This is What Awesome Looks Like

The Scott Pilgrim Graphic Novels by Bryan Lee O'Malley

Every once and a while a cultural artifact emerges that is capable of completely dividing generations. When I was in high school, for instance, Pulp Fiction came out and I remember vividly how in the theater people of my generation laughed at some of the graphic violence, and people of my parents' generation were shocked by it, and even more shocked by our laughing at it.

With that in mind, witness, and appreciate if you can, the brilliance of Scott Pilgrim. The book appears at first to be the relatively ordinary story of the eponymous Scott, a character who when I was in high school would have been called a Gen-X slacker—he has no job, shares a tiny apartment with a roommate and spends his free time playing bass in a rock band and dating girls. We meet his friends, his current love interest and are told that his current status is "awesome." However, gradually we begin to realize that Pilgrim's reality is not quite our reality. A girl he becomes obsessed with uses "subspace highways" to travel through people's dreams (including Pilgrim's) to deliver packages for Amazon.ca (this all takes place in Toronto). Bands are capable of playing songs that knock the entire audience unconscious. And more importantly, the world is outfitted with "save points" and other hallmarks of video games. People can even be defeated in physical combat whereupon they explode into coins, extra lives or other bonus items.

This is all pretty strange for something which most of the time is still a young-person's drama/romance comic; Scott Pilgrim is not about its weirder qualities, it's about the relationships between the characters, and therein lies its charm. By creating something which on the one hand wraps us up in the emotions of its characters' everyday lives, and on the other keeps us exhilarated with ninjas and epic battles with level bosses, O'Malley may have created the perfect teen entertainment. Scott Pilgrim is neither typical boys' fiction or typical girls' fiction, but incorporates elements of both. It is accessible without ever being patronizing, weird without being alienating, and fun without constantly having to hit you over the head with action or heavy-handed "thrills."

However, as I said the whole thing is going to be opaque to most of a certain age group. I think people who didn't grow up with save points and level bosses are not going to understand what these things are doing in this kind of comic, and will wonder whatever happened to the good old days of Archie and his pals. But that's okay, Scott Pilgrim is not for those people.