There’s a lot to say about this one, and this being my personal favourite issue has little to do with it. From last issue’s cover, we began a departure into a more telling choice in aesthetics. A more poignant flavor to preface the events of each issue. With this issue’s cover, we may well have severed our ties altogether. Yes, this reprisal of Lucifer’s portrait (originally featured in Issue #1 as an alternate cover) is striking, but it is more of an indication of the dual structure in the comic and outside of it.
As told by the writer in his personal Tumblr, the events Lucifer went through in the first arc (The Faust Act: 1-5) are mirrored by Laura in the current arc (Fandemonium: 6-11). We won’t be reaping any symmetry in terms of events with this duality, but we do have a thematic repetition. After all, Laura and Luci were a unit of sorts from the very beginning. Their stories went through different arcs, but both stem from a shot at relevance otherwise unattainable as regular human-beings.
All things considered, we already have a pretty solid idea of what that means for the events to unfold, so let’s get to it.
“No one gets a happy ending”
We start off on a dreary note as Laura stands alone, watching the night pass by at Hilly Fields’ park. She dwells on the past events, especially the awakening of the twelfth god, which essentially kills her chance to become a god. You know what they say, that light shines the strongest when in the dark? Well that’s what’s happening here. With a snap of her fingers, she starts making her way home with poise and resolve. Her inner monologue revolves around the doom that awaits the Pantheon. Although she is not a god herself, she still seeks to be their truest ally. Whether this intention is genuine or just a means to pull herself forward is anyone’s guess.
You know that feeling when don’t hear back when applying for a job? How you’re at a loss for words when you get a call to let you know otherwise? Whether you keep a look of outrage, disappointment, or apathy, it crumbles in an instant. As her reinvigorated mood reaches its peak, a visit from Ananke in her backyard catches Laura off guard. She’s come to discuss something, and we know she’s not one to dwell on trifling matters. Let’s keep in mind that the wheel of the Pantheon is closed now: all seats are taken. Laura has been close to several gods, but the consequences of her involvement are actually pretty small. Godhood doesn’t sound like something you’ll get into by being a simply friend of the club. The pulse quickens as Ananke reveals herself to Laura.
Meanwhile, a party’s going down at Inanna’s place. To be frank, ‘party’ and ‘place’ apply pretty loosly. The ‘place’ vaguely resembles Stoke Newington Unitarian Church, but it’s still far from a regular church. This is literally a Starlit Gospel of Sex (caps very much intended). Before we can start wishing we were there, we ‘d best be aware that so is Baphomet. As in the previous issue, his murderous resolve shrinks in the wake of performance (lame allusion to impotence purely incidental). So Baphomet once again summons his astral enabler to neutralize his unwillingness (or perhaps his conscience). In the end, the fact that Inanna loves what he does pushes Baphomet into doing the dirty, bloody deed. Flaming staff mode: on.
Once more, Baphomet attacks. Although no other god is around to parry his attack, it proves just as ineffective as last issue. He seems to have forgotten that Inanna is a divination god, and he can do all sorts of crazy magnificent things with stardust, as you do. Inanna greets Baphomet amiably, but won’t give him an audience while he’s in such a murder-y mood. Even in the face of death, Inanna’s serene demeanor stands.
Although he’d never been in a fight before, he dodges each of the hellfire god’s attacks with relative ease. Unfortunately, before Inanna can counterattack, Baphomet plays the creepy guile card and binds him with a crucifix hanging on his back.
After a pretty cool action sequence that vaguely reminds us of Baal and Sakhmet vs. Lucifer on Issue #5 (‘cept with more GOTH), Baphomet approaches for the kill. Inanna tries to parley, initially clueless to Baphomet’s motives, but he works them out pretty quickly. At this moment, the divination god takes the fearless, frank tone of one who knows he’s doomed. Innana clearly sees Baphomet’s fear of dying. Although Inanna was aware of death breathing in his own ear, he is happy, so he doesn’t mind dying young. At the same time, even if Baphomet has a few years more on him, he’ll still be afraid. As a consequence, he’ll likely kill again and again to stave off the inevitable.
And how does Baphomet respond to being read so easily? With a killing blow that destroys everything. Miffed as he may be at the notion, he seems to share such defensiveness in the face of silver tongues with Cass. “Fuck you” is the signature response of the cornered. So long, Inanna. We loved you.
