3P Reviews, Graphic Novels and Comics, Scott Pilgrim

Trick of the Light – Scott Pilgrim, Book Six

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I should dislike this book. It’s almost all fight. It backtracks much of the development of the characters from the previous books. Its thesis statement is messy. Wallace is barely in it.

And yet, rarely have I seen a series that concludes more powerfully, compressing all of its meaning and conflict and turmoil, literal and emotional, into a few simple images. It does all of this, while resembling an action anime that’s gone through a kawaii filter.

It’s good.

 

 

3P Reviews Series: Scott Pilgrim (graphic novels), Book Six – Scott Pilgrim’s Finest Hour

 

Spoilers: Yes

Audience Assumptions: None

Star Rating: *****

 

 

Part One: VERSUS

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Scott Pilgrim has been abandoned by his girlfriend. “Dumped” might be the better term, as he eventually accepts, but in the mean time, he’s spent months fermenting on his couch, playing video games.

His friends moving on without him, Scott eventually pushes himself to his feet long enough to attend a party and run into Knives and Envy. His attempts to get back together with them fail spectacularly, even with Wallace’s insistence that what he needs most right now is a lay.

That plan down the drain, Wallace ships him off to visit Kim, who is near bored to death at her parents’ house. Scott tries his earlier deal with her, which prompts a serious conversation about why they broke up in the first place and what Scott does that hurts the people he’s close to. It shouldn’t come as a surprise by now to know he doesn’t make an especially good ex himself.

Scott can’t change his past, nor can he ignore it. However, he’s still got Gideon waiting for him, so perhaps he can do something about his future.

Reinvigorated, Scott charges into Gideon’s new club, where he finds his friends and his arch-nemesis — and also Ramona.

Of course he defeats Gideon and wins back Ramona’s love in the end. This was always going to be a heartwarming story with a traditional happy ending. It’s not the story itself, but how it tells it that makes this series unique.

The fight between Scott and Gideon is long, but it has reason to be. Scott isn’t just fighting the final boss of the books, he’s fighting a skewed version of himself. Gideon isn’t the only one, either; before he can face Gideon, he must confront the shadowy creature that’s been following him around for a while, the malicious-looking Negascott.

This evil twin of his first appeared in Book Four, after Scott found Ramona had let Roxy stay the night at her house. While stumbling around town in a daze, he came across a version of himself, monochrome and evil-looking. He seemed to recognize it, pleading for it to leave him alone. Since then, the Negascott has been lurking in the shadows, always leering.

The Negascott appears in this book when Scott tries to make a move on Kim and she rejects him. Scott’s memory of his past relationships is fuzzy, to the point of him ignoring all of the bad things he’s done, instead blaming the other participants for his breakups. When Kim tells him this, correcting his impression of his past actions, he focuses instead on the figure in the shadows. The Negascott charges him, and he charges it, Kim shouting the whole time about him avoiding his real problems. He’d rather combat a video game character than face the truth. That he was an asshole to Knives throughout their relationship. That Envy is who she is now in part because of him. That he just left Kim without even having the decency to tell her his family was moving away. That he hurts people, that he’s violent, that he’s the bully.

The Negascott is all of Scott’s sins come back to haunt him, and it’s stronger than he is. You don’t defeat the Negascott by destroying it or running away from it. You can’t physically do that.

Scott doesn’t defeat the Negascott. He is the Negascott, at least in part. When it catches him, it pauses, then merges with him, flooding his mind with the memories of what he’s done and who he really is. Scott isn’t the hapless innocent who fights for justice against monsters. Real life is rarely so simple. We’ve known this for a while, and Kim’s revelations only stand to hammer home the contrast between how Scott acts and who he is.

But now he knows that too. The Negascott would be the final enemy in another story, a dark mirror held up to the character to explain their actions, but in this book, the Negascott is only the warm-up. Coming to terms with his inner demons allows Scott to move forward. He hasn’t suddenly become a better person. He hasn’t atoned for his past ills, and perhaps never will. But at least now he accepts responsibility for them, feels the appropriate guilt. He has a better insight into the world and himself. And with that comes and understanding of Gideon, too.

Scott leaves Kim’s house to face down Gideon. This would seem antithetical to what he’s just learned, wouldn’t it? That fighting isn’t the solution, that not all enemies are there to be defeated? Gideon is a reflection of Scott as much as the Negascott is.

That’s why Scott goes to confront him, though; because reflections aren’t so different from the faces that make them.

 

Part Two: Baggage

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The climactic battle is… uh, well, chaotic. Part of what makes it so confusing is how much of it is symbolic, and how the symbolic bits are also literal, and there are many nerdy references, and also many swords, and cryogenic ladies at one point. Many Ramonas. Scott dies. Sort of.

Here, I’ll just run through it quickly.

Scott arrives at the Chaos theatre for Envy’s big show and, after finding his friends there to cheer him on, faces Gideon. They spar for a few pages before realizing that neither of them has Ramona, which confuses both of them — Scott because he assumed Gideon was holding her captive, Gideon because he assumed Scott was coming here to defeat him as per the evil ex agreement. Gideon steals Scott’s sword. When Gideon learns that Scott is Ramona’s newest ex, he invites him to join the League. Scott refuses, so Gideon kills him.

