Apr 21, 2010

Scott Pilgrim Vols 1-5 by Bryan Lee O’Malley

Scott Pilgrim Vol 1 Scott Pilgrim Vol 2 Scott Pilgrim Vol 3
Scott Pilgrim Vol 4 Scott Pilgrim Vol 5

Scott Pilgrim is twenty-three and unemployed. He plays bass in a band called Sex Bob-Omb, and lives in a flat so small he has to share a bed with his roommate Wallace. When the story opens, he’s dating Knives Chau, a highschool senior, and attracting the comments you might expect from his friends for dating someone so much younger. But all of this is to change when Ramona Flowers comes into his life. Scott falls for her immediately, and the attraction is mutual. But before they can be happy together, he has to defeat her seven evil ex-boyfriends, who come after him one at a time, video-game-final-boss-style.

Dear Scott Pilgrim, where have we gone wrong? I was supposed to love you. You were supposed to be my new crack comic book series, as enjoyable to binge on as Fables or Bone (though very different in tone or content, I know). Instead, what happened was this, and I can’t even quite define what “this” is. Just a general feeling of mehness and disappointment. Somehow I didn’t connect with you. You were silly, and I like silly, but most of the time it was all a bit too much for me. And since when to I find things too silly? I’m worried, very worried, that this might be a sign I’m Getting Old. Aaaaaargh!

Seriously now, it wasn’t that I disliked Scott Pilgrim. But I was fully convinced I was going to love it and didn’t. I’m sure I’m not the only one who finds this even more disappointing than actually hating a book you had no expectations at all about. Part of the problem was the humour. See, Scott Pilgrim is funny. It’s funny in a way I generally love: nerdy, very random, occasionally absurd, and full of references to other things. And yet, though my brain would register it was funny, I’d almost never actually laugh. I really can’t explain why this happened, but it did, again and again. The humour, however, was not the main problem. But I’ll get to that in a moment.

Scott Pilgrim

I liked the fact that the cultural references in Scott Pilgrim are very much my own. The sensibility behinds these books is that of my generation, and I suspect that Bryan Lee O’Malley grew up with many of the same things I grew up with. And Scott is nerdy! He wears a Zero shirt! There are references to bands and video games! (And also to animé, but I won’t mention those because I’m ignorant and they mostly went over my head.) And yet I never really felt at home in these books. It’s been a few weeks since I read them, and I think I’ve finally managed to put my finger on the reason why: it was the relationships between the characters that gave me trouble.

This is very much an idiosyncrasy of mine, and I expect that most other readers won’t experience the discomfort and the sense of disengagement I experience. The truth is that I’ve always felt, to steal a line from Oliver Sacks, a bit like an anthropologist on Mars. Even in my own life, I often have trouble making sense of how the majority of people relate to one another. This is a series in which certain questions I’d have asked are never asked, and in which the characters operate under assumptions that are very different from my own: that the exes of the person you’re dating will always be your enemies, that jealousy is unavoidable, that people will lie and play games with one another, that relationships will always involve certain feelings of entitlement, and so on. I know that these assumptions do govern many people’s lives and that I’m very much in the minority here. But I’ve always had trouble even grasping the concept of possessiveness, which is why most of the time I had trouble connecting with the characters.

Scott Pilgrim
(I did like the meta jokes.)

I want to clarify that I’m not saying I object to these things from an ethical standpoint, as in, “These books condone jealously and I think that’s bad! Oh noems!”. Not at all. And before anyone accuses me taking Scott Pilgrim too seriously, it’s also not that I’m disappointed because the books failed to make any revolutionary or life-changing points about relationships, or life, or the universe, or everything. It’s just that reading this series made me feel just like I usually feel when I socialise with most people my age: slightly puzzled and completely out of place.

