Book of the Month

Book of the Month – Scott Pilgrim Volume 5: Scott Pilgrim vs. The Universe

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Price: 11.95

A few years ago Josh, Ron and I were kicking around the streets of New York City lamenting the fact that we couldn’t find the next great slice of life indie book.  We couldn’t find anything that spoke to us; we couldn’t find anything that felt real and not contrived.  Books like Strangers in Paradise had been going on for years.  We were desperate for a new one.

Then one day Josh posted an article here on asking for people to suggest new things for him to read and the most popular response was a little book from Oni Press – that we had only just begun to hear rumblings about – called Scott Pilgrim by Canadian writer/artist Bryan Lee O’Malley.  One by one we all bought and read the first volume of Scott Pilgrim and a cascading wave of euphoria made its way through iFanboy.

We’d finally found the book we’d been looking for.

With its infusion of video game motifs and manga influenced art style, Scott Pilgrim would seem, on its surface, to be an unlikely candidate to be not only our new favorite slice of life book, but one of the most important independent comics of the last ten years. 

But it is both of those things and more.

When it began, Scott Pilgrim seemed to be about the mindlessness of youth, and the reckless abandon with which many people live their early 20s.  Scott Pilgrim himself was a slacker of the highest order.  His greatest ambition was to play bass in a moderately successful local band.  He mooched off of his friends.  He mooched off of his roommate (they were so poor they shared a bed).  He dated a high school senior.  Scott Pilgrim had no interest whatsoever in entering the adult world.  If there was a choice to make, he made the easy one.

And then Scott went to a party and met a girl named Ramona and everything chang–well, not everything changed but some things started to change in Scott’s world.  And by the end of the fourth volume, Scott had learned that if he wanted to not only get the girl but win the girl he had to make some (slight) changes within himself.

Changes weren’t the only thing required to win Ramona, Scott also had to defeat her seven evil ex-boyfriends in combat in order to date her.  And that’s where things get a bit hairy for some people. 

Mixed into the precise examination of life and love in your early 20s were some fantastical elements that throw just about everybody for a loop when they first read Scott Pilgrim.  Not only will giant manga/anime/video game (take your pick) style fights break out in the middle of a scene when one of the evil ex boyfriends show up, but Ramona makes her living as a delivery person for and she utilizes quick trips through subspace to get the job done.  These fantastical elements might seem out of place if you’re just reading about them here, but in the world that Bryan Lee O’Malley has created, a world that is at once both intimate and over-the-top, these elements make perfect sense.  These occurrences are normal for the characters and eventually they become normal for the reader as well.

Scott Pilgrim Volume 5: Scott Pilgrim vs. The Universe opens on Scott’s 24th birthday, which is shocking because going back and looking at Volume 1: Precious Little Life, Scott was 23, and only about six months of story have passed.  That’s crazy!  It seems like so much has happened.  Or maybe it’s because the books have been coming out for almost five years now.  Either way, that’s crazy but in a way it’s also apropos.  When you’re 23 lots of things tend to happen all at once.

At the end of Volume 4, Scott Pilgrim convinced Ramona that he was ready for love and a real relationship and here in Volume 5 not only do we find Scott and Ramona living together but we see that almost everything else in their lives has slightly changed.  They still have their circle of friends, made up primarily of the members of Scott’s band, but the relationships are all a bit different now.  The band, Sex Bob-omb. is mired in recording an album and have all but broken up.  People who were dating before are not anymore.  People who were roommates before are not anymore.  The pieces that made up the old status quo are still there but their positions have shifted just a bit. 

Why all the subtle changes?  Scott’s friends are starting to grow up.  Not in dramatic ways, but in those subtle ways that we all do.  Suddenly being 22 and in a band isn’t the most important thing in the world.  Having a job, figuring out if you want to go back to school, finding a stable living situation, those are the new priorities for the people who orbit Scott Pilgrim.  But there is one person who, for all of his changes up until this point isn’t growing up, and that person is Scott Pilgrim.  The only problem?  Ramona is also growing up.  There is a scene early on in this volume that underscores the fact that the euphoria of Scott and Ramona finally figuring things out at the end of Volume 4 will be short lived.  It’s a simple scene, just Scott and Ramona having breakfast together talking about the day that awaits them.  Ramona ticks off a whole list of things she has to do and take care of during the day.  The only thing on Scott’s (unspoken) agenda is video games.  It’s not a flashy scene, or a showy scene, but it’s a very telling scene.  Anyone who has been there before themselves knows that there are rocky roads ahead.

