Thursday, August 5, 2010
Ramona Still Sings (Feelings on the Scott Pilgrim series)
When the time came for me to share some thoughts regarding the finishing of Bryan Lee O'Malley's Scott Pilgrim book series, it appears to me that it would be redundant to scale the main plotline, detailing the epic-as-life adventures of Toronto-based garage outfit, Sex Bob-omb's erstwhile bassist, and roundabout loser, Scott Pilgrim and his awakening to more than a Precious Little Life. It's a tale that is universal, told in a way best embracing the awkwardness of a gobsmacked generation awash in mutated, 16-bit blasts of post-irony & tonal distortion. O'Malley's world is not unlike a world not too removed from one I grew up in, surrounded by geeks, freaks, punk-rock posers, cigarettes, and attitude. And while Scott's life has been thrown into a sanctuary-smashing upheaval after falling for the enigmatic beauty that is Ramona Flowers, it is no mean stretch to say that his once comfortable lifestyle of slacking, gaming & freeloading will have to change dramaticaly if he is even willing to live up to this. (And even if it were possible, could it be that Ms. Flowers herself takes interest in aloof-minded Pilgrim merely because he offers a no strings, no hassle respite from the phantoms of a checkered past?)
I'd sooner not delve into how much O'Malley's underdog tale has had a background player role in many of my travels over the years, or that it reminds me of friends past & present. Or that even if many of the characters in his world do not completely connect with my own, yet it somehow retains a certain relatability via the people in Scott's life. From the ever responsible free-spirit that is roomie, Wallace Wells, to Sex Bob-omb's quiet leader, Stephen Stills. From that painful memory of Envy Adams, to the lingering forgotten of drummer Kim Pine, the world surrounding Mr. Pilgrim is an alarm clock ready to ring with the force of a million nuclear tests. Perhaps its better that we don't share that there was in fact a time when likely I felt as he once did. Content, and undermotivated. Trapped in a world of his own making, and unsure of how those around him truly feel, only to be made aware through some natural force as daunting as love. Nah. Not worth it at all.
But I can share that despite certain misgivings I once had about the comics over the years, there are many satisfying elements that hit home with tones honest, and at times sublime. One of the first things that bugged me early on was its latent self-conscious tone, reminding the readers that the author isn't taking this as seriously as perhaps some might prefer. From occasionally referencing past volumes, to marking how far into the volume we are, it can be a put off for many who like their verisimillitude levels high. And there are times when O'Malley lets the story cheat around the fact that the written word isn't as strong a suit for him as is visual panache, which is at times a frustrating trade. Yet somehow, inventiveness becomes a valuable weapon as the books unfold, leaving readers to drink in the wildness of Ramona's ability to subspace travel (sometimes through the dreams of others as short-cuts), and to embrace the overall metaphor of the entire work. Perhaps it is all to be seen as a wacky dream, played out in the slumber of a generation longing to wake up and take on The World. At even at the series' weakest points, the tales hit where they count most,.. when called to action. In a manner that is not unlike the actions of Mr. Pilgrim himself.
But even more prescient for this writer, is the life surrounding the title character.
It is often stated that the best way to start off a continuing saga, is to do so by placing your lead character in the lowest place imaginable at the start in order to allow the viewer/reader to grow. If this is to be so, then Scott Pilgrim is amongst the laziest,most vacuous forces ever known to hero-dom. Much more than Shawn Of Edgar Wright's Shawn of The Dead, or even any of Kevin Smith's schlubby leads, we are looking at a young man-baby who could possibly have had everything one could ever hope for, and yet sees no means of himself within all of it. A child of media overload, and content on crumbs, overdue video rentals, a shared bed, & perhaps marathon rounds within the Mushroom Kingdom, he is much like a bundle of idle pixels, waiting for the princess to come to him with every solution. Something that gives all of the comic's anime-video game imagery in-gags an unexpected punch. To see the trouble his floaty way of life has helped create is made most vividly so via the ladies in Scott's past.
There is no shortage of growing pains that have either transferred almost psychically to his peers, or to these muses in his world that it threatens to poison more than their middling garage band. Whether it be through past names like Lisa Miller, or through his relationship with the underaged Knives Chau, it is crystal clear that if his course remains constant, Pilgrim's problems could only (as Liz once said) exacerbate. Whether he is willing to Get It Together or not, life is coming at him with the force of a speeding train in the form of baggage. Serious baggage. (The element that is perhaps my favorite of all of this.) In the form of seven so-called "Evil exes". Seven souls from Ramona's past, hellbent on reminding Pilgrim of his maturity station, and his inability to hold on to what he doesn't understand. First sight may be bursting with hearts & flowers, but facing against the thought that one wasn't there first is perhaps a silly concern in retrospect. But when one is young, it can crush with a violent force. Which is why Pilgrim is in the thick of it, and must overcome each soul, mastering himself in the process.
And the drama rebounds as the women around him begin to find their respective callings with, or without him in ways both befitting of this type of work, as well as achingly true. Ramona's battles, while not as visually expounded upon as Scott's, have a weight befitting the kind of girl one would hurt others for. The irony isn't lost when it's clear that perhaps she is no different than Scott, disconnected, implacable, and unwilling to dive without a parachute. The Infinite Sadness is all too near, and while it might be true that old loves are what they are, they aren't things easily forgotten, or equally cast aside. This is as much Ramona's fight as it is Scott's, and the wasteland they leave behind is surprisingly tragic at moments.
Nevermind that the series, after six years of reading & waiting, Scott Pilgrim has become a much larger entity than many of us had anticipated. Nevermind that by the time he takes on The Universe, O'Malley has fashioned his own clever little take on hero tropes, even experiencing his own internal Empire Strikes Back. Forget that by his Finest Hour, Pilgrim still isn't sure of his abilities as a hero, a friend, or a lover. And embrace that this madness came courtesy of a fan. Someone with an enthusiasm for similar material, art & music. A reminder that one of us truly hit it off with one of the more generation kindred filmmakers of this generation, and did so by the seat of his pants I'm sure. The victory of Scott Pilgrim is that he never has to wear a mask, or a suit to fight for the future. And that he, and in this way we, can win it epically one stumble at a time.