The fact that these books are, for all their surreal elements, such an accurate portrayal of the lives of a group of twenty-somethings is actually one of their greatest strengths. The characterisation is excellent, and plus the cast is quite diverse. Also, the dialogue feels natural and was often (my brain fully acknowledges this) very funny. It’s interesting how reading Gasoline recently, my greatest disappointment of the year so far, made me appreciate Scott Pilgrim a lot more. There are books which are awful disappointments, and then there’s this. I did read all five volumes in only a couple of days, after all, and I didn’t for a moment have to force myself to go on. I just expected more – perhaps the fact that I connected so deeply with Bryan Lee O’Malley’s Lost at Sea is a bit to blame here.

Honestly, this is a good series. My main problem with it was the fact that I’m me. Here are a few different opinions, from people who are saner and more well-adjusted than I am. You should listen to them:

The Book Zombie
A Book a Week (Vols 1 and 2, 3, 4, 5)
Books & Other Thoughts (Vols 1, 2, 3, and 4 and 5)
Bart’s Bookshelf (Vols 1-3)
Stuff as Dreams are Made On
Sophisticated Dorkiness (Vol 1)
The Written World (Vol 1)
Ready When You Are, C.B. (Vol 4)

Opinions of a Wolf

(Did I miss yours?)

Scott Pilgrim Scott Pilgrim


  1. I'm sorry you were disappointed, Ana. I've read mixed reviews on these so I'll have to think about whether or not to get them. Let's hope the next book you are reading will be better! :)

  2. It's always disappointing when you don't enjoy a book you were expecting to love. I would like to try reading some comic books because they're not something that I usually read, but I don't think this series would appeal to me.

  3. I have a general problem with comedic anything. And this really freaks me out, because of course I question myself, and wonder if I am missing some important gene. It isn't as glaring when I read books, but there are many movie comedies where my family is belly-laughing, and I'm sitting there like a stone! Maybe this makes me a better critic, I don't know. So in your case, I WOULD blame the book. It just didn't work hard enough!

  4. I haven't read many graphic novels (actually, only Persepolis 1 and 2) but they have never really interested me for some reason. I feel I should try more, but maybe not these. I would have to agree with you though - I would rather dislike a book then find a book that I expected to LOVE only meh.

  5. Honestly, I have to admit that I tried reading this in the store once. Sat down with Volume 1 and read through the first part, and I felt no connection with it at all. I dont' even remember what I read about. I walked away from the experience feeling like I just didn't "get" it, and quietly took the series off my TBR pile. :(

  6. How well stated this review is! And the line "My main problem with it was the fact that I’m me" applies to my review today also! (wish I had been able to see it first and cite it!) You always get to the heart of the matter! But as for the comics, I was sort of immediately turned off by the art work.

  7. How did you find the gender stuff? I mean I know it's silly, it's a joke, but reading the premise, I was a little bothered by the idea that he has to fight off the girl's ex-boyfriends to "win" her.

  8. Hey for the first time ever I can say....
    you missed my review!
    It's here: http://opinionsofawolf.wordpress.com/2010/04/13/book-review-scott-pilgrim-by-bryan-lee-omalley-graphic-novel-series-1-5/

    Also, I actually really liked the series!

  9. Sorry to hear they weren't for you, but good to hear that they had some good strengths to them. The covers remind me of the Ugenia Lavender books out over here for kids.

  10. I don't think this is for me either - I think I'm probably too old for it.

  11. Sorry to hear that you were disappointed by them. I don't think they are for me either. Thanks for your honest thoughts!

  12. I did read the reviews over at The Book Zombie and though she thought they were very good, I wasn't sure if I would like them. Your review brings things into a clearer light. I have just had the experience of reading a book where the characters have relationships with each other that I just don't understand, and I totally get how frustrating that is. It's like reading about a bunch of aliens. At least that's what it felt like to me. So I can really understand your reticence for these books. I am sorry that they weren't awesome reads for you :(

  13. I completely agree with you about how bizarre relationships can be- with the possessiveness and sense of entitlement. Sigh. I have a feeling you and Matthies have a wonderful relationship :-) (Did I spell his name wrong? I think I did.)