Back at Laura’s, Ananke tells Laura that she’d noticed her. She feels bad for the young lady, yet she’s not the first one to be heartbroken at not becoming a god. The old goddess tries to offer her some solace, and some sober thinking, much like she tried to for Lucifer. Laura knows she has dodged a bullet in not becoming a god. Nonetheless, she still wants it badly. In spite of the death being one of the Pantheon involves, she would still sacrifice her future for a chance to burn bright, even for only two years. The prospect may appear all the better when her life appears grey and unbearably long to her otherwise. She feels stupid over it, but she’s not the only one. Ananke too has some shame in store, that it had taken so long to ‘find’ her.
The verb carries a momentous connotation when Ananke’s eyes glow red. Cue the rite of passage. Those at least moderately read on mythologies and deities will probably figure out who Ananke means as she speaks. Laura is this “child of the sky, betrothed to darkness”, whose mother’s grief shakes the world. However, she also includes a few cryptic words, considerably more than in the other ‘births’ we’ve seen so far in this comic (Lucifer and Urdr). Considering the dual inner structure of the plot so far, Ananke may be alluding of Laura’s role as Lucifer’s reprisal.
And now we welcome Persephone; the look suits her well, the poppies and vines breathe some freshness into the dark. As a favor to yourself, imagine Antonia Thomas like this and tell me if you don’t want a WicDiv adaptation on film or television.
Persephone feels shock at this turn of events, particularly at how she thought there only were twelve gods per Recurrence. Ananke dismisses it as something that simply never happened before. However, the red lights pop for us readers on this side of the diegetic universe. Much about this divine birth strikes with ominous flavor, and as does Laura herself. Let’s think a bit on this.
The number thirteen is always unlucky and that’s the most blatant sign. However, throughout the comic, we’ve seen the 1-2-3-4- motif. This may be a creative allusion to music as a motif (plausible considering the creators’ work in Phonogram), but also a resonance of the number four. This comic doesn’t just reincarnate mythos of the Western tradition, but of the Eastern as well. I may be reading in too deeply, but the number four is considered allusive to death and misfortune in Eastern cultures. The white page that follows with the word ‘Persephone’ also alludes to this duality as the color white represents death and mourning in the East.
It’s something to consider.
Anyway, a pleased-looking Ananke urges Persephone to do the thing she’d waited so long to do. She urges the new god to perform. Laura smiles sweetly, with meek innocence no different than a child’s. She’s scared at first, still dazzled by disbelief, but it doesn’t take long to unwind, to let it out. She utters her first note with a heartfelt tear in her eye. She’s happy, she’s in ecstasy and rapture at herself. She feels free from the shadow that’s plagued her. But she doesn’t see Ananke’s hand approaching behind. We know the position of those fingers, and their only logical conclusion.
Snap. Spoiler alert, Ananke just killed Laura/Persephone, much like she did Lucifer. Maybe this granny is not a good guy after all.
Spattered with Laura’s blood, Ananke looks on her victim’s burning body with an undecipherable feeling. Laura’s parents arrive to see what happened, and they try to run away. This is to no avail. They won’t get to mourn their daughter, as Ananke blows up their house with utter impunity. Now, the mystery behind the judge’s death and the Great Darkness becomes exacerbated. Even Ananke’s information dump during her interview with Cassandra now resonates back with a shroud of doubt, or a sea-ful of salt. Up until this moment, we had a notion of binary antagonism, some dark force to stand against. Alas, those notions of ‘good’ vs. ‘evil’ are now worth squat when spoken by Ananke.
At the beginning and end of each issue, there’s a short phrase surrounded by the Pantheon’s wheel. In issues’ past, these phrases offer some poignancy to the tone and events. I don’t much allude to these since they often don’t strike as hard as this time. It began with “It’s going to be okay.” as an allusion to Laura’s emotional state. Now, at the end, it’s very tempting to agree with the closing words. “It was never going to be okay”. The flavor of hopelessness falls heavy with the newly deceased effigy where Inanna’s was before. And Laura, the thirteenth god, she never even got hers. This issue is truly brutal.
We ask this question on every recap, but it does weigh heavier this time. There’s a great narrative uncertainty and a touch of violent defiance against the ‘knowledge’ we had been given about the Pantheon’s backstory and purpose. We’re in the dark now. And with Laura gone, what will happen next issue?
