Scott Pilgrim vs. The World – book review

The second volume of the Scott Pilgrim series begins with a flashback to his high school days. Scott’s the new kid in school, gets in a fight the first day, and befriends fellow new kid Lisa Miller. The two of them start a band (Sonic and Knuckles – one of the series’ main video game shout outs) together even though neither of them can really play and they lack a drummer. Lisa is clearly smitten with Scott, though Scott only has eyes for classmate… Kim Pine!

The first volume never hints at a romantic history between Scott and Kim, and I don’t think that author Bryan Lee O’Malley is cheating by introducing this in the second volume. Their relationship is far enough in the past that it has no bearing on their current friendship, though it does add a wrinkle to Scott’s relationship with Ramona.

In the flashback, Kim becomes Scott’s girlfriend (and the band’s drummer) when he rescues her from the evil Simon Lee – a boy at the rival technical high school. In video game fashion, Scott goes through a series of underlings and mini-bosses before taking out the big boss and winning the girl.

Whether Scott’s battles qualify as metaphors or magical realism doesn’t really interest me from a critical standpoint. From a world-building standpoint, his past with Kim serves to establish that what he’s going through with Ramona is nothing new – he’s fought these kinds of battles before.

Once again, O’Malley excels at suggesting a vast character history over the course of just a few panels. Scott and Kim’s relationship plays out in montage – their relationship begins, deepens, and comes to a crashing halt when Scott announces that his family is moving to Toronto.

Back in the story’s present, Scott is still avoiding the uncomfortable business of breaking up with Knives, even though his relationship with Ramona is turning into something serious. There’s a nice bit of character business when Scott learns that Ramona and his sister Stacy know each other, which is an easy detail to sympathize with. It reminded me of the moment on Seinfeld when George exclaimed, “A George divided against itself cannot stand!”  There’s an awkwardness when two people from separate parts of your life hang out independent of you, and O’Malley captures it perfectly.

The ever-helpful Wallace identifies the second Evil Ex that Scott has to do battle with –  Lucas Lee, a skateboarder-turned-actor (based on Kevin Smith muse Jason Lee) who Ramona dated in High School and has gone on to star in a number of ridiculously-titled, objectively terrible, and terribly popular movies.

Prior to fighting Lucas, Scott has to deal with the ongoing complication of his relationship with Knives Chau. Although he begins to show less and less interest in her (which never works) she is still so smitten with him that she drops the L Bomb on him. To his credit, Scott seems to realize that things have gone too far and breaks up with her immediately.

Scott struggles with his guilt over breaking Knives’ heart for something like 3 panels before he cheers himself up with thoughts of Ramona. That night, in another fine slice of life moment, he impresses Ramona with his modest cooking abilities and they share a meal sitting on the floor of his crummy apartment.

In addition to the flashback, this volume gives us a little more insight into Kim’s life – she dreams of Simon Lee killing Scott and she drops some serious snark-bombs on both her roommates and her coworker Hollie, a minor recurring character for the rest of the series. In service of the plot, she  works at the video store Scott goes to in an effort to bone up on the filmography of Lucas Lee on the advice of Wallace.

Kim’s job at a crappy video store, and her indulgence of Scott and his freakishly high overdue charges (“The Land Before Time 4” rented as a joke), feeds in to what the books do best   – capturing the minutiae of an early-20s life full of the low-paying jobs, crummy roommates, and the significance of the smallest events.

Scott’s battle with Lucas could probably be copied into the dictionary and put next to the definition of the term “anti-climactic”. Lucas thrashes Scott for awhile, and then they take a break to snack and chat. Despite Ramona’s insistence to the contrary, Lucas tells Scott that she left him for a cocky pretty boy.

Their battle ends not with fisticuffs, but with Scott challenging Lucas’s skateboarding abilities. Lucas goes down a series of stair rails, and – as Matthew Patel did before him – explodes into a shower of coins, scoring Scott (much to his chagrin) the victory by default.

Lucas does take care of some fairly important plot business, as he officially introduces the concept of the League of Evil Ex-Boyfriends. There’s also some funny comic business after his defeat – he leaves behind an item that Scott can’t use, a mithril skateboard which is useless because he didn’t pick up skateboard proficiency in Grade 5.

The real excitement in the action department comes when Knives (which it turns out isn’t just a clever name) comes after Ramona and a big fight ensues. Ramona doesn’t understand the stakes of the battle, assuming that Knives has been sent by the mysterious Gideon. Ultimately, Ramona shrugs off the fight – not picking up on the fact that Scott briefly dated them both simultaneously.

Scott has troubles of his own when he gets a call from his own mysterious ex – Envy Adams, front woman for The Clash at Demonhead and the girl who broke his heart. Envy invites Sex Bob-Omb to open for her band, and the chat leaves Scott a quivering lump of jelly.

Stephen is psyched to play the show, but Scott and Kim are resistant to the idea. Scott’s history with Envy is still all innuendo and guesswork, but the next volume spells it all out.

At the end of the volume, we learn that Ramona and Scott share some relationship history. Turns out that Todd Ingram (the guy Envy left Scott for) is the same guy Ramona dumped Lucas Lee for. What’s more, he’s the bassist for The Clash at Demonhead, so Scott has the whole bassist rivalry thing going for him. The volume ends on another cliffhanger, but the second volume succeeds in expanding the story at an appropriately slacker pace.

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About Doug Clinton

Douglas Clinton was born in rural Connecticut at the tail end of the disco era. He attended Bishop Feehan High School in Attleboro, Massachusetts, where he lettered in two sports and wrote, directed, and performed in several Spanish language films. Following high school, he spent his summers as a postal worker and studied Political Science in the Netherlands. During this time, he also wrote for the insanely popular yet tragically short-lived sketch comedy show Mass Hysteria. His first three plays, The Life and Times of Princess Sophia, The Prophecy of the Shoe, and Princess Tabasco Saves the Universe all debuted in Hardwick, Vermont between 2002 and 2004. After college, he spent three years as a full-time volunteer, for which he was inducted into the Honorable Order of Kentucky Colonels. He currently resides in Charleston, South Carolina with his cats H.I. and Ed(wina).