    Sometimes books can disappoint. It's sad, but true :-(

  14. I liked the first volume, but not enough to buy the rest of the series. To be honest, I don't think I related to this series as well as other people have. It was good, but I like my other series better.

  15. I hadn't heard about this before seeing the trailer for the film a few nights ago. The film looks interesting. And the the comics got a mention on Kick-Ass which I watched today. This review makes for 3 recent mentions, weird how that sometimes happens.

    Have to say that even before your review I wasn't feeling the "lurve" but I may take a peak at some stage.

  16. You make me want to read these just to see what's wrong with them!

    "I’m worried, very worried, that this might be a sign I’m Getting Old." I hate it when books do this! (I think I am older than you, though.) Usually has something to do with high school relationships carried out via text messages, or teens doing partner roulette. I don't want to be shut on the pearly gates of YA literature, gnashing my gums and squabbling with the curmudgeons!

    Last night I finished a Korean film called Woman on the Beach. The first half was this light, subtle, charming slice-of-life thing: boy meets girl, only they are creative professionals in their thirties. In the second half the movie turned out to be about consuming jealousy. Everything is messed up when the guy finds out the girl lived abroad in Germany before they met, and dated westerners, so she wasn't "pure." He acted like the wounded victim, because she had been spoiled for him.

    At least he was painted as a jerk (though not completely), and the ending empowered the girl, but the jealousy theme completely ruined it for me.

    I just don't get jealousy.

    Perhaps we should compare our Mars field notes?

  17. I didn't really love these either (hence why I only read the first one). I don't remember exactly what it was about them that didn't work... something was too weird, I guess. But I am excited for the movie -- the preview looked really cool!

  18. I'm sorry you didn't like these as much as you thought you might. That is rotten when a book you fully expect to love doesn't quite live up to your lofty expectations. I read in Entertainment Weekly's Summer Movie Preview that Scott Pilgrim is going to be a movie - I wonder if it'll make for a better movie than a book. I generally have lesser expectations for something I watch than something I read, so maybe?

    On another note - how much do I appreciate your sentiments about socializing with most people your age? Honestly, I don't even know how old you are, and it doesn't much matter, I suppose, but I totally relate. Which may be why I've suddenly accumulated a pool of friends who, uh, *cough* are old enough to be my grandmother. Glad I'm not the only one feeling totally out of place with my age group!

  19. Argh. I hate when I think I"m gonna love something and then feel let down. The drop sucks so much more!

  20. Well, it looks awesome, but I think I'm older than you are. And I do tend to think things are silly.

  21. It's a shame you didn't love these ones, Ana, but I can see where you're coming from. When I think back on these, it was a fine line from feeling meh and loving them. I just fell on the side of loving them. :)

  22. Melody: Thanks! I've been in a bit of a reading slump lately, but hopefully it'll pass soon.

    Helen: Yeah, I wouldn't recommend this series as a place to start. If you'd like some suggestions, though, just let me know!

    Sandy: lol, good point :P The thing is, I could see myself laughing at those very same things at another time, which is why I also blamed myself/my mood.

    Amy: I'm a big fan of graphic novels and a passionate defender of the medium's merits, but of course, that doesn't mean I'll love them all :P As I was telling Helen, if you'd like some recommendations I'd be happy to try to help!

    Amanda: I'm kind of relieved to hear I'm not alone :P

    Jill: I actually like the art style, which only made it more disappointing :/

    Jenny: I know what you mean - the concept made me raise my eyebrows too. On the plus side, Ramona Flowers is portrayed as an actual person rather than just as a prize Scott is supposed to be fighting for. That's true of the female characters in general - they're human beings. He also has Scott's ex-girlfriends, um, work out their problems among themselves, instead of it being just the manly man fighting for their women. But although that evened out the gender angle, it didn't make things much better for me overall. I just don't see why people have to fight at all, since I don't believe that being in a relationship with someone means you own their lives past, present and future, or that they have to account to you for every people they ever had feelings for in their lives :P

    Amanda, I'm glad you liked it! I wish I had too. And thank you for your link :)

    Vivienne: Yeah, they weren't bad...just not for me.