All images are courtesy of Image Comics
Saga Issue #11 Credits
Writer: Kieron Gillen
Art / Cover: Jamie McKelvie, Matt Wilson
Saga: A Ghost’s Swansong
This time around, I think I’ll save me some opening lengthy opening words. I do believe the title of this review and the issue’s cover say enough on their own. Farewell chapters tend to be pretty strong on both narrative and emotional engines, and this one is no different. As usual, there will be a dash of several events and ‘POV characters’, but the bulk of it lands on the ethereal shoulders of our beloved disembodied babysitter, Izabel.
From start to finish, this issue is a parade of ghostly awesome. OBVIOUSLY, spoilers ahead, and perhaps a few tears…
“Be a good girl tomorrow… but not TOO good.”
Usually, a rotting host of war-fallen zombies in stark detail makes for a frightful impression. But even before Kurti sees through the illusion, we already know this is Izabel casting her ghostly magic. She is definitely one whose colourful choice of words would compromise her own scheme, with amusing results. Although, Izabel’s attempt ultimately failed, the real shock for the Phang dwellers is the fact that horns, wings, robots and ghosts would travel together. An uneasy alliance for sure, but an alliance nonetheless.
A peculiar thing to note here is how an outside assessment can outline certain features in a character or collective. If we take into consideration how badly the war has hit Phang, it should be no surprise that the rodent family’s first thought upon seeing Alana, Marko and company is The Last Revolution. We all know how that went down: ruthless pragmatism for THE GREATER GOOD, villainy and comeuppance.
However, the crew’s latest iteration exhibits a very similar setup in terms of diversity and role as outsiders. Yet they’re also not entirely estranged from their reality as pieces in the war chessboard, if Petrichor and Sir Robot are anything to go by. In fact, these two even criticize Alana and Marko for opting out of the war between their worlds.
In the end, however, none of that really matters to Phang’s hungry populace. Craven deserters, conscientious objectors, terrorists; they don’t manifest into more meaningful roles to heal the damage done. The displaced and the dead will continue to be so. That’s why Marko doesn’t speak against Hazel’s quick willingness to help these people, which is as much of an inconvenience as a good gesture. On her part, Alana still thinks it more sensible to simply refuel and get going — for Hazel’s sake. Thus, we’re again at that slight impasse between them. Neither Marko nor Alana are actually in the wrong here. It all really boils down to ensuring either a child’s physical or moral integrity. Sometimes, it may not be possible to achieve both.
In the end, they agree to help out a bit and then be off. After all, how long could that actually take? Cue the obligatory cut into the future that comes with tempting fate in a narrative. What should have been a few hours ended up six months. By now, Alana is quite heavy with child and pretty familiar with the rodenty brats as well. I swear, some people have a way of generating extended family. It’s like they sneeze on you, and suddenly you’re their children’s godfather… but I digress.
Lending credit to Hazel’s narration, this is a downright precious period. Hazel has lots of friends her age to play with, and Jebarah, the collective’s matron, gives a heartful present to Alana and her coming baby. Now, they’re one tribe.
This is all cool and sweet, but it doesn’t do away with the problems in Phang, with the battling and all. Marko and Petrichor got that front covered, which allows them some time to talk. Marko is Marko, so it’s no surprise he feels more than content with their staying in Phang. But the passing of six months has definitely not endeared Petrichor to the notion. In fact, her experiences as a soldier have made her suspicious of the Phang’s tribe. At the time, we have no reason to actually think these people could do any wrong. But, again… tempting fate, Murphy’s Law, dread is just one breath away from real; all these things, plus the short lifespan of all good times in Saga have us waiting for the doom to unfold.
As for Hazel proper, she has become a little of a pest. She’s at that little-asshole age, which inevitably etches a dent in her relation with her babysitter. For all her awesomeness, Izabel (or anything ever) can’t do much against nature. With little to occupy herself with, she decides to aid Sir Robot’s quest for fuel. His son’s birthday is coming and he fully intends to make it, as you do.
However, her favour to scout for Sir Robot doesn’t come from any actual esteem towards the fallen Prince. This is a favour she’ll do for Hazel’s parents. The cynical robot doesn’t understand this reaction to basically being an indentured servant. But Izabel is full of a gratitude.
