Saturday, July 31, 2010

Scott Pilgrim Wraps It Up

So. The Sixth and final Scott Pilgrim book was released in a big, midnight release event last week.

This book has many, many deeply devoted fans. I can see why. The book is fairly clever in its integration of Nintendo-style logic, art style, and inserting gameplay into the book as a sort of magical realism.

Last time we discussed Scott Pilgrim, there was a lot of discussion of NES-style gaming and the fact that this was something I basically "didn't get", and this was true.*

It's not "wrong" for the story to hinge on or pay tribute to the media, but its also, on some level, a barrier to entry. Scott Pilgrim sort of requires that you find the referencing of games amusing, sort of how Ang Lee assumed the use of comic panels in The Hulk would, in no way, become tiresome.

That said: In the upcoming movie, I think this will work great.

A part of me wonders if O'Malley, the book's creator, is a victim of his own success. Book 6, the final book, seems rushed, and as if he simply tried to cram too many beats into a book where the frenetic pace meant that no single idea (almost all of which have been developing since Book 1) receives the kind of conclusion one would find satisfying. Instead, there are a lot of quick explanations, and a lot of (really) pointless fighting. Obviously O'Malley was playing "beat the clock" with having to complete volume 6 before the release of the film, which meant the book now had an artificial but necessary completion date, so no time to rethink things. Further, he now had an ending of a movie with which he was going to have to jive. And to further complicate the issue, he had now put a page limit on himself and was unable to consider adding a seventh volume to more cleanly wrap up his various dngling plot threads.

If, in reading the previous volumes, I had an issue with what I saw as a schizm between a series ostensibly about a character coming to maturity and that character achieving maturity through fighting "evil boyfriends", an entire motif of an overly simplistic world of NES games, objectifying romantic interests to the point of abstraction, etc... This volume did nothing to make me feel that O'Malley pulled a trick out of his hat and took the book up beyond the level it set for itself around the second volume. Frankly, I guess I was hoping for the video gaming to show itself as metaphor, and the achievement of maturity to be shown as something not achieved by fighting, magical items, and perhaps, instead, I wanted a hint of, say, character growth. Or a hint of some kind of wisdom earned.

I guess there's some growth there, but the bar, honestly, is set so low for the protagonist that "growth" is a bit relative. I also wish there'd been a bit more on the Nega-Scott/ amnesia bit. I guess I "got it", but it went by so quickly and with so little impact that it felt like just one more bit O'Malley had to wrap up, ultimately leaving one more place where Scott, as a character, just sort of doesn't go anywhere.

O'Malley did address the question of what sort of person Ramona ultimately was. Sort of. But he blows past the question in a few frames, absolving her, and moving on so he can get to the lengthy, pointless fight.

I confess, to some degree, I began sort of rushing through the entire "fight" with Gideon. We're given hints that Gideon has more depth as a character, and then given mustache-twirling. And in the end, that sort of thing was a major problem for me with the series. We get these glimpses that O'Malley had other ideas or conflicting ideas about who the characters were, but in order to keep his "NES-style march to the Big Boss" plotline going, the more interesting bits get lost in favor of video game cliches.

This criticism, of course, seems ludicrous in light of a guy who thinks Jimmy Olsen is pretty keen, and that we all have a lot to learn from Superman. I understand that Scott Pilgrim was O'Malley's second work, and that a 6-volume, wildly popular series** that reflects pop and youth culture, and that I am no longer associated with the demographic (and, in fact, and disassociating with). But I tend to think allegory and crafting well-designed metaphors in storytelling is important, and I'm not sure that O'Malley's works here. But I DO think its going to make for a killer movie when someone with a 3rd person pespective can look at the story and clean it down to its bare bones while retaining the whimsy that makes it fun.

*I had an NES. But... The only three games I played were Double Dribble, Section Z and Rush N' Attack. None of which I ever played all that much. Somehow, we were the one family in North America with an NES, but no copy of either Super Mario or Legend of Zelda. I was uniformly terrible at the games I did have, and so I usually went and read comics, doodled, or played some pick-up basketball. I recall we actually sold the system to family friends within two years, and no tears were shed.

**This week, Scott Pilgrim took over the paperback graphic books section on the NYT's Best Sellers list.


Anonymous said...

No Super Mario Bros. or Zelda?? What? How?...

But I digress. Scott Pilgrim is indeed an acquired taste. One where to enjoy it being familiar with gaming youth culture would be a great benefit. It's good entertainment but certainly will end up feeling a bit dated 10 years from now. There's a new generation of gamers. A generation that thinks Halo is the end all for FPS multiplayer instead of Quake. Where World of Warcraft trumps Zelda and the terms Wizardry, Ultima and Galaga have no play. And O'Malley will shake his cane telling them to stay off his lawn.

I gotta feeling that despite the supposed groundswell, the movie, will not play well to middle america nor adolescent girls. Inception will still beat it at the box office.


Simon MacDonald said...

I have to agree with you as the sixth book did seem a bit rushed. Which is odd as it started with a slow build up and then I think O'Malley realized he had to get this out super quick before the movie spoiled his ending.

All of your criticisms on this book are valid but that is not to say that it isn't a worthwhile read. I was hoping for some more growing up from Scott and possibly a different ending as I hinted in a previous comment but I still really enjoyed it.

I'm really going to try to hit the movie on the opening weekend. That'll take some ninja like skills but I'm up to it.

BTW, no Super Mario or Legend of Zelda? I need to re-think this friendship.

The League said...

It's funny. Yeah, I just wasn't that interested in NES. I was more interested in reading, doodling, etc... Part of that, no doubt, had to do with the knowledge that if the KareBear saw us sitting in front of the TV, she would think up something for us to do that looked nominally more productive.

I'm not sure about the girls. The comic is a really big seller with women, as near as I can tell. In fact, I heard of women discussing the book well before any guys. That said, I don't think there's any magic bullet for box office success, and the long, long delay between the first commercials and the movie may end up hurting it.

I would actually recommend the book to someone in their teens or 20's. It is a worthwhile read, I think, from a certain point of view.