    Kathy: The cultural references do identify it very strongly with a particular age-group, but I don't think it's impossible for someone older than 20-something to enjoy them.

    Andreea: Ah well...can't love them all, right? :P

  23. Zibilee: lol, exactly. The whole thing did feel pretty alien to me. Which made me sad, as there was lots to love here.

    Aarti: Only one "t", otherwise right :P He does feel much as I do about it all :P

    Kelly: Between you and Amanda, I'm feeling much better about my reaction to these :P

    Fence: The film does look interesting, and I plan to watch it. But I don't see it becoming a favourite of mine, just like the books didn't.

    Trapunto: We should definitely compare field notes sometime ;) I just can't wrap my head around the notion of jealousy. I understand fearing you'll lose someone you love, or being insecure, but acting like your fear just govern the other person's life, and that they have done you wrong if they DON'T let it govern them just.... does not compute. Sigh. What a pity about the turn that movie took :\

    Kim: It does look cool!

    Megan: I think we're actually the same age. I swear, I've felt like an old lady at heart since I was 18 :P

    Christina: It does :(

    Heidenkind: The comment about being old was tongue-in-cheek - I hope I NEVER stop liking silly things :P

    Darren: I so wish I had too!

  24. I really want to read this series since Chris first reviewed them. It's a shame you didn't like them, they do seem so you somehow. Maybe you are turning into Granny Nymeth ;) Will you go and see the film?

  25. I think you hit the nail on the head regarding jealousy with the words "fear" and "ownership."

    Some Mars Notes, then!

    Fear: So maybe my not understanding jealousy could be a kind of hubris, or at the very least, complacency?

    Onwership: My husband and I don't wear wedding rings. We were poor when we got married; for the courthouse ceremony we had a $9 and $16 silver bands from an imports store (mine was the $9 one), which we stopped wearing very soon; my husband's actually came unsoldered and fell apart and mine gave me a rash on my finger. How's that for omens?!

    We didn't bother about replacing them, since neither of us was big on mementos or expensive jewelry. For us, the whole matter of putting a ritual stamp on our devotion had been private, and rings weren't a symbol we craved, and we felt the fact that we had legally changed our status fulfilled any obligation we felt to explain or advertise the nature of our relationship to everyone else. Later, when we had a little more money, we did see a nice homemade men's ring and bought it for my husband. It was a big hammered-silver cuff, and I jokingly called it "the shackle." He liked it, but he stopped wearing it because he was working with machines and chemicals at the time, and never got back in the habit.

    We never thought any of this was a big deal, until, talking to other people, I gradually found out how much significance they invest in their wedding rings. It is a symbol of value, which I think could be very nice (though personally I resist the idea of comparing emotional value to monetary value), but it is also a kind of mutual claim-staking. I was shocked to learn that in in the second case, some people see it as both a duty to your spouse and society to wear one! A woman I know felt justly aggrieved when her husband didn't wear his ring (I think it was lost or being repaired) in public. Because the ring told everyone he was HERS, if he didn't wear it, it was an insult to her. Like he didn't take the danger of being ensnared by another woman as seriously as he ought to do, as her possession. This was accompanied by the double-think that his lack of a ring ALSO wasn't fair to the strange women he would meet, forcing them to waste their time on him in the great man-grabbing free-for-all.

    You can tell how much this shook me up! I had always sort of had it in the back of my mind that we might buy a couple of artist-made rings one day, as a symbol of being grownup people who don't lose jewelry, but now I'm sure we won't! I don't find mutual ownership at all romantic.

  26. I'm sorry. :( I agree: reacting this way to a book you expected to love is just as bad, if not worse, as hating a book you didn't have any expectations for.