If anything, Scott Pilgrim Volume 5 shows us that there are some pretty serious cracks in Scott and Ramona’s relationship.  As these things normally go, the couple goes through trials and tribulations to get together and then it’s happily ever after.  But not here.  Not in Scott Pilgrim.  Now that Scott and Ramona are together and we get to actually see them together we start to see that maybe the girl of Scott’s dreams isn’t really the girl of his dreams.  They don’t seem to have a lot in common.  They don’t seem to have very much fun together.  She doesn’t like his band.  And more importantly, while Scott seems happy where he is in his life, Ramona seems to be progressing and growing.  And if that wasn’t enough, there appears to be more to Ramona than Scott realizes – mysterious things, head glowy things – things she can’t or won’t explain.  There is a creeping feeling in this volume that as happy as he seems to be, Scott may not realize that the life he’s leading is a façade that is set to crumble at any moment.

This might all sound dire and dreary but it’s not.  Scott is still Scott – he’s adorably clueless about life beyond the here and now.  He’s exasperating at times but you can’t seem to hate him for it.  The hallmark of Scott Pilgrim has been breathlessly exciting, extremely clever, and laugh out loud funny storytelling and all of that is present here.  What is also present is a deeper level of maturity in the characters and a greater level of sophistication to the story.  It is a testament to Bryan Lee O’Malley’s skill that a story in which Scott Pilgrim does battle with multiple robot henchmen feels the most emotionally real of all of the volumes to date, and more emotionally real than just about any comic book I’ve read recently.  There are some devastating scenes here and it’s to O’Malley’s credit that he does not over play them.  It’s all about subtlety here.  A look, a line of dialogue, the lack of dialogue – all of these things play into the real story here, which is not the punching or the kicking, but the ever evolving relationships.  In fact, much of the fighting that Scott Pilgrim engages in here happens either in the background or off camera.  It’s an artistic choice that let’s the reader know what’s really going on here.  What’s really important.

Bryan Lee O’Malley’s art continues to get better and better.  I really liked the art in the first volume, but if you compare that art to the art here, it’s no contest.  His skill as an artist has grown considerably in the last five years.  There is so much that happens in these books that is unspoken and some much emotion to convey and O’Malley does it all with characters with oversized eyes.  O'Malley's cartoony style is really deceptive.  There is so much weight and emotion in his faces.  Each character has a look and a personality that is expressed solely through their design and it works almost 100% of the time.  If there is anything that I could criticize in this book it’s that there are one or two instances when it’s difficult to tell Ramona and Kim apart.  It’s not the worst thing in the world but it did take me out of the story a few times when I had to stop to figure out who was talking.

Of course now that I think about it, because of where the story goes that might have been entirely intentional.

Scott Pilgrim is the most true and honest look at relationships in your lost early 20s that I have come across in ages.  I see so much of my own experiences in these stories, or the experiences of people I knew.  Hell, there are still an uncomfortably high number of things that I recognize about my life now in these books. 

With each passing volume Bryan Lee O’Malley gets better and better.  This is the most moving, heartfelt, and subtle volume of Scott Pilgrim yet.  And it’s also the best.

Conor Kilpatrick

Pick up Scott Pilgrim Volume 5: Scott Pilgrim vs. The Universe at Amazon!


  1. now there’s a surprise. But seriously nice review conor i look forward to reading this once we get it in australia

  2. OMG!!!! It’s only been an hour since release and it’s BOTM!?

    I seriously cant stop laughing here!!

    Great review, and I’m willing to give this series another try…..but the fact that only an hour has passed and it becomes instant BOTM…..I cant hold my shit together!

  3. I got it as i birthday gift along with it the four preceeding. looking forward to reading it especailly with all the goodvibes surrounding it.

  4. Can’t wait. 


  5. haha i CALLED that lol. i cant wait to read it!!

  6. Unfortunately, I’ve got to wait until Friday, but I am soooo stoked for this.

  7. @Dan new York Comic Con Limited edition one?

  8. bought it today, read it today, favorite volume by far, cant wait for the next one!


     I read it in less than an hour. Seems like it moved a lot quicker than the others … less to digest? Still good. Need to get 1-4 back from my friend and reread the whole series.

  10. Great review conor. I agree, its probably the best Vol yet.

  11. Totally worth the wait, which is a rare feat for something so hyped. 

     Really beautiful storytelling here. It works on so many levels, like Conor pointed out. Funny enough it really reminds me of the evolution of the Harry Potter books, and how with each volume the tropes of the previous ones make up the backbone of the story but the characters have sort of moved past them, even if those ideas still exist. Also, just like I wanted a relationship to happen there that never will, Harry and Hermione, I want one here that I doubt will.  

