though those are a treat as well.  The overarching plot becomes a bit more layered and deep, with clues given regarding the checkered pasts of both Scott and Ramona.  In fact, one narration box calls attention to how little is known about Ramona Flowers, American Ninja Delivery Girl: “Age – unknown.  Everything – unknown.  Fun fact – unknown.”  Her ex alludes to a darker past, and warns Scott that she may not be as wonderful as she seems.  After all, how many girls inspire their exes to form a league dedicated to stopping future guys from dating them?

My biggest criticism with Scott Pilgrim Versus the World is the use of the flashback sequence and the establishment of so many similar characters.  Ramona may have seven evil exes (of which we’ve met three by the end of the book) but Scott is no slouch himself.  Lisa, Kim, Envy, Knives and Ramona either were or are vying for his affection, and all of that can get confusing.  I actually thought Lisa and Envy were the same person for most of the book, since Lisa isn’t mentioned again outside of the flashback and Envy is mentioned as though her past with Scott had already been established.  Silly me!

The video game references are back in this volume, and some of them are truly priceless.  When Scott beats his opponent and claims his victory coins, he is also rewarded with a special item.  In a send-up of one of videogaming’s most aggravating traits, Scott doesn’t have the ability to use the item and must watch despondently as it flickers out of existence.  There are a few nods to games like River City Ransom and Sonic the Hedgehog, as well as several broader genre parodies.  Like the first volume, it’s got enough in-jokes to keep video gamers chuckling without alienating the larger audience.

One of the most unexpected joys of reading this volume was the surprisingly haunting moments between Scott and Envy, his recent ex.  O’Malley perfectly captures just how awkward and painful a conversation like theirs can be (though I hope you’ve never had to experience such a thing yourself, dear reader!)  In general, I would say that Scott Pilgrim Versus the World breaks with sequel tradition by having the “real” moments feel even more real and meaningful than those in the first volume.  Of course, the action scenes are bigger and more action-packed as well, and there’s even a recipe for vegan shepherd’s pie!  What’s not to like?

In short, if you liked Scott Pilgrim’s Precious Little Life and want to know how the story continues, you will likely enjoy Scott Pilgrim Versus the World.  Next time, I’ll examine volume 3 of the series,  Scott Pilgrim and the Infinite Sadness. Till then!

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