Scott enters a fever dream where he runs into Ramona. She apologizes for up and leaving him, explaining that she needed some time to herself and wasn’t really sure how to tell him, so she just didn’t. Scott interrupts, seeing her apology as a chance to get back together. Ramona reminds him he’s dead, then the extra life Scott earned after defeating Todd revives him. Ramona rides his subconscious back into the real world to face Gideon herself.

Gideon reveals that he has several cryogenic tubes with his crushes frozen inside, and he intends to put Ramona in one as well. He then ignites a “glow” in all of the party-goers. Gideon, Scott, and Ramona fight, arguing amongst themselves as they go. Realizing their efforts are futile, Ramona starts to disappear into her “glow,” but Gideon stabs her before she can retreat into her own mind. Ramona indicates to Scott that her handbag is connected to subspace, and therefore her head as well. Scott climbs inside and enters her mind, where a monstrous version of Gideon has Ramona’s astral projection held captive. Gideon goes Super Saiyan. Scott headbutts him to give him the “glow, but Gideon cuts him in half. Ramona frees herself from her bonds, and then many more Ramonas appear from the shadows to take on Gideon. Gideon tries to dispatch Scott, but Ramona blocks his swords swing with her bag. Her bag explodes, ejecting an unearthly amount of clothes and memorabilia. Ramona retrieves the sword lodged in the bag, and is healed.

Envy rushes in to help Gideon, but he yells at her to leave him to finish things on his own. Scott comes to an understanding about Gideon and earns a new sword. Gideon extracts a sword from Envy’s fancy dress. Gideon admits to messing with Ramona and Scott’s minds. Ramona disarms him. Ramona and Scott defeat him together and he bursts into millions of coins that rain down on the club-goers.

Epilogue.

There’s a lot to unpack here, and some of it will have to wait for the next part of the review, but I can start by discussing what this fight is really about. There are a lot of representational concepts involved in the fight, even more than usual for this series. We have the overt metaphors of the power-ups, with the exchange of swords linked to video game-like stat increases for the characters, and coinciding with emotionally significant actions like Scott coming to understand Gideon. The series has done this plenty of times before, but it goes several steps further

Ramona’s bag is an overt representation of her emotional baggage, which is extensive and made public when Gideon attacks her. Ramona’s willingness to sacrifice her emotional baggage and her lack of interest in cleaning it up shed light on how her character has changed over the series.

Prior to the start of the fight, Scott spills a drink on his shirt and gets one of Gideon’s definitely-not-the-Triforce shirts to wear for most of the fight. This mirrors Gideon’s appearance when he first meets Scott, and also associates them both with the video games Scott has referenced many previous times in the series. When Scott comes to understand Gideon, his damaged Triforce shirt is replaced with a star, the symbol associated with Ramona.

Flashbacks, lines of dialogue, and orderly visual cues reinforce comparisons among the three characters. Gideon’s actions mirror Ramona’s in the mid-fight, and Ramona’s actions mirror Scott’s at the end. Over the course of the battle, Gideon tries to lure each of them to his side and set them against each other, until Ramona and Scott make sacrifices for each other. They come to an understanding of Gideon, diminishing his influence over them, and weakening him both conceptually and physically, until he’s small, disarmed, and little more than a petty asshole. That they defeat him together, alone among the exes, signifies the strength of their relationship, and their respective individual victories over Gideon and what he represents.

So what does Gideon represent, then? Scott? Scott’s evil side? Ramona? Ramona’s baggage? Selfishness? Cruelty? Pettiness? All of those nasty emotions that we try to bury deep? Our past mistakes? The assholes we just can’t seem to get out of our heads?

Sure. Maybe. I don’t really know.

One of the joys of a series like this with an intricate series of characters and events is that the symbols within often don’t have a single meaning. They have meaning, but it’s elusive, multi-faceted, slightly different each time it comes up. That’s how I like it; nothing’s more boring than a series where every bird means freedom, every snake means evil, and so on.

Gideon is a bad guy. He’s the big boss, he’s the personal main antagonist for both Ramona and Scott. Gideon mirrors Scott, but unlike the Negascott, Gideon’s actions are his own. Scott’s understanding comes when he realizes how he and Gideon are different, that Gideon pushes away the people around him, while Scott depends on them. He gets a renewed appreciation for his friends in that moment, and it’s really this that lets him understand Gideon. What he understands is that Gideon is the version of himself that is wholly selfish and isolated, the sort of person he might become if not for Wallace, Ramona, Kim, and all of his other friends. Scott needs to defeat Gideon because he’s decided that’s not who he’s going to be. He’s become more self-sufficient over the course of the book, but he still needs his friends — as equals now, not as caretakers or sidekicks or love ones what need protecting.

Ramona has come to the same conclusion. She used to be Gideon. A part of her still is. But she’s stronger than that now.

Murder aside, it’s a pretty cathartic finale.

