Article by Jeremy Parish? | December 20, 2010


Bryan Lee OíMalleyís Scott Pilgrim graphic novels begin exactly the same as half the indie comics on the planet: Lackadaisical 20-something slackers lazing about, talking wittily about their immature views of love and playing in garage bands -- a romantic, whitewashed vision of the life you wish you could have yet arenít nearly cool (or fictional) enough to pull off. But things take a wild left turn about 50 pages in when the eponymous hero has a dream about a gorgeous, enigmatic American girl named Ramona Flowers. Soon it comes to light that not only is Ramona real, she uses Scottís brain as a shortcut for making deliveries. Turns out thereís a subspace shortcut in his subconscious mind that cuts down on her transit time.

ďSubspace?Ē Scott asks. ďLike in Mario 2

And with that innocuous question from a dazed Canadian cloudcuckoolander, Scott Pilgrimís Precious Little Life (and the five subsequent volumes) changes radically. Gradually, the story takes on a more and more improbable tone. The angsty romantic stuff hovers at the surface and even provides the central underpinnings of the plot. But itís accompanied by the sort of action fantasy one expects from comic books... with one important exception.

Scott Pilgrim draws its action inspiration not from superhero pulps, but rather from videogames. There are oblique references to games from the start -- Scottís band is called Sex Bob-Omb -- but OíMalley slowly begins twisting the narrative itself to resemble the plot of an 8-bit game. Scott loves Ramona, but they canít be together unless he defeats her seven evil exes. Itís a traditional save-the-princess plot, complete with spectacular boss battles, loot, experience, and even a 1UP for Scott after a particularly harrowing battle.

What makes Scott Pilgrim unique isnít that itís a comic with NES references -- god knows those are a dime a dozen -- but rather that itís genuinely good. And while itís never shy about copping to its influences, including a flashback lifted straight from River City Ransom, OíMalley doesnít invoke games simply for the sake of name-dropping. His use of game concepts works as a formal study, and also as context: NES fanaticism is a part of Scottís life, so thatís how he sees the world.

Naturally, itís been adapted into a slick 8-bit-style brawler that plays an awful lot like, well, River City Ransom. Shockingly, though, the movie is just as respectful of the medium as the books. Thereís hope yet for Hollywood.


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