Scott Pilgrim vs. The UniverseScott Pilgrim vs. The Universe; Volume 5
By Bryan Lee O'Malley
From Oni Press
Well, it wouldn't have been fun if it was just 180 pages of Scott enjoying himself.
The fifth volume in this series picks up right where the fourth left off, with Scott turning the frighteningly ancient age of 24. Complete with his pledge to be the best 24 year old ever, Scott is living with the lovely, oft-mystifying Ramona Flowers, working as a prep cook, and is only a handful of evil ex-boyfriends away from securing his lady's heart. Business appears usual in the surreal realm of Scott, his failing band, and his many, many women.
But it isn't business as usual. A rising tide of maturity seems fast approaching in this volume and Scott Pilgrim's series matures in the same way as our hero himself. The change reveals itself subtly at first, when his first brawl, a robot proxy courtesy Ramona's twin ex's, is limited to merely background action, thrusting his friends and their relationships into the forefront. The scrapping is treated as window dressing, as if to illustrate how juvenile Scott's way of life is through the lens of, well, everyone else. As evident by the total betrayal of confidence by Sex Bob-Omb frontman Steven Stills, his aloof, irresponsible shtick may even be getting old with his own friends, even if he is the center of the universe.
This volume is about the repercussions of previous ones. Slowly, but surely, over the course of this volume, the world begins to grow up around Scott, and, surprising though it may be, he keeps pace. The faux-reality surrounding Scott's life slowly breaks down, looking less like a video game, and more like a real life, albeit a precious little one. Of course, there are still twins for Scott to battle in this volume, but it is not they who land the crushing blow to his life, but rather, once again, Scott himself doing the damage.
Bryan Lee O'Malley continues his work as a master draftsman here. No lines are wasted, as each visual choice serves a specific narrative purpose. This commitment to storytelling is best illustrated by the jerky, inconsistently sized sound effects of Scott cutting vegetables, where O'Malley uses an audio method to depict Scott's poor work habits. Though it is a subtle flair, O'Malley's understanding of what a strong narrative device a sound effect can be shows just how great a cartoonist he has become. He doesn't just write a story, then draw it, he conveys the story visually, using sequential tricks to show that which can't be told.
While there is a loss of some of the series' more charming innocence in this book, it is still the same fun series. It is still rife with the hip-cultural touchstones, incredibly lame parties, battling, posing, and catch phrases that never cease that have made the success it has been. O'Malley has even thrown a bone to superhero comic fans, with some choice X-references, that actually bear relevance to the story, for good measure. It is still the same, but the overall story suddenly feels very near to a finish. It just feels like life is getting real. Ramona's reluctance, Knives' lunacy, Kim's pining, and Scott's aversion to responsibility all have active roles in this plot, giving the sense that all that has come is finally building to a head, and that progress is bringing us very clear to the series' conclusion.
O'Malley has said for a while that he doesn't always think particularly highly of Scott, and this volume begins to show us why. Despite his attempted turnaround, our fairly lazy hero's actions have consequences, broken hearts may need mending, and Scott's furious fists aren't always the best problems solvers. Even Scott may not be awesome enough to fix this.
Then again, he probably is. Because, I mean, c'mon. He's Scott Pilgrim.
We'll find out in the next and final volume. Until then, savor this one, because comics with this much action, intrigue, and visual innovation don't come out every week.