  27. I'm pretty sure that I'm older than you (46) and I liked Scott Pilgrim, so it's not age.

    Becuase I pre-read most of the books I buy for my 7th grade classroom I'm always asking if both girls and boys will like the books I choose. (There are very clear dividing lines girl book/boy book at seventh grade. And a large number of books that both girls and boys enjoy.) I wonder if Scott Pilgrim just appeals to men more than it does to women. I had a suspicion that it would.

    Since it is about a generation that followed mine, I could just be much more comfortable in the anthropologist on mars role.

  28. Nice review! Sorry you didn't enjoy these more, though. :(

  29. Oh no, I wonder if us Pilgrim fans broke you? The weight of expectation can be a very dangerous thing. I'm sorry you didn't enjoy them as much as you wanted to, but I love your review. I think I viewed the premise in a very different light, particularly the whole evil-exes thing; not so much as a jealousy thing, but as a ... hmm, weak video-game-style premise? I've never been a particularly jealous person, but I've seen how it affects people I know. Knives in particular was completely familiar to me, with her jealousy and her broken heart. And her refusal to give up on it.

    Mandy over at edge of seventeen and I had a similar discussion one day as I was purchasing the first volume from her; she just didn't quite click with them, although she thought she should have.

    I'm glad you still love Lost at Sea though!

  30. I got a kick out of the Scott Pilgrim books, but I did feel a bit like an elderly sociologist, reading them. I kind of liked the absurdity and the fantasy (magical realism? anime?) elements, but then, I fear I'm easily amused!

  31. Rhinoa: Well, "Granny Nymeth" has a nice sound to it ;) And I probably will when it comes out on DVD.

    Trapunto: I have definitely heard that rationale before for the wearing of wedding rings, and I can't make sense of it either. Supposedly it's false advertising NOT to wear one? But... are everyday interactions really that sexualised, that you need a marker of whether or not you're "on the market"? I know many people would say this is naïve of me, but even when I was single I didn't think of people as potential partners until I had gotten to know them very well. I can't imagine even beginning to think of someone romantically until I know them well enough to know if they have a partner or not. Thinking of the people I know who are married, I can't say whether or not they wear wedding rings because I just don't notice. The marker is not something I look for or pay attention to. Sigh - it's a strange, strange planet, this one :P

    Memory: I'm tempted to convince myself that every book I'm about to start is going to suck from now on, just to be on the safe side ;)

    C.B. James: Sorry - the age comment was meant to be tongue-in-cheek. Seventh-grade aside, I probably wouldn't say that gender has got much to do with it either.

    Annie: I hope you will!

    kiirstin: The weight of exceptions can be dangerous, yes :( I know exactly what you mean about the weak video-game-style premise. I think that's what it was meant to be, because really, the books are NOT about the battles; they're about what's going on in the characters' lives. I watched the movie trailer again now that I've read them and this actually worried me a little bit - it seemed to emphasise the battles themselves a lot more than the books do. But we'll see. Also, thank you x 1000 for the books anyway! It was very sweet of you, and I can't tell you how much I appreciate it regardless of how I ended up feeling about them.

    Kate Coombs: Honesty, I have no idea why *I* wasn't more amused. It WAS funny! I felt like my brain was broken for not laughing more :P

  32. 'Are everyday interactions really that sexualised...?'

    Exactly! I never thought so, but then I got paranoid that for everybody else, they are. But, surely not *everybody.* What do you think?

    Speaking of paranoid, I emailed my husband a copy of the wedding ring comment, so he would know what I'm saying about him, and he remarked it would probably sound to people like we had an open marriage. Which we don't. And why would I even care that people thought so? I fretted about it.

  33. Hahaha! I laughed so hard at your comment about feeling the way you do when you spend time with people your own age. :-D I remember that feeling very well. I guess the upside of being middle-aged is that you have years to cultivate being with the kind of people your own age who don't baffle you. :p

  34. If you're looking for a graphic novel series to follow Bone or Fables, may I recommend Sandman or Y: The Last Man? Sandman is similar to Fables in that it draws on archetypal, mythological concepts to populate its story; Y has outstanding character development and really nice art.


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