Scott Pilgrim's Finest Hour
By Bryan Lee O'Malley
With John Kantz & Aaron Ancheta
Published by Oni Press
Review by Brendan McGuirk
When it's all said and done, Scott Pilgrim's resonance had less to do with the series' video game trappings, or the cutting-edge scenesterism, or even Scott's offbeat heroism than it did with one central, universal fact:
It's damn-near impossible to break-up without breaking down.
Much of Scott's Finest Hour is filled with what fans should expect; the final showdown with Gideon is satisfyingly epic, each of Scott's loves lost gets her moment, and Scott finally conquers his greatest adversary- his evil doppelganger self. Secrets are revealed, wounds are healed, and when it's all said and done O'Malley leaves no doubt that this was the ending to the series he'd always intended. Like the end of a relationship, it's a total bummer to acknowledge that it's all over, but that in no way diminishes what's been a tremendous ride.
Over the previous 5 volumes Scott did a lot of growing. He toppled evil exes, sure, but along the way he did cool stuff like leveled up in love, and got it together. But as Finest Hour opens, the still-devastated-over-Ramona Scott is at his nadir. Despite all his battles won, he lost the girl, and lost direction. The opening hearkens back to the the moment right before readers originally met Scott. In Volume 1, he was only just emerging from his yearlong funk after the Envy Adams breakup, using Knives as an obvious crutch to prop himself back up.
It may have been difficult for readers to latch on, and find Scott redeemable had they first met him in the midst of that self-pity. And now, as he's relapsed into weakness, shutting off and shutting down once more, there is no bubbly high-schooler to pull him from the brink. He's back at square one, and his friends are running thin on patience.
If Finest Hour was to be summed up in a single word, that word would be “reconciliation.” In order for our fairly aloof hero to achieve his next level-up, he needed to come to terms with who he has been, and how he has treated the people that cared for him along the way. Readers recognize that Scott has an innate lovability, a magnetism that draws both women and men, but Scott's problem is that he knows this too, and made a lifestyle of coasting on the goodwill it produced. Shirking social responsibilities is marginally acceptable for a kid, but somewhere along the line the “playing dumb,” act goes from charming and innocent to infuriating and negligent. There's no volume after this one, so if Scott Pilgrim is going to get it together once and for all, it's time to grab the ring. For Scott, this will mean, basically, total self-actualization. And once he pulls himself out of the fantasy and evaluates his own conduct, there will be amends to be made.
As much as this is the Scott Pilgrim series, that girl he's trying to get with or whatever is also probably somewhat important. But, as Scott himself said, her most defining quality, besides her constantly transforming mane, has up to now been her total mysteriousness. With Gideon, her most intimate ex, finally taking center stage, we learn more about Ramona in this volume than we have in all previous 5 combined. These revelations give depth to someone who, up to now, has truly been an object of Scott's affection more than anything else, driving the stakes of this story even higher.
In Gideon, the central conflict of the entire series is revealed. It's all been about dating, and relationships, and how one handles them. Gideon is the standard for how not do be. Vindictive, spiteful, and diminishing, he has fetishized the idea of Ramona and made her and all women into little more than avatars of rejection. He wants to punish them all for not loving him more. He and Scott share the compulsion to be loved, but where Scott shuts down Gideon acts out. He is the worst kind of broken man- the kind who wants to break the rest of the world to make it like him. Everyone's had their heart broken. Everyone puts those negative feelings somewhere. The world of Scott Pilgrim makes those feelings literal. Love is a battleground. Wage war honorably.
Maybe the broadest message Scott Pilgrim conveys is that break-ups are never the end. They feel like it; they feel like the end of everything. But they aren't. The show goes on. Life goes on, in most cases, for longer after the breakup than prior. Don't be a dick. Then it'll all work out. Eventually.
The epic of epic epicness pays homage to a few epics of the past. Barring specifics, there is a scene that evokes Empire Strikes Back, and the closing pages are pretty reminiscent of the closing moments of LOTR: Return of the King. It's nigh impossible to imagine a fan of this series enjoying this volume any less than its predecessors. It elevates the series. It matures the themes. It's the Finest Hour of the whole damn thing.
Rating: Awesome.Finest Hour!