Scott Pilgrim & The Infinite Sadness – book review

I’m a big fan of middles. The Empire Strikes Back was the best Star Wars movie. The Two Towers was the best Lord of the Rings book. When you’re in the midst of an epic saga, you’ve reached the point where the important elements of the universe have been established, but the author still has room to do something fun before drawing the story to a close.

Scott Pilgrim & The Infinite Sadness takes a bit of a left turn – the high-concept idea of the series involves Scott’s struggle to reconcile Ramona’s romantic past, but author Bryan Lee O’Malley has the confidence to turn his narrative gaze on Scott’s past, opening a new vein for the series to mine.

As I’ve mentioned before, it’s a little difficult to keep up with the myriad characters who make up Scott’s circle of friends, and O’Malley alleviates this by providing a cheeky character chart on the inside flap of the third volume. From there, we’re immediately dropped into a terribly awkward backstage visit between Scott & Co. and Envy Adams and her band, The Clash at Demonhead.

The comedy of discomfort has become fairly common recently (I’m looking at you, The Office), and it’s much easier to convey on the screen with deadly pauses than it is on the page, but O’Malley manages to pull it off. Through a series of mostly dialogue-free panels, you squirm along with the characters as they limp through a prolonged, uncomfortable encounter.

Envy’s a plenty intimidating presence on her own, but her consort is Todd Ingram, Ramona’s third (vegan- and psychic-powered) Evil Ex, and she’s got a mean drummer with a bionic arm who literally knocks the highlights out of Knives’ hair.

Unlike the previous volumes, this one cuts to the chase quickly by having Scott confront Todd in battle almost immediately, but Scott is no match for Todd’s vegan-fueled psychic powers. Envy is cognizant of the League of Evil Exes, and enjoys herself immensely when she tells Scott that he’ll have to give up dating Ramona since he can’t defeat Todd.

Once again, the story flashes back – this time to Scott’s college days and his relationship with Envy (then known as Natalie), a bit of a nonconformist but basically an all right girl. They meet, they date, they rock out together, and then she gets full of herself and dumps him.

Despite the appearance of having moved on, Scott clearly blames Todd for having changed Envy from a nice person to someone despicable. Envy’s behavior doesn’t do anything to justify this, but Scott’s feelings are typically relatable. After the run-in with Envy and company, Scott and Ramona meet up with Wallace, who is characteristically protective of Scott.

I read these books the first time before I saw the movie, so I’m reluctant to make a lot of comparisons before I write my epic book-versus-movie article, but it’s worth mentioning that the literary Wallace is a lot more engaged in Scott’s life than the cinematic one is. Don’t get me wrong, Kieran Culkin does a great job of capturing the character, he just isn’t given the quiet moments where he cares for Scott in the movie that the character does in the books.

Scott’s arranged confrontation with Todd, I suspect, is generally an in-joke that Toronto natives would get, as they race through a junk store and try to avoid being distracted by all the low- low-priced merchandise on display. The fight ends in a draw, and afterwards, Ramona tries to draw Scott away from further confrontation, citing the fact that they’re playing by rules that were made up by people who hate them.

Once again, I feel the need to digress away from the books to discuss the through-line of the movie. After the film’s first act, Scott is pretty much constantly fighting Ramona’s Evil Exes. Here in the books, O’Malley allows his characters to take a breath and avoid rushing headlong into the next conflict. It’s a luxury of storytelling that the books enjoy that wouldn’t really work in the movie, where increasingly mounting action is the chief prerogative.

The pause in the action gives Scott and Ramona time to discuss their romantic pasts – Ramona fills Scott in on her history with Todd, but when Scott tries to tell her about Envy, she doesn’t want to hear about it – she’s more interested in his past with Kim instead. Scott doesn’t have much to say about his past with Kim, but it makes sense that Ramona would be so interested, as Kim is still a major part of his life in a way that her Evil Exes aren’t a part of hers.

In the last gasp of the overarching plot of Scott Pilgrim, rock star, this volume includes a flashback to the time when Kid Chameleon – a band made up of Stephen Stills, Scott, and Envy – was just about to hit it big before Envy dumped them for better musicians. The musical aspect takes backseat to the personal aspect – Envy’s rejection of the band is really about her rejection of Scott. There’s a brief moment where Envy tries to talk to Scott like “normal people”, but it’s clear by this point that Envy the Rock Star is planes about Scott the Slacker.

There’s a fun twist when Envy starts talking smack to Ramona – up until now, it’s been all about Scott fighting Ramona’s Evil Exes, but now we see Ramona and Envy facing off – with Ramona whipping out an enormous sledgehammer to do battle with Envy. The ensuing battle is gleefully absurd – with Envy’s fans cheering her on and Wallace urging Ramona to break Envy’s face. The absurdity is knocked up another notch when Knives comes to Ramona’s rescue – after all, she only wants Scott’s happiness. Still, it’s up to Scott to exploit Envy’s secret weakness to save both Ramona and Knives from squishy death.

What follows is an extended flashback of Envy and Todd’s childhood romance, which reveals that, well, dude was a player for a long time – cheating on both Envy and Ramona with the other, and all blowing holes in the moon to impress both of them.
It all ties up in a great burst of (acknowledged) Deus Ex Machina, when the Vegan Police show up and strip Todd of his powers for violating the vegan code. Apparently, Chicken Parmesan isn’t vegan. Scott headbutts Todd into a shower of coins and even scores an extra life in the process.

In the end, Scott and the rest of Sex Bob-Omb play an awesome show, but Scott is left without any closure with Envy. He ends on good terms with Ramona and only has four (or five) Evil Exes to go. After three volumes, O’Malley really succeeds in creating a great self-contained one – even with issues left unresolved, the saga of Envy Adams is brought to a satisfying conclusion.

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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).