The Scott Pilgrim Predicament, Episode 1 – Scott Pilgrim’s Precious Little Life

Okay, these are going to be pretty long and drawn out, so bear with me, for this is going to be an arduous process for me and more likely than not for you, to truly cover everything I love and even the things I hate about the Scott Pilgrim series.  Now… I love this comic for what it is.  Yes, it has flaws, as does everything.  Nothing’s perfect, and I’m not about to argue that Scott Pilgrim even comes close.  But given how the movie hasn’t done well and you can’t go anywhere without hearing the word hipster used in reference to it, I feel like a real analysis of its roots, the actual black and white Oni Press series, is required.  What it does right.  What it does wrong.  Where it satisfies and where it leaves you wanting.  I’m telling you, there’s more to this than you might think.  It could just be that I make it my job to over-analyze everything I happen to like, but really I just want to equate it to there being more to this series than meets the eye, at least in some fashion.

Sc0tt Pilgrim’s Precious Little Life really is an amazing introduction to the series, and really the opening scene wherein the gang discusses Scott’s dating of Knives Chau does a fantastic job of introducing those characters who are really important.  Scott is painted as what he is, the hapless loser who everyone loves.  Stephen Stills is the stoic guy that takes most stuff seriously but is cool to hang out with because, come on, check out those sideburns.  Kim Pine is the angst-ridden former girlfriend (which we don’t know yet) and Young Neil is the kid that is basically just a hanger-on whose happiness is really dependent upon his placement within the group.  What’s great about this is that we’re given a rather tranquil means of meeting these characters, even though it’s in the context of our protagonist doing something that’s kind of weird.  I mean, if a 23-year-old guy is going after a high school girl, you know what to think of that guy.  But it’s strange how you kind of give him a pass because he seems, more than anything, pretty harmless.

So we get to know Scott: he’s dating a high school girl who happens to be Chinese (which I’ll touch on more in a little bit), he lives with his gay best friend Wallace Wells, and he’s the bass player for Sex Bob-omb.  Sure, he’s unemployed and he’s pretty dopey, but he’s set up as that lovable fool just from how innocent he’s shown to be.  He’s kind to a random girl on the bus and he’s pretty happy about being in a band and he’s just this smiley Canadian.  Yeah, we’re supposed to really love Scott so that it’ll be harsh to deal with the events that follow.  It only dawns on me now that my idea of the earlier volumes is skewed by my knowledge of the story as a whole, which in some of volume one is a bit of a help.  When Kim begins harassing Scott on his decision to date Knives and his overall shitty behavior, it works a whole lot when the books are all connected as one whole story.  Because let’s be honest right here and now: Scott’s kind of a shitty person.

You see, Scott being kind of a shitty person is pretty important to the efforts O’Malley makes to have Scott be a lovable character.  If we love Scott, by the time we figure out that Scott’s not really a great guy we will cheer for him to fix all the wrongs in his life rather than just turning on him.  With volume one, it’s totally fair that the story would be kept so ambiguous about a lot of things.  About why Kim Pine is so damn spiteful towards Scott, who’s supposed to be his friend.  About why Scott’s sister Stacey is so intrusive in his love life.  Even about why Wallace is so protective of Scott and hates the idea that anyone he dates might hurt him, or vice verse.  Scott’s actually got a much messier history than you’re lead to believe from the first book, which is good, because no good protagonist is perfect.  But still, it starts to get pretty out of control towards the end of the series, which I feel is why the earlier volumes aren’t as complicating with whether or not we should truly be rooting for Scott.  But still, we’re given hints of Scott’s poor behavior early on.

Look at it this way: you know the scene outside of the school with Scott and Wallace where Scott compares the situation to Trainspotting?  It really is like what Wallace says, which is that it’s a totally screwed up and wrong situation with a character we’re following who is really unhealthy in a few ways.  Scott is unhealthy in terms of his relationships, because every relationship he’s been in has gone wrong in one way or another.  But we’ll get to that later.  You see, what’s interesting about volume one is that a lot of the positive look at Scott is kind of shown from the way Knives looks at him.  Knives has such a positive attitude towards Scott, and she claims that he’s sweet, and funny, and talented, and she does it so often that we believe it.  But more than anything, when Ramona is introduced, there is no character you feel worse for than Knives Chau.

Knives is very indicative of how poorly Scott handles relationships.  It’s not all his fault.  As we see in later books, Envy really messed with his mind and hurt him pretty bad.  But regardless, Scott ends up not only leaving Knives for Ramona, but cheating on Knives with Ramona.  That’s pretty Goddamn cold.  Which is why I feel that the whole date scene with Ramona taking place during a snowstorm and they’re both freezing is pretty great.  But really, the eagerness Scott had to move on from his relationship with Knives was a good depiction of how he thought of her as little more than what she was described as, which is a Chinese high school girl.  Scott gets pretty smug about how he’s able to say he’s dating not only a high school girl, but a Chinese high school girl.  And really, I feel like this is the root of the problem a lot of people have with Scott Pilgrim and why people refer to it as hipster.  Am I making sense yet?  Probably not, but let’s see if my analogy holds.