 

Part Three: Glow

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Here’s a question for you: does this book have a happy ending?

My automatic response would be yes, of course it’s happy. Everything about the framing feels appropriate to the typical fairytale. Boy and girl defeat villain, tie up loose ends, run off together. That’s what it normally looks like, right?

But of course, I wouldn’t be talking about it if there weren’t a few irregularities, right?

You know me, I love ambiguity, and what really seals the deal for me with this series is its unwillingness to give absolutes. I could probably make a fair case for the characters being in worse shape than they were at the start of the story if I really wanted to. I don’t think that’s the intent, but I do think the story isn’t eager to establish Scott as fully on-track with his life either.

At the end of the fourth book, Scott and Ramona seemed to have everything figured out. Their ending in that part of the saga was nearly perfect for them, appropriate to the tone and turmoil of the preceding events. At the end of the series, however, their state is more mixed. Scott has his job back and has formed a new band with Kim to play for fun, but he’s not particularly good at his job, his response to learning Stephen Stills is gay proves he’s still as childish as before, and he and Ramona don’t return to their home, they disappear into subspace, and by extension, their own heads.

In fact, they disappear into a glow.

Throughout the series, the characters, Ramona in particular, have been beset by a “glow” around their heads. This is a fourth-wall break, referencing the lines that often emanate from the heads of characters in certain comics to emphasize their emotional state (often shock or anger). Scott notices it coming from Ramona occasionally, and he gets it himself during the sequence that introduces the Negascott. Outside of occasional references by the characters, the glow is largely unimportant for the first four books, but in the fifth, Kim starts to notice it and she, Ramona, and Scott spend a lot of time talking about what it is and what it means. The characters who develop the glow don’t seem to notice it, and Ramona seems to know what it is, but refuses to tell anyone. It engulfs her when she abandons Scott.

In this book, she reveals that Gideon “invented it.” He refers to it as an emotional weapon, something that locks a person in their own head, and it’s contagious. It seems to be something of an extension of what he represents — envy, selfishness, anger. Gideon claims that Ramona has figured out how to turn it to her advantage, using the glow as a link to the metaphysical world, like the subspace highway. She disappears into herself to avoid confrontation or making tough decisions.

The glow is not especially consistent throughout the series as a symbol, and even the author has admitted that he’s not wholly satisfied with how it turned out in the end. It’s one of the more tenuous parts of the series, but I kind of think that imbues it with more meaning, intended or not.

After the battle concludes, Ramona and Scott talk alone in an elevator. Ramona explains that part of why she acts the way she does is because she’s not sure how to go about growing up. She tells him:

“Change is… it’s what we get. I guess that’s my problem — I’m always trying to beat the clock, outrun the universe… like nothing can change me, as long as I change first. I feel like I’m in this river, just getting swept along… and if I hold on to anyone, if I’m holding on for dear life, I’m not getting anywhere. I’m stuck…I never wanted to get stuck.”

Ramona recognizes the need to adapt as her circumstances change, but she hasn’t found a good solution to maintaining agency through the process. If she keeps running from boyfriend to boyfriend, she’ll stay ahead of her past, but she won’t make any meaningful relationships, and she’ll just be going through the motions. But if she decides to stick around with someone like Scott, she’ll be relinquishing her volition in a way, letting her past catch up to her and pass her by, perhaps without any way to do anything about it. That prospect scares her, and it’s what drove her away in the first place.

Scott’s solution is disconcerting given what we’ve seen of the series. He knows how to stick firmly and perpetually in place, and he offers to show Ramona how. This is not a good thing. It is explicitly not a good thing. All throughout the series, Scott has been in a state of arrested development, and his arc has been about overcoming his more puerile impulses to become a semi-functioning adult. Now he’s regressing, and he’s taking Ramona with him.

Sort of.

Scott’s arc is incomplete, as is Ramona’s. The reason they don’t settle into an idyllic ending where they’ve opted to move on with their lives together, and instead retreat into their minds and the glow once more, is because they’re not ready yet. They have an idea of where they might be headed, and maybe together they’ll be able to overcome each other’s vices. Scott is stuck in place, Ramona is unable to sit still, so perhaps together they’ll be able to change at a healthier rate. Either way, the story isn’t fully willing to abandon its references and video games and childishness just yet. And that’s okay. The books have never castigated video games or anime as concepts — they love them. Obviously. It’s Scott’s unhealthy obsession that makes them representative of his refusal to grow up.

Scott kills Gideon. Whether Gideon is an actual flesh-and-blood (er… coin?) person, he and Ramon defeat Gideon with violence and swords. Scott gets closure with several of the other characters, including Envy, but Wallace and Stacy seem to recognize that he and Ramona haven’t really learned what they perhaps ought to by now. In many ways, Scott is more or less where he was at the beginning of the series, save a girlfriend.

Maybe that’s enough, though. Either way, it’s what he’s got now, so that’ll have to do.

 

 

Series Breakdown Rating:

Characters and Character Development: 8
Aesthetics and Style: 7
Humor: 7
Main Plot: 7
Subplots: 8
Sum: 37/50

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