It’s thanks to them that Izabel is the first in her family to leave their planet. As far as she sees it, they have overpaid her services — by showing the universe. I personally find this little exchange to be one of those truly remarkable moments in this comic, even if there’s no great art through beautiful splash page or careful panel composition. It’s a matter of sheer dialogue and the counterpoint effect between two very different characters. Only a strong motivation can imbue unlikely partnerships with coherence and credibility. And though things aren’t quite as sweet as they once were, love is still the main motivation here. We’ll keep this in mind for what’s to come in a bit.
Now, things have been going swell in Phang. But the inner workings on the galaxy still conspire towards strife, one way or another. For instance, we join The Will once more on his perennial quest; not for vengeance, but for redemption this time around. On the search for his old friends, he actually meets Gwendolyn’s wife, a woman called Velour. She does reveal the whereabouts of Gwen, Sophie and Lying Cat, but not much else. This will probably add him to the dynamic taking place in Phang. He may no longer be hallucinating, but a Freelancer is always a wild card. We’ll see how this plays out.
We join Izabel back in Phang to end this review. She’s doing her scouting gig for Sir Robot at the Robot Kingdom’s Royal Embassy. Though supposed to be deserted, she runs into a cute little boar. This thing’s cute, a little too cute. And in Saga, cute animals mean… Freelancers’ sidekicks. Meet The March, a two headed sinister-looking one, and his boar Bootstraps. Their business in Phang is the search for Marko, which plainly says — the hunt is still on. Although The March has no interest in Hazel, they’re savvy enough to know she must have hitched a ride via newborn child. They see all too easily through Izabel. so she opts to float away.
This would traditionally be no problem for our favourite pink ghost. She can go through walls and do all kinds of neat stuff — so it should be instantly alarming that The March has managed to ensnare Izabel with their whip. If that wasn’t bad enough their scimitar promises to work likewise. Now, the stakes are clear: it’s a talk or die situation.
Now, I beseech you dear reader, do ask yourself: Do I think Izabel would sell out Hazel, Alana and Marko to save her non-existent ass? Would she break my heart like that? Well, no, she won’t sell them out… but she’ll still break your heart. Izabel’s answer is sharp and snarky, as we’d expect, regardless of the menace she faces.
The March stabs her, causing an agony dreadfully evident in her expression before she dies. There are no further words spoken, except for Hazel’s narration in retrospective. It’s true that everybody outgrows the necessity to have a babysitter, but the best ones — much as the dearest friends — will stick with you forever. The final image in this issue is a splash page of Hazel painfully clutching her own chest. She doesn’t know it yet, but she felt it; Izabel’s death stung to her very soul, literally. Goodbye Izabel. We loved you.
I did tell you it was going to be a bleak arc, didn’t I? It’s not over yet, lovelies. The ride, however harrowing, is still an experience you won’t want to miss.
Saga Issue #38 Credits
Writer: Brian K. Vaughan
Artist: Fiona Staples
All images are courtesy of Image Comics
What Hulk Can Teach Other Stories on Writing Trauma
Here at the Fandomentals, we believe in the power of stories. Stories can be amazing tools to explore difficult topics like trauma, since they allow us both a careful look at the issue and to keep our distance from something that may otherwise hit too close to home. A story that handles the subject skillfully can broaden our understanding of it, debunk harmful myths, and empower people struggling with their own traumatic experiences.
Unfortunately, not all stories do that. Storytellers love shocking events or emotionally stressful situations, but they’re not always interested in exploring the aftermath. Of course, there’s no monolithic response to trauma and each recovery process is unique, but there is always some response. Stories that fail to show any reaction to traumatic experiences or only address it when convenient for the plot not only break our suspension of disbelief but also perpetuate false notions on trauma, PTSD, and the people suffering from it.
How can stories address trauma more thoughtfully and respectfully? There’s no single answer for this, but I’d argue we can learn a lot from stories that are doing it right. The current run of Hulk (2016), written by Mariko Tamaki, is one such story.
What Hulk did right
Starting December, 2016 and currently on its 11th issue, Hulk (2016) deals with the aftermath of the second superhero Civil War for Jennifer Walters, better known as the She-Hulk.
During Civil War II, the She-Hulk was mortally wounded in a fight against Thanos, falling into a coma. Upon waking up, she discovered that her cousin Bruce Banner, the Hulk, was killed by fellow superhero Hawkeye. So, Hulk (2016) picks up shortly after that, when Jennifer resumes her work as a lawyer.
