*Scott Pilgrim’s Finest Hour — Recommended

It’s time to say goodbye to Scott Pilgrim, the bemused young fighter and band member we’ve watched grow up over the last six years. This volume is a satisfying conclusion to his journey from clueless boy coasting through life to young man making his own decisions and fighting for the woman he loves.

Scott Pilgrims Finest Hour cover
Scott Pilgrim’s Finest Hour
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The last of Ramona’s evil exes, Gideon, obviously plays a major role, but not as much of one as I expected. That’s a good thing, because this series moved beyond the “life as video game” motif several books ago. In fact, the opening — where a depressed Scott, ditched by Ramona, won’t stop playing a handheld game or get off the couch for months — seems like an indictment of that kind of simplistic “looking for victory” competition as nothing but an escape.

I’m not sure what to think about gay ex-roommate Wallace. All through this series, I thought he was a little skewed, although basically good, but with the advice he gives Scott to push him out of his funk here, I no longer think that’s the case. Isn’t “go have sex with someone” the kind of attitude that got Scott into this situation, with his not owning his bad behavior with Knives when he met Ramona?

(This book is full of those kind of question-sparking moments, and I wish I had a book club to discuss it with. I suppose that’s what the internet is for, but it’s much harder to flip to a page and point to a panel in that case.)

Lots of characters move on, as friends and acquaintances must. The theme underlying this all is how we need our memories, how they form the person we become. Scott doesn’t have many memories, and what he does recall is simplified and childish (in a lovely visual technique), rewritten to make him look better in contrast to the facts. It’s all about him, and learning that others may have different, justified, unpleasant thoughts of him in their past is a key stepping stone on his trip to adulthood.

Scott Pilgrim Finest Hour p54

Envy Adams makes a request

Envy Adams, shown here, brings this home, as the most transformed character. She’ll put up with him, sometimes, just because he knew her before the celebrity, knew who she was before her image took over.

Similarly adult is the idea that some may choose to be alone, temporarily, because that’s better for them at the time. Scott’s never chosen that before, drifting from one relationship to another or getting dumped, and it surprised me that that was one of the things we realize he and Ramona have in common. Several characters take off by themselves — self-dramatizing it, because that’s what they do, into a “wilderness sabbatical” — as a way of resetting themselves.

Scott Pilgrim Finest Hour p62

Kim Pine shares her wisdom

Kim’s the symbol of this, the one girl who knew him through it all. Even though she’s found that sabbatical, in practice, can be boring, that’s part of daily life too. It’s not always an adventure, not always something full of challenges. Except here, where coming to terms with the part of yourself you dislike might be symbolized by an alternate version or a strange glow.

I can’t say much about the art, because it’s really good. Characters are distinctive, truly themselves, and as expressive as they need to be. I powered through the book on the first read, just to find out what happened to everyone, and the flow supports that. It also supports savoring each moment, and explores dreams and flashbacks and closeups and group fight scenes. Rebirth here is taken a bit literally.

Not knowing yourself is a kind of protection, where things can’t really hurt you, and what you think is weakness others might see as strength. That’s how we manage to form relationships with others — together, we can overcome our fear and complement each other. Even if we’re weak in dealing with our own issues, we can be strong for the one we love. And our worst enemies can be those the most like us.

I was reminded of how difficult it can be to come to terms with the idea that your best years just might be behind you. (Envy’s song helped.) That’s another part of growing up, realizing that the choices you make give you satisfaction but shut down other avenues, and you can’t be young and full of potential forever. It’s tiring to keep chasing new partners and new trends. That’s one of the reasons it tickled me so that the last song we see Scott playing is by one of my all-time favorites, The Monkees. (That and they’re personally important to me, since they’re one of the reasons KC and I are together.)

We have to say goodbye to Scott, but I’m very much looking forward to seeing much more from his creator, Bryan Lee O’Malley, in future.

24 Responses to “*Scott Pilgrim’s Finest Hour — Recommended”

  1. Hal Shipman Says:

    Excellent, excellent analysis.