Scott doesn’t really have any interest in dating Knives.  But he does so to say that he’s dating her.  He likes how his friends react to the fact that he’s doing this, and he takes pride in how this will forever be a part of his history.  “Remember when Scott dated that high school girl?  Oh, and she was Chinese!  What an interesting man of the world he is.”  He basically just wants to look good and to show off for his friends, which is really why people are so vehemently referring to Scott Pilgrim as a hipster book, because hipsters don’t actually love the things they claim to love, they just do it because it’ll make them seem cool.  The indie bands they listen to, and the clothes they wear, and the food they eat, and the people they know, etc.  So really, that opening segment of volume one is the perfect way to look at why a lot of people put so much effort into hating Scott Pilgrim.  It includes a lot of music and video game references and a lot of people claim it only does so to look cooler than it actually is, rather than their being included in the story because, shit, that’s what O’Malley actually liked and he thought it would be cool to have in the story.  Which it was.  But now it goes deeper than that which is the whole idea that the series is hipster because people will claim to be really into the story when they aren’t, and they just want to look more interesting than they actually are because they “like” Scott Pilgrim.  You see, all the things I’ve read and heard have left me with the idea of the hipster as a sort of fraud.  A charlatan if you will, only not in such a direct way.  It’s more of a plot on their end.  A strategy.  Shit, I don’t know.  I hate that this technically has to be a part of my discussion about a comic book, and about how this is likely not the last I’ll mention of it.  Where was I again?

So yes, Scott is shown in dribs and drabs to be kind of a not-so-nice guy, even though it’s more attributed to the idea that he doesn’t really know any better.  He winds up being Knives’ first kiss, even though he didn’t even want to date her in the first place, which is a stealing of innocence for her.  Not in so much as the taking of her virginity, like a real-life scumbag would do, but still, it’s something she can never get back even though she may end up seriously regretting that it was wasted on a guy that didn’t think too much of her when they were dating.  But to make up for this grievance, we are given Scott’s relationship with Ramona Flowers.

But does that really do much to help things?  Really all we’re given about Scott’s love for Ramona is that she is literally the “girl of his dreams” as we’re given the first hint that not everything in the Scott Pilgrim universe is all that realistic.  She roller-blades through Scott’s mind, and that’s before he even meets her.  The key problem with this is that we aren’t really given any other reason for Scott being as interested in her as he is.  She’s sort of just this… enigma.  Which is fine at first, given that once again this is the first book and things should be left rather unclear and to be discovered.  From the very beginning of the series it’s fine, so we’ll leave it at that for now.  Fine.  Scott actually meets her in real life and because she’s incredibly attractive he becomes more than a little obsessed.  But what’s great is that this serves as the perfect opportunity to elaborate on relationships.  Scott and Wallace.  Scott and Julie.  Scott and Other Scott (I suppose).  We’re given much better looks at the environment in which Scott Pilgrim thrives, or at the very least gets by without causing much of a fuss.  Unfortunately his relationship with Ramona informs a lot about Scott and how he lives his life, which we’ll see later on.

As things move on, we get to see Stephen Stills come more into play, and how seriously he takes the band.  He wants to be a success, and he wants to play for whoever will listen.  So when he gets them a gig playing alongside Crash and the Boys, he gets a bit more stressed out.  It’s good that we get to see how these things affect the characters around Scott strictly because it makes it seem as though everyone Scott hangs out with is really in the same boat as him, but in truth, Scott is far, far behind the other people in his life and he doesn’t even realize it.  Really the series is supposed to be about getting your shit together (volume four is even called Scott Pilgrim Gets It Together) but the first book doesn’t touch too much on that.  Sure, we see that Scott leeches off of Wallace and he doesn’t really own anything apart from his clothes and his bass.  But apart from that it seems like things are sort of already put together for him.

For the most part, everything seems like it’ll just be a story strictly within the loose bounds of reality, that is until Ramona introduces subspace, and then we meet Matthew Patel at the show.  While it can be sort of jarring to just be thrown into what is now a video gamey unrealistic showdown, I feel like it works very well because it’s sort of like if you were to describe something to someone and you wanted to save a very important part of how the rest of it was going to be for the very end of your prefacing.  “So it’s a story about a guy trying to date this really mysterious girl.  Oh, and by the way, NINJAS AND SUPERPOWERS.”

Volume one has everything it should have to get you started on the series, and it gives you enough to love everyone you’re introduced to.  I swear, after book one I already though Kim Pine was going to be an awesome character and she was.  Yes, I understand a lot of the complaints about the series as a whole, but I just want to look at it book by book.  The awkward moments, the well-done depictions of friendships, and the awesome fight scenes.  While there’s a lot I love about this series, keep in mind I still have a few problems, which I’ll be getting to primarily around book five, but not really.  Overall I love the series, and it gets a lot of love and a lot of shit lately that I feel is both deserved and not deserved.  Like I said, nothing’s perfect.  Scott Pilgrim is far from perfect.  But I still love the series and want to continue talking about it.  Which I will do soon, in The Scott Pilgrim Predicament, Episode 2 – Scott Pilgrim Vs. The World.  I’ll do it soon.  Not immediately, but soon.  Look, take anything I say here with a grain of salt.  It’s mostly going to be my incoherent and poorly-informed ramblings anyway, but I’m just hoping you’ll be able to sift through the crap and find something valuable in what I have to say about a comic book I really loved.

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