Scott Pilgrim Vol. 5: Scott Pilgrim Vs. The Universe (Oni Press)

scottpilgrim-header.jpgA look at the latest in Bryan Lee O’Malley’s smash hit series, soon to be a movie from director Edgar Wright (Shaun of the Dead).

 

 

 

179 pages B&W; $11.95

(W / A: Bryan Lee O’Malley)

 

So it’s come to this…Robots. That’s what the titular hero battles in Scott Pilgrim Vs. The Universe. If you haven’t heard of Scott Pilgrim yet, it’s time to get wise. The penultimate volume of the manga-inspired Canadian epic is out, and you’ll want to read it. You’ll want to read it not just because it’s excellent, but because the Edgar Wright-directed, Michael Cera-starring movie will be out next year. If the movie is good, you can say you were into Scott Pilgrim before Scott Pilgrim was cool. If the movie is terrible, you can tell everyone about the books’ superiority.

The cover to Scott Pilgrim Vol. 5 by Bryan Lee O'Malley. Click for a larger image.If you have heard of Scott Pilgrim, chances are you’ve already devoured Volume 5 and you’re reading this while taking a break from your fan-fiction script for Volume 6. And chances are your script will be nothing like the actual sixth volume. Since Scott Pilgrim’s Precious Little Life came out in 2004, the unlikely superhero epic has taken surprising turns. From its start as a very funny romantic comedy to its current state as a very funny science-fiction action romance, the series has embraced the unexpected. And in the half-decade since its debut, the story has become so twisted that only a mind-blowingly excellent final book will do the previous five installments justice. Of course, the progression of the story over the last five years proves that O’Malley is a talented enough artist and writer to pull off even the most daring feats of narrative acrobatics.

As I write this, I’m looking at the five books stacked on my desk and I’m struck by what an accomplishment the series is. For nearly 1000 manga-sized pages, O’Malley has cultivated and maintained a universe where realistic romance coexists with superhuman battles. Since the beginning, the balance between those two genres has shifted, and Volume Five seems to be the last big weight placed on the scale before everything falls apart.

The series has built up the premise that Scott can only stay with Ramona if he defeats her six evil ex-boyfriends. He meets the last two in this book, and they come with robots. It’s clear from the beginning that Scott will win the battle, but like with the previous fights, the victory costs him something. In this case, the expense sets up the cliffhanger for Volume Six, which will likely contain the last duel.

But Volume Five isn’t about the fighting. The action scenes go by quickly, and they’re sandwiched between O’Malley’s now signature mix of video game analogies, indie rock references and astute depictions of 20-something romance. O’Malley’s first book, Lost At Sea, centered on a young girl’s isolation amongst peers and friends. That theme is revisited in SP5, as Scott turns 24 and begins to cope with real life.

For the last five years Scott’s biggest victories have been against the realities and responsibilities of adulthood. Four books have ended with Scott getting what he wants through naivety, brute force, and luck. Those tactics stop working in Volume 5. The old line, "Of course he’ll be okay, he’s Scott Pilgrim," comes back early in this book, but it takes on a new meaning. (So does the concept of the fishwich; the existence of which is used to hilarious, but ultimately depressing, ends.)

The fact that the Scott Pilgrim books look like manga inside and out makes them more of an oddity. The overblown battles are in the books, but the romance is more realistic and more touching than anything I’ve seen translated into English. The storytelling is on par with any series out there today and the humor is top notch. Reading Volume Five has been a joy for several reasons, one being the opportunity to look back at the series and find new references and hidden jokes. Fans of video games will no doubt rejoice at several points in the series, including SP5’s back cover, which is modeled after NES game packages.

There’s so much in the Scott Pilgrim books thematically and artistically that readers of all types will be able to find something to enjoy. And while I think the series is almost perfect, I realize that’s only because it’s hit me at the right time. I’m in my 20s, I listen to indie rock and I like video games. Possessing any one of those traits makes parts of this book fun and understandable, but having all three makes it a masterpiece. | Gabe Bullard

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