    I *think* that Wallace’s point was that he thought that Scott needed to “get laid” without a relationhsip for once. Shallow, not very good advice, but it is a commmon retort to someone in a funk. And it gets to your point. He is, in a way, saying that Scott needs to be alone emotionally, break up his status quo of being obsessed with relationships.

    I LOVE your book club idea. Can’t believe I haven’t thought of that. And it’s what Usenet used to be, in it’s own way. I’m going to pitch that to the Erics at Chicago Comics.

  2. Stephen Geigen-Miller Says:

    I’ve been mulling over Volume 6 for over a week, and I’m still working out what I think about it, and whether what I think about it has more to do with me or the book. I think, on balance, that I’m closer to disappointed than satisfied. But… you know, expectations for this book were huge, and somebody wasn’t going to get what they wanted out of it. Maybe I’m that somebody?

  3. Johanna Says:

    Thanks, Hal. I’ve seen a number of comic shops do book clubs, although I’ve never participated in one.

    Stephen, could you elaborate a bit on what disappointed you?

  4. Paul Mata Says:

    Don’t start the club meeting before I find my copy!

    Rather than opening new possibilities (very few new characters or locations), this volume focused on closing shop. Characters conversed one-on-one, and there were several partings.

    The mundane revelations (where Ramona was all this time, how Gideon formed the League) felt dismissive, but made me focus on other parts of the story. Parts that I realized I could relate to more: the difficulties of relationships, values, and living.

    This is very different from the direction the movie seems to be going (quirky, action/romance with pop-culture references). This is a series with a beginning, middle, and end that are grounded in normal and I love it.

  5. David Oakes Says:

    The loca library system has a number of Book Clubs for various ages, and occassionally slips a “Graphic Novel” past the Teen/Young Adults.

    But a “Comic Club” would be a great outreach for local shops. It would emphasize the sense of community that a specialist shop can provide. (I know all the Mystery Book Stores I have ever seen have Clubs.)

  6. Stephen Geigen-Miller Says:

    Whoosh; I’ll try, although as I mentioned above, my thoughts are still a bit disorganized. Oh: spoilers ahoy.

    Paul’s comments touch on some of the issues that were troublesome for me, although we’ve obviously reacted to them quite differently; a number of plot points were handled in what felt to me to be a very dismissive way.

    For instance, the resolutions of the Scott/Kim and Scott/Knives subplots felt trivialized, and also like a cheap shot at the shippers. I’m disappointed that everybody else grew up between Volumes 5 and 6 while Scott wasn’t paying attention.

    (That’s realistic, but for me, it wasn’t satisfying.)

    The big reveal with Stephen Stills was cute, but again, after the big build-up around the hinted-at Stills/Knives relationship, it felt like a red herring gotcha.

    The supporting cast was poorly served in general; Wallace had virtually nothing to do (although I have some thoughts about what he DID do; more on that later, perhaps). Stacey had nothing at all to do.

    And nobody told Julie off.

    Conversely, we got follow-through and a conclusion we didn’t need with Envy Adams, who was entirely extraneous to this volume.

    Looking back on the series as a whole, it’s clear that Scott Pilgrim is about the way we romanticize and confabulate in our memories of ourselves, our experiences and past relationships.

    That being said, I still don’t understand what was going on with Ramona and Gideon. It felt very much to me like Bryan Lee O’Malley was trying to hand-wave and tap-dance around the differences that had emerged between how he had decided to resolve the story and the plot and character points he had explicitly or implicity established earlier in the series.

  7. Paul Mata Says:

    Stephen, very good points.

    Did you feel Scott arriving at a birthday party without knowing whose party it was felt shoehorned to reintroduce Envy Adams?

    O’Malley, in his interview with Laura Hudson at Comics Alliance, stated “I realized I identified with Envy more than anyone else. So I had to bring her back.”

    Envy’s coffee scene dialogue sounded like a stand-in for author revelations to the reader.