  12. Great book indeed, but I don’t think its the best in the series.  After thinking about it, maybe its because its a sadder story and a deeper look at the relationships here?  The band broke up, girls left, relationships lost.  Vol. 4 filled me with such glee and this one took it all away!!! 

    My heart sank as soon as I noticed that Ramona had cut her hair.  OH man, this volume just tuggs at your heartstrings.  I think thats going to make vol. 6 all the more sweeter.  Loved when Ramona faded away and so did the panels, I totally thought of Spider-man and OMD!!  Anyone else? 

  13. Yeah, it’s pretty disturbing how many moments I can pick out and realize, "Oh, that’s me."

    This one of the best works of fiction for me. I just plain ole’ love it.

  14. *deep breath* I have never. Ever. Ever. Read Scott Pilgrim. Ever. I had no idea it was actually a big deal until no. 5 was released. Now that everyone’s acting like it’s the bee’s knees, I’m kind of curious…

  15. @Ottobott: You know I think that’s how crack first got popular in NYC during the 80’s. 🙂

  16. Count me in the boat of people who can relate to Scott far more than we should.

    Easily one of the most honest books out there in how it truly reflects how people and relationships work.

  17. If my life had a face, this book would punch it in the gut.

  18. Great review Conor!  Glad that I made a conscious decision to read it after I finished Vol. 5.  This was such a great, emotional read…the wait for the final volume is going to be excruciating!

  19. Truth be told, this is the only book I actually care about, I read every other title on my list out of habit.


    Scott Pilgram is a breath of fresh air compared to all the boring one/one and half note darker books. 

  20. "Scott Pilgram is a breath of fresh air compared to all the boring one/one and half note darker books." 

     You (along with everyone else) obviously never read another shojo manga before.  Because if you had, this wouldn’t be a "Breath of fresh air."  I do love Scott Pilgrim, and it was the first manga I read several years ago.  But since then I’ve taken my time in the Barnes & Noble manga section and found, "Oh my, there’s lots of books just like this right here."  Some are better, not all.  But some indeed.  One I found is 100 times better.

  21. Is there a shortage on this book or something? Cos Amazon are out in the UK, it was delayed by 3 weeks and Diamond didn’t send it to my comic shop (although it MIGHT be in next week)? It’s really irritating me. I wanna read it sooooooo much 🙁

  22. There’s not a shortage so much as for the past two weeks Diamond has been moving their central hub which has caused some problems with supplying certain books.  This is one of those books.

  23. Yeah.  It took two weeks before I could grab a copy.  Insanity.

  24. Oh right. That sucks. My comic shop man looked scared as he told me it wasn’t in… according to my friend, my temple was twitching and I looked like I was about to burst into tears. Oh, well. Hopefully next week (I need it for March 4th… got a 4 hour drive to a university and wanna read it on the way!!)

  25. It got released into bookstores this week, too, I believe.  You could check Borders or Barnes & Noble now, too.  I know B&R has it orderable off their website now.

  26. I’m not sure they ship to dear ol’ Blighty 🙁 had them when I looked, but were useless. The day of the UK release (18 Feb) they sold out before 9 am, and my dad being the grouchy soul he is refused to order it (although it WAS technically his birthday…)

    I’ll just have to wait, and block my ears. All I know is that something bad happens with Young Neil… I’ve not even read Conor’s review (though my brother tries to spout quotes from it to try and infuriate me) 

  27. Wait, your brother’s read it?  I don’t know how they do it in the UK, but in the US of A, when we want something and our brother has it, then that brother must be crushed.

  28. No, my brother’s quoting reviews (especially one’s with spoilers) … if he had it I would have stolen it by now! 

  29. "You (along with everyone else) obviously never read another shojo manga before "


    Well I grew up in Nothern Ontario and moved to Toronto at the time I discovered Scott Pilgram, perhaps I’m bias. I’ll check out that titled you dropped but I doubt it resonate with me like SP.

  30. My favorte part in this series is in the first book when Scott says "this song is called Launchpad Mcquack!"

  31. Renewed dilemma: My LCS may not get it this week either (which will kill me from the inside out) but my old comic shop (run by a guy I don’t particularly like to give money to for various reasons) DOES have it. My regular guy would be devastated if I got it from the other shop – what should I do? HELP ME IFANBOY (I thought I’d get a quicker reply on here than writing an e-mail to the guys). Thanks.