COMICS: John Reviews “Scott Pilgrim Vol. 4” by Bryan Lee O’Malley

Ramona, now with Green hair, and Scott

Ramona, now with green hair, and Scott

Volume 4 of Bryan Lee O’Malley’s Scott Pilgrim series of graphic novels, entitled Scott Pilgrim Gets It Together, continues the advancement of the series’s overall plot while taking a slightly different thematic turn.  The drama is beginning to overshadow the action, no relationship seems to be safe from bitterness and strife, and the video game references are substantially toned down compared to previous volumes.  Scott’s life is changing gears, and it seems that he may have to change with it to keep up.

Recaps are becoming more and more difficult to do as the story progresses.  If you want to get caught up on the story, read my previous reviews or go to scottpilgrim.com for more info.  I’ll briefly sum up the events immediately leading up to volume 4:  Scott is still in love with American ninja delivery girl Ramona Flowers, and has thus far defeated three of the seven members of her League of Evil Exes.  Most recently, he’s had to deal with his own evil ex, rising indie music star Envy Adams.  Scott’s band is going to start recording an album, the lease on his apartment is almost up, and his continual lack of funds has finally forced him to start looking for a job.  Plus, he’s about to say the “L” word to Ramona, without knowing much of anything about her.  Thus begins Scott Pilgrim Gets It Together!

Tonally, this volume feels rather a lot like the middle of a series, specifically the start of the second half.  I’m not sure how many volumes O’Malley is planning to do, though, so I could be very wrong in my estimation.  Regardless, this volume is notable for changing the dynamic of Scott and Ramona’s relationship.  They’re no longer in the “honeymoon” period, and they actually start having fights and doing the stupid things real couples do.  There are home-wrecker characters on both sides who add to the tension by hinting at the possibility of infidelity.  I was thrilled to see Lisa Miller (all but forgotten since her appearance in a flashback sequence at the beginning of Volume 2)  return and get her time in the spotlight.  The Evil Ex element of the story is spiced up a bit this time around, with Ex #4 being an ex-girlfriend of Ramona’s! An amusing twist on a plot thread that some readers had likely gotten bored of.

In terms of art, O’Malley’s work gets more refined and crisp with each successive volume.  If he continues at this rate, an animated series adaptation would be a smooth and easy transition.  The first few pages of the volume have been colored (by Steve Buccellato) and are a visual delight.  They’re also on higher quality paper, which only makes me wish the entire book had been on the same stock.  It wouldn’t look or feel like a manga (which seems to be what they’re going for) but it would certainly make the book look brighter and feel nicer. The only serious visual criticism I have is, once again, the indistinguishability of the female characters.  Scenes with Ramona, Kim and Lisa together are difficult to follow, as all three physically resemble one another and frequently change their looks (I would never be able to tell Ramona apart if she stopped wearing her goggles and shoulder bag!)  Thankfully the guys are easy to discern, and the problem is nonexistent when the pages are in color.

A page from the color section.

A page from the color section.

O’Malley seems to have given the uncomfortable parallels to my personal life a break this time around, focusing instead on relationship drama that’s far more interesting and, well, dramatic than most people experience.  We learn about yet another failed relationship (or lack of one) in Scott’s past, and by the end you may find yourself agreeing with Julie when she says that Lisa is too good for him.  How does he manage to have so many women falling for him, anyway?  I guess it’s because he’s the hero…

The video game references are severely limited this time around.  Aside from a fantastic opening homage to Sonic the Hedgehog, there are a few Sims-style guages for things like “thirst” and “pee”, a recurring dream of Scott’s where he is in a Legend of Zelda-style adventure game, and numerous references to Scott’s EXP and levelling.  In an unusual change of pace, the EXP references really would confuse non-gamers a bit and are central to the story.  Hopefully this is just a one-time occurrance and the references will go back to being humorous background artifacts that do not interfere with the main story.

Scott Pilgrim Gets It Together is a middle volume, clearly setting up bigger and more climactic confrontations for future volumes while taking the story in a more grown-up direction.  If you’ve enjoyed the previous three volumes, by all means pick it up.  If you think the series has been going downhill since earlier volumes, this will probably not dissuade you.  Hopefully Scott’s battle with twin Evil Exes in Scott Pilgrim Versus the Universe will be a bit more captivating, and both O’Malley and Scott will manage to keep “it” together now that they’ve come so far.

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