The story had two major arcs so far, exploring Jennifer’s PTSD and recovery along with the usual superhero threats. Her antagonists in both arcs were people handling traumatic experiences of their own, though in levels that required superheroic intervention.
There are several merits in how Hulk (2016) approaches the themes of trauma, PTSD, and coping with loss—there are also flaws, but overall their record is solid. This analysis is by no means extensive, and I recommend you to check the comic for yourself in case you haven’t already.
So let’s have a closer look at what it got right and why.
Symptoms and Depictions
The comic book presents an honest depiction of trauma and PTSD. Through the entire first arc, we see Jennifer struggling with anxiety, triggers, flashbacks…the whole package. Those arise from different situations and in varying intensities. Sometimes the usual coping strategies don’t work. Sometimes a good day can quickly turn into a bad one.
“Like I’m walking away. Like this is anything I can run from. It’s there, it’s here, it’s always here. I’m holding it together with both hands but it’s too much.” (Jennifer Walters in Hulk 2016 #1)
There’s a strong anxiety in getting back to work, with her inner monologue constantly reassuring her that “it’s gonna be fine,” her heart pounding, and Jen feeling like throwing up. Even the briefest mentions of the superhero Civil War or what happened to Bruce impact her, in some cases causing her to feel angry, anxious, or sobbing on the floor unable to do anything. She can’t stop thinking about what happened and, paradoxically, she avoids delving into her own feelings on the matter. All the time we get this sense that she’s no longer who she used to be and that her trauma has negatively impacted how she sees the world around her.
Even as she starts to recover and those symptoms decrease in frequency and intensity, we still see her struggling with them.
“Rage and suffering. In the heart of the monster, one feeds the other. In my monster heart, sometimes…it’s all I can hear” (Jennifer Walters in Hulk 2016 #10)
Before Civil War II, Jen was known for feeling comfortable with her Hulk persona. Unlike her cousin Bruce, she could control the monster within and derive emotional strength from it. Her life was tailored to be lived in Hulk form and we can see that even in small details, like how her entire apartment is built to fit a Hulk-sized person and not a regular woman:
Yet for nearly the entire first arc, Jen was unable to become the Hulk again. Being a Hulk was empowering for her before, yet now:
Her struggles to reconnect with her Hulk persona work as a metaphor for how much we change after traumatic experiences. We’re different than before and we feel like we lost something of ourselves in the process. Because here’s the thing about trauma: there’s no going back. We can cope, we can recover, we can have amazing and fulfilling lives even after horrific experiences. But we can never go back to how things were before.
So it’s an interesting choice that even after Jen is able to become the Hulk again, she becomes a different Hulk. A Hulk she doesn’t completely control or understands. A literally scarred Hulk.
It’s very fitting that she then assumes the title of Hulk, not She-Hulk. The old Hulk is dead, the Hulk that was so close to her and so meaningful to the origin of her powers. The old She-Hulk is dead too, in a way. This is a new monster, and one that in many ways resembles Bruce’s savage Hulk more than who Jennifer used to be.
“Are you doing this for Bruce? Maybe I am. Maybe everything will be for Bruce now. You have a problem with that? Obviously I don’t Jen, since I’m you. I mean, not everything is for Bruce. Just these things. These things that make me mad” (Jennifer Walters in Hulk 2016 #8)
Struggling with her Hulk form also means struggling with being a superhero, since both identities are so closely associated. There’s a certain guilt in not being out there doing something “at least a little bit super.” Amidst so many losses, Jen also loses core elements of her identity and sense of self.
Isolation and Support
Through Jen’s journey, we see the sense of isolation that trauma and PTSD can cause.
“A really awkward conversation with a friend is a good indication that the universe is not what it was. At least for you.” (Jennifer Walters in Hulk 2016 #5)
There’s the constant feeling that people around Jennifer don’t know how to reach her or how to behave towards her. They don’t know how to approach what happened and Jen is not exactly receptive, creating a gap between her and others. Jen explains her own position well:
But of course it’s more complicated than this, and we see it when Patsy decides it’s best to give Jen more personal space. She adds that she’s not disappearing, and Jen replies that she’s counting on that. There’s a desire to avoid others, but at the same time there’s a desire for more proximity, too.
