I read Scott Pilgrim in its original manga-sized, black and white form when it first came out. With the final volume of the color version coming out this year, I thought it would be a great time to revisit the story as well as looking at how the addition of color changes things. I’ll be exploring the story and themes volume by volume. This time, volume 2.
Beginning by revisiting the themes from last time, there is again the theme of extended adolescence. O’Malley does not add much to this over the last book. Nearly all of the characters are in the same place as they were before. O’Malley adds a few more examples of Scott’s extended adolescence and immaturity in this volume. Last time I wrote about how his dating of Knives Chau was a prime example of how he didn’t want to grow up after his last breakup left him devastated and against being an adult in relationships. Unfortunately for Knives, he meets Ramona soon thereafter and begins cheating on her. In this book Wallace once again tells him to breakup with Knives. He declines saying he doesn’t want to “because it’s hard”. He only finally agrees to break up with her when Wallace threatens to tell Ramona about Knives if Scott doesn’t do it. As I mentioned before, while there are adults that don’t want to deal with the pain of breakups and sometimes just let relationships drift into nonexistence, it is still a sign of immaturity. Scott needs to think about others, particularly the young and vulnerable Knives who he will hurt more the longer the charade goes on.
The next bit of immaturity comes when Envy Adams invites Sex Bob-omb to open for The Clash at Demonhead. Presumably, the goal for many (if not most) bands is to make it big and have the band provide a good chunk of the band members’ income. It’s not as though the members of the band are professionals doing this on the side. They have jobs, but none of them appear to have dream jobs they’d be sad to lose if the band took off. Yet, Scott wants to reject the offer simply because Envy broke his heart. A large part of growing up, especially when you’re in an insular field (like the music industry), is learning to deal with people with whom you’ve had a relationship. Scott wants to throw away opportunity simply to avoid seeing Envy. Stephen Stills’ worry about the band not being good enough is a more rational fear.
Finally, like a spoiled child, Scott complains to Ramona that his parents are the worst because they’re living it up travelling Europe while he’s living in a studio apartment with another guy, sleeping on the floor. He refuses to take responsibility for his situation and expect his parents to support him even though he’s not going through a crisis or suffering from any disabilities.
Another thing I wanted to chart through the books is Knives Chau’s personal growth. Even though she’s the youngest (along with Young Neil), I remember her having the biggest growth arc through the books. Scott is her first major boyfriend and their kiss in the last book was her first kiss. So it’s tragic that as she’s trying to get Scott to come meet her parents (which I remember wanting all my girlfriends to do in high school even though it’s pretty ridiculous nowadays since almost no one marries a high school girlfriend), he breaks up with her. She doesn’t quite have the most rational response to this, but she’s only 17 and this is also a world where people travel through dreams and burst into coins after fights.
Her reaction starts off pretty normally. First of all, she rationalizes. Because Scott gave her the excuse that he’s much older than her, she sees him as sweet, not a jerk. She sees his dating of Ramona as Scott just trying to find a girl that’s closer in age. She also dyes her hair in an attempt to show she’s not just a little kid. Again, many women change hair styles after a breakup or to signal she’s different or grown or emerged from a conflict; so not too irrational. Then things get a little odd (though, not for the Scott Pilgrim world).
She attacks Ramona at the library with a pair of Knives. The fight goes all over the place, manga style, but clearly it’s a metaphor for wanting to eliminate the new significant other taken to the extreme. She will REALLY eliminate Ramona. However, during the fight she realizes that she’s seen Ramona before when she was with Scott. She comes to the conclusion that Scott was cheating on her. I think the most interesting thing about the way O’Malley writes this is that Scott was NOT cheating on Knives when he spotted Ramona (he was just freaking out because he’d seen her in his dreams), but he WAS cheating on her later. While it’s not uncommon for people to continue wanting to date in the face of cheating, it’s certainly not a rational choice (especially when Scott hasn’t apologized or tried to make amends). She declares herself a Scottaholic and the fight ends.
Finally, at the end of the book we see her dating Young Neil. She has matured to the point of spite dating. Not the best idea, but people do often need to feel wanted when they’ve been broken up with. However, the cracks in her resolve are revealed when she gasps upon finding out that Envy and Scott were once a pair.
I think that makes this a great point to take a look at how O’Malley explores dealing with the past and Ramona’s Seven Evil Exes. The previous book touched upon the impact of the past on our present and introduced the metaphor of battling the seven evil exes. With this book, O’Malley plunges us into the series’ thesis as the book starts off with a flashback to Scott at 16 as he joins a new school. We often have small moments that lead to life-changing consequences. In a not uncommon scene, Scott is assailed by school bullies simply for being the new kid. This lands him in the principal’s office where he meets Lisa. Their strange relationship, which I’ll touch on later, leads to her insistence that Scott learns to play guitar so they can be in a band. This leads Scott to ask geography classmate Kim Pine to join his band as the drummer. So a chance school fight leads to the Scott we know today.