  8. Johanna Says:

    “That’s realistic, but for me, it wasn’t satisfying.” That’s an excellent summation, Stephen, of a problem that can happen with a variety of works. I liked the increasing realism, and the way it felt that some of the characters had their own independent lives outside of his story now, but I can understand why it might seem less than satisfactory to some readers. And Paul has a very good point about Envy’s dialogue. I liked feeling as though the author and I were moving in similar directions about the meaning of what we were seeing, though.

  9. Sarah Says:

    Stephen, you really didn’t pick up on Joseph and Stephen Stills’s budding romance? I thought it was fairly obvious, though I was surprised that O’Malley followed through on it in this volume.

    And I’m not sure that Envy Adams is “extraneous.” It’s Envy who started Scott off on his downward spiral before the first volume, and her story occupies the middle volume, so symmetry alone calls for her to appear for closure. And she mirrors the Gideon action: just “beating” the ex isn’t good enough–understanding them is necessary to achieve growth.

    I admit, I loved seeing her again just because O’Malley draws her so fabulously. And because Infinite Sadness was probably my favorite of all the individual volumes.

  10. Stephen Geigen-Miller Says:

    @Sarah: Nope, perhaps it was dim of me, but I completely missed any foreshadowing of Stills/Joseph — and I re-read the whole series just before Volume 6 came out, too. In retrospect, of course, Young Neil’s particular choice of insult in Volume 5 makes much more sense, but even now, that’s the only hint that seems very clear to me. My theory was that Stills had cheated on Julie with Knives then hypocritically thrown Scott under a bus for his own cheating. It fit the “everything falls apart” feeling of Vs. The Universe very well, plus I figured Knives was trying for a triple hat of Sex Bob-omb makeouts. :)

    I think of the return of Envy Adams as extraneous because I absolutely loved the lack of closure for Scott that she represented; it was one of my favourite things about Infinite Sadness. Wallace expressed the key point beautifully in Volume 3: “Her being back doesn’t make it not over.” That was good. That worked. I didn’t need literal closure as icing on the cake. For me, it just weakened that beautiful ending in retrospect. To tweak my one of my previous comments, for me Envy’s symmetrical return was artful, but not satisfying.

  11. Stephen Geigen-Miller Says:

    “Triple hat”. Oh dear me, it IS late. My brain split the difference between “triple crown” and “hat trick” there. :)

  12. SailorMeff Says:

    I’m on the fence about book 6 also but I think it’s more personal than anything.

    I had the rare pleasure of reading all of the Scott pilgrim books for the first time over the course of a week and enjoyed almost every panel.

    Scott is a character that I identify with (probably a lot of people in my generation do). I’m 26, I have a video gaming podcast, I ride a motorcycle and although I meet with wild success in my career I hold myself back (consciously and unconsciously) for fear of growing up.

    To further drive the point home, I went through a very abrupt and painful separation with a girl I still hold dear.

    There was no actual breakup. The page where Ramona tells Scott she’s a bad person and piffs literally put me to tears because THAT HAPPENED to me (sans glow, but I kept her cat).

    We both went on sabbatical and neither of us has returned since. I haven’t maintained interest in anyone past a first date since.

    Reading through book 6, I found myself longing for a picture perfect ending. I so closely identified with this character and the story that I felt like if things could be perfect for Scott maybe there’s hope for me too.

    In the end, though, we got closure on the past and an uncertain future.

    Scott Pilgrim’s story will, in my mind, remain a romantic tragedy.

    The ending was perfect for the book but it wasn’t perfect for me and until I can pick things up in my own life I’ll remain a little disappointed with the ending.

    On a side note, life going to the crapper is an amazing growth experience btw – I can say for certain that one way to learn who exactly you are at the core is to have your so-called-life go to hell and then see how you deal with picking yourself back up. I don’t recommend it, but it’s been a terrible ride I wouldn’t give up for the world, or the girl for that matter…

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