Friday, June 18, 2010

A Gamer Romance

I first encountered Scott Pilgrim in a freshman seminar on comic books. Somebody brought in volumes 1 & 2 as examples of Indie Comic books, and I remember randomly flipping to a page where a guy died and turned into an item box containing a Mithril Skateboard which tragically goes to waste because the main character didn't pick skateboard proficiency in the fifth grade. Somebody prodded me to pass the book along, but I had seen enough. I was in love. But I was also younger and dumber and more easily distracted, so it took four more years and an awesome movie trailer before I actually remembered to buy the damn books and give them a read.

This is what volume one (of five) looks like. Most major booksellers will be stocking them to cash-in on the movie buzz.

At first, I intended to read the books and write about them after seeing the movie, but after devouring all five volumes in three days, I decided the comic merited a post of its own. The series taps directly into the casually violent, attention-deficient energy of the gamer subculture and blends it with the lyrical awkwardness of the hipsters. The main character is a proud underachiever and the bassist of a humble bedroom band, yet there is also a sort of soft elitism in play thanks to the staggering number of obscure videogame references; I'm not talking about "Big Bang Theory" name-droppings either; most of them are clever gags that you can only appreciate if you've played the titles in question. In addition to all that, the series displays the same sort of brilliant self-awareness and self-deprecation that was evident in Arrested Development. All these elements blend beautifully to make a beverage that does not only feel fresh, but long over-due.

Despite all of its absurd post modernity, the series' premise is remarkably simple and romantic: Scott Pilgrim must defeat Ramona Flower's Seven Evil Exes to pursue a real relationship. She is literally the woman of his dreams, as she uses extra-dimensional shortcuts, or "subspace highways" that pass through Scott's subconscious. This concept of subspace is not only a nice nod at Super Mario Bros. 2, but a fitting metaphor for the internet's role in online dating. Social networking sites map out the geography of social anxiety. When you're crushing on somebody, you Facebook-stalk them and you are stalked in turn by their status updates; haunting pieces of minutiae from a life you're not actually a privy to. I don't think Brian Lee O'Malley ever intended to get all allegorical with Pilgrim; the books seem far too humble for that. But they can work on multiple levels. The concept of fighting the fast to pursue the present is old as dirt, but stylized video-gamic violence puts a unique twist on things.

Word around the interwebs is that the final chapter in Scott's saga will be out on July 20th. It can't come soon enough.

The characters really sell the stories though. Scott is wonderfully flawed but totally endearing. Ramona...well actually, Ramona's character is kind of weak, but Wallace Wells (Scott's gay roomie/guru), Kim Pine (Scott's sardonic Ex-girlfriend/drummer) and the evil exes (psychic vegan douchebags, chubby half-ninja lesbians and surprisingly nice skateboarders turn superstars) are all incredible. They are people you want to spend time with. Honestly, I'm a little bit nervous about the movie's casting. While the visual style looks incredible, Cera seems a bit too wimpy and reserved to play Scott and I was also disappointed at the decision to go with a Caucasian Wallace Wells.  The side scrolling beat'em up based on the books however, looks incredible. It will be interesting to see how things turn out. Look for my review on the movie and game later this summer!

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