That flashback also reveals a surprise that underlines Kim’s disgust at Scott’s girlfriend behavior. While her disgust makes sense no matter what – Scott was dating an innocent high schoolgirl and then cheating on her with a girl he instantly is infatuated with – it turns out they dated in high school. Not only did they date, but it’s implied they lost their virginities to each other.(They certainly had sex, but I think it’s reasonable to assume the virginity-loss perhaps since they’re only 16) It appears the relationship only broke off because Scott’s family moved away as opposed to falling apart due to personalities or actions.
How does Scott Pilgrim get Kim to join his band and become his girlfriend? A rival school has kidnapped her and he battles nearly the entire school and finally her captor to save her. After reading Scott Pilgrim’s Precious Little Life in which a girl travels through dreams and a guy summons a demon army that turns into money when defeated, nothing about this flashback seems out of place. But this is a great sequence that rewards the reader upon second read. We don’t know it yet (if we’re reading for the first time), but Scott is an unreliable narrator. I don’t remember how the corrected memory goes, but we’ll get to it in a couple books or so. The important thing is that O’Malley is creating another powerful metaphor through exaggeration. This entire sequence is both about the fallibility of memory and how we are the heroes of our own story. Scott is literally the hero of this story, but humans inherently take inputs into our brain about the world and then figure out how we fit into it. Our memories are about how we affect the world and how the world affected us. Even the egregiousness of how wrong Scott is about this memory happens in real life. I’ve seen family stories morph with time depending on who is telling the story. Things become more grandiose as we rewrite the stories with each telling.
Of course, another way we deal with trauma is to simply block it out or refuse to remember it. Something has gone seriously wrong with Scott’s memories beyond what I wrote above. As I mentioned last time, he tells people he doesn’t drink, but we see him drink. While speaking with Ramona he tells her he doesn’t even remember any of his high school girlfriends. He says this despite currently being in a band with Kim; the girl he probably lost his virginity to. When Kim tells Ramona she dated Scott, he’s there any doesn’t deny it. This is the inexplicable stuff. But there’s also the trauma we know about – the breakup with Envy Adams – that led to him forgetting all of his senior year of college. He tells Ramona he doesn’t even remember if he graduated. His reaction to the breakup is pretty common – to be in a funk that was only lifted when he finally found an amazing restaurant. So the past is affecting Scott even if he can’t remember it or remembers it incorrectly.
This is also the first time Scott’s past begins to come to light for Ramona. So far Scott’s had to deal with the consequences of Ramona’s past, but he was a blank slate to her. Now she’s aware one of his bandmates is a former girlfriend and the ex that devastated him is about to mess with his life again by having his band open for hers. She also has to deal with his freakout over his haircut because his hair was long before that last breakup. We all have little neurosis in our partners that we have to deal with and some of them were caused by previous partners.
That brings us to evil-ex Lucas Lee. He is a pro-skater turned movie star. Just as Uwe Boll makes tons of money by creating universally panned movies, Lucas Lee is raking in lots of money in universally panned movies. No one likes a sellout, but no one hates a sellout more than those who are slumming it and “keeping it real” like the members of Sex Bob-omb. It can be an especially acidic form of sour grapes – especially since Lucas Lee seems to be pretty nice for an Evil Ex. When he quickly beats up Scott Pilgrim, he offers for them to take a break and have some lunch. His undoing is his inability to stay away from a skateboarding challenge that has him reach critical speed and explode. In the first sign that perhaps Ramona and Scott are more alike than it seems at first glance, Ramona cheated on Lee (with a pretty boy).
Our next article will be interesting because in the next book, both Scott and Ramona have an evil ex in The Clash at Demonhead. In fact, both Todd and Envy cheated on Scott and Ramona to get with each other.
Like last time, a quick list of some of the great Gen X/Y references:
- The title has 8-bit in “vs the world”
- Their first band is called Sonic & Knuckles
- p192 “are you an item – what Scott imagines”
- Clash at Demonhead ( see p218)
- p131 Mithril skateboard
- Twice Scott tells someone to read the book sometime to find out about events that happened in book 1
In the Gideon watch section (which rewards subsequent reads because Gideon doesn’t mean much otherwise): Ramona adopts a stray cat and names him Gideon.
A new theme I wanted to start tracking is that of Scott Pilgrim as a jerk. Sure, in the first book his treatment of Knives in the face of his attraction to Ramona was a jerk move. But things really step up in this book, especially with his treatment of Lisa. He seems friendly enough when they meet outside the principal’s office, but every other time she tries to hang out with him, he’s outright hostile to her. Eventually she asks him, “Do you hate me?” We’ll continue to follow this theme in future books.
Scott also has moments of lucidity outside of his ridiculous cluelessness and memory loss including impressing Ramona with his cooking skills.
Finally, I wanted to mention that O’Malley’s style may look simplistic, but he has a lot of artistic talent within that style. A great example is how he uses space in the frame quite well. This is best illustrated when Scott breaks up with Knives.
What do you think about these themes? Did you find others or do you want to discuss these? I’d love to discuss them in the comments!
Scott Pilgrim vs The World by Bryan O’Malley with colors by Nathan Fairbairn. Buy it through our affiliate link and help support Comic POW!: Scott Pilgrim Color Hardcover Volume 2: Vs. The World