Getting it together…

Is it bad if I say up front that Scott Pilgrim Vol. 4 is the best thing I’ve read all year?

This is not surprising discovery, but it is wonderful none the less.

Oh yes, there will be spoilers.

The first two volumes of this series were all about, to me, Scott moving to a place where he started to grow up, become an adult (epitomized by his dating Ramona) and move out of the simple and self-defacing rut (epitomized by his dating Knives) he’d been stuck in. The third Scott Pilgrim volume was all about Scott overcoming his issues relating the “great love of his life”, in college, who broke his heart. After doing that he was really ready to begin a new, more adult relationship with Ramona.

This fourth volume is all about confronting the “messy” aspects of one’s past and one’s partner’s past that are bound to trip up any relationship. We have the return of Lisa, Scott’s friend from high school who he shares an massive amount of sexual tension with. And then there’s the “villain” of the piece, Roxanne, baggage from Ramona’s *ahem* experimental phase.

Of course, in reality, such messy baggage is dealt with through discussing things with your partner and working things through (these things take time and energy, people!). In Scott Pilgrim things are resolved through violence. It’s all very superheroey(?).

Honestly, Scott Pilgrim is just indie superheroes laced with video game tropes. That is not a bad thing in the least.

The central metaphor of the series; Scott defeating Ramona’s ex-lovers (we can’t call them just ex-boyfriends, anymore now can we?) as a showy stand in for how everyone must confront their lover’s past to have a good, successful, adult relationship continues to hold up well. In fact the metaphor I think has worked better as we’ve gone along and Scott’s relationship with Ramona has gotten deeper, more complicated, and more interesting.

Despite the “together” in the title for most of the book the characters are in “messy” situations. From nearly the very beginning of the book (like page 14) the established sexual, emotional, and characterization lines begin to blur and O’Malley really challenges the characters and the reader’s perceptions of them. We have the reintroduction of Lisa, the presence of Roxanne but also Stephen Stills “relationship” with Knives and the end of Wallace and Scott’s roommate-ship. O’Malley is almost completely reshuffling the deck with this volume, leaving us with a very new status quo.

In fact Scott really makes a full jump towards “adulthood” in this volume as his non-Ramona “support system” is nearly gone. Wallace and Scott have both moved on to new things and new living situations. What this means for Scott is that his relationship with Ramona is now the central thing organizing his life. It’ll make or break him in later volumes.

As a whole I came away from this volume liking Scott more and Ramona less. Scott’s character growth since volume one (he was kind of a dick, now not as much) is obvious. I mean, he did level up and we know how important that is. Ramona’s complicated and contradictory past sometimes makes her less appealing. And she does kind of treat Scott pretty shittly (is that a word?) in this volume.

I see Ramona as a character who wants a fresh, adult start. But she is still unable to get completely over her past and thus it prevents her from establishing complete, honest close connections with people.

A word or two about the art; Volume 4 has some of the best so far. O’Malley’s line work is crystal clear and vibrant. The character designs are spot on. The fight scenes are fun and energetic. Compare this to volume one and you’ll see such a great improvement you’ll doubt that they were made by the same artist.

I am consistently amazed now much each volume of Scott Pilgrim just speaksto me at an emotional level. Each volume, and this one even more than the others, just seems to be released at just the right moment for what the characters are going through to reflect things I’ve been through or seen around me. Despite the cool fights, video game tropes, indie attitude, and humor the real center of the Scott Pilgrim series is its emotional core. Through all the awesome (but really superficial) gloss the heart of his series are the character relationships. Bryan Lee O’Malley’s characterization skills are really what make this series work again and again.

So yeah, Volume Four was well worth the wait. And I’ll put money on the fact that Volume Five will be well worth the wait too.

But, fuck, that wait is going to suck.

(“Interesting” note (to me!): I could not decide if the title of this review/ramble should be titled “Getting it together…” or “You had a sexy phase?”. I hope I made the right choice.)

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