Pulp Fictions: Bryan Lee O’Malley’s Scott Pilgrim Vs. the Universe and Hellen Jo’s Jin & Jam


Comics come out on Wednesday, and so does Richard Gehr’s Pulp Fictions.

Scott Pilgrim Vs. the Universe
By Bryan Lee O’Malley
Oni Press

You probably know somebody like Scott Pilgrim. Hell, you may even be somebody like Scott Pilgrim, whether you know it or not. Bryan Lee O’Malley’s cute and feckless 24-year-old protagonist is an old-fashioned slacker, a tabula rasa for what could well be our next lost generation. He works part time in a Toronto health-food restaurant, plays bass in a crap band called Sex Bob-omb, and gave up his innocent17-year-old girlfriend, Knives Chau, in order to move in with the older, wiser, and certainly more enigmatic Ramona Flowers. O’Malley depicts Scott’s inner life as a videogame, complete with bonus points and extra lives. He’s never more alive than when engaged in battle with Ramona’s seven “evil ex-boyfriends.”

Pilgrim’s progress, such as it is, continues in Scott Pilgrim vs. the Universe, the fifth and penultimate volume of the drolly amusing and extremely popular graphic novel O’Malley launched in 2004. Having flirted with happiness in volume four, Scott Pilgrim Gets It Together, O’Malley pulls the rug out from under his protagonist by jeopardizing the aforementioned band, girlfriend, and home. Fortunately, plot is secondary to character in Pilgrim, and O’Malley sustains our interest by slowly adding layers of detail to the book’s more nuanced supporting cast. (Michael Cera limns Scott’s “precious little life,” as O’Malley often characterizes it, in Scott Pilgrim vs. the World, currently in production.)

Sporting fashions inspired by Flickr’s wardrobe remix pool, O’Malley’s women are no less adrift than Pilgrim yet nonetheless carry themselves with a great deal more resolve. One of Scott’s exes, the appropriately named Kim Pine, is Sex Bob-omb’s drummer; another, Envy Adams, leads The Clash at Demonhead, a much more popular combo; and Ramona is a messenger with vaguely defined unearthly powers. O’Malley punctuates his depictions of the crew’s dead-end jobs, theme parties, and bar hangs with flashily rendered action sequences. Like all alt-bros and alt-girls, Pilgrim and pals oscillate between feeling ultraspecial and especially mundane.

Scott Pilgrim vs. the Universe is a satisfying prelude to Scott’s final confrontation with Gideon, the last and most lethal of Ramona’s evil exes. By the end of the volume, two of the main characters have thrown in the towel and moved back home with their parents. Scott, as lonely as he is well-intentioned, pines for Ramona the redeemer. As his gay former roommate, Wallace Wells, puts it: “She left you for a reason, Scott. And until you figure out that reason, you’ll never be a man.” I foresee our young adept figuring out the work-around for this game, too.

Jin & Jam 1
By Hellen Jo
Sparkplug Books

The ass-whompin’ melee in Hellen Jo’s terrific Jin & Jam debut feels a lot more painful than any of Scott Pilgrim’s fights of fantasy. The two Korean-American high schoolers meet cute, kind of, when Jin chides Jam for smoking cigarettes outside the church she attends with her mother. But “church girl” turns out to be fairly badass herself when called out after school by Ting and Terng, Siamese twins conjoined at the head. J&J’s friendship blossoms in the book’s final pages, with Jin’s SAT flash cards forming a chaotic cloud around the couple as they savor life on the cusp of childhood and something else. Hellen Jo mixes manga motifs with an old-fashioned underground sensibility and arrives at something bruisingly new. Tinges of Korean folk art and breathtaking shifts in perspective suggest a state somewhere between profane reality and an idyllic adolescent dreamstate. Can’t wait for more.