Missing Bruce is key here. Now that being the Hulk poses a challenge, Jen believes that Bruce could understand the feeling better than anyone else. Again, something previously so empowering as being the Hulk enhances the feeling of loneliness.
Not for nothing that we see the sidekicks growing in presence and importance as Jen slowly recovers and begins to reconnect with other people.
Recovery from trauma can be slow and painful. Stories tend to rush this part; suddenly a traumatic experience no longer impacts the character, as if it never happened at all. Hulk (2016) doesn’t do that, showing sensibility in how to write the recovery process too.
Perhaps my favorite aspect is how the story shows that a recovery process is not always linear. You have good days and bad days, and sometimes it seems like you’re doing great until you’re not. Every small progress should be celebrated, but it doesn’t mean the battle is over. As Jen puts it,
“You can feel like you’re falling apart one minute and then feel like eating pizza.” (Jennifer Walters in Hulk 2016 #2)
As the story goes on, we can see Jennifer slowly change. She’s able to transform into the Hulk again. She allows other people to get closer. Her mindset becomes somewhat less pessimistic and gloomy than before. Perhaps her biggest step is to admit that she needs recovery in first place. She starts the story by saying that it’s “other people” who sit in their houses “wallowing” and “recovering,” not her. So it’s quite meaningful that her first post-trauma Hulk transformation happens when she admits that she’s not fine:
After that, we see small but important steps in looking for help, such as trying a trauma support group. Yet her biggest coping strategy is to become the Hulk and tear down an abandoned construction site, which is quite a raw, primitive way to get in touch with your feelings. It’s also a telling choice: once again being the Hulk is a vital part of Jennifer’s empowerment.
Even as Jen gets better, the story never gives you the feeling that her recovery process is over. It doesn’t drop the importance of her trauma after the first arc, and it doesn’t return to the old state of things, even though it’s heading to a new state of things. There’s this sense that part of her trauma will always be with her, she’s just learning how to handle it better.
How Hulk did it right
I pointed to elements in Hulk (2016) that I think do justice to a topic as complex as trauma. But why is this story getting those elements right when so many other stories don’t?
Finding the right writer seems a vital step to me. Mariko Tamaki, the writer behind Hulk (2016), has a long history with stories that focus on character’s inner lives, including difficult topics like depression and grief. I haven’t checked her previous work yet, but the choice makes sense. If you want to approach delicate issues with the attention they deserve, you’ll want a writer that isn’t afraid to explore them but does so with skill and sensitivity. You can tell there’s a lot of effort in creating a thoughtful depiction.
The story is allowed to breathe and develop, much like its protagonist. Hulk (2016) isn’t afraid of slowing the pace if that means properly exploring Jen’s experiences and recovery. This results in a slower and more introspective story, which may not be everyone’s cup of tea, but feels very adequate to the themes involved.
The comic book format proves to be an excellent one to explore the subject of trauma. The art illustrates much of what’s going on with Jennifer without the need to say it outright, with choices as simple as color palettes helping set the mood of the story. Jennifer’s inner monologue, a style of narration so common in comic books, is vital to show the reader how she’s processing everything without the need to disrupt the main action.
Above all, it’s an entertaining story. At the end of the day, that’s still what we’re looking for: well-written and interesting stories, that work on a narrative level. Hulk (2016) never loses what makes comic books appealing, while also providing a solid examination on a topic so often mishandled in fiction.
Just in case you’re wondering, I love how this comic approaches trauma. It’s refreshing to see this much skill and effort, and I expect it to continue to adress Jennifer’s recovery in a realistic way (or as realistic as grey monsters allow).
I do worry about the future, though. There was a great emphasis on how much trauma changed Jen, so it would feel cheap to dismiss it, even after a period of time. We can still have a lot of what we love in classic Jennifer Walters and her Hulk self while not ignoring what should be a major event in her life.
Sadly, comic books are infamous for their impermanence, especially if the people behind them change. What will Marvel Legacy mean for Jennifer? Legacy is a return to the old: the original series numbering. And, more importantly, the old title of She-Hulk. There was a narrative point in her being called just Hulk, so hopefully those will be just details and not a sign that the story is shifting too dramatically. As Tamaki so aptly showed us, from certain things there’s no going back, only forward. I’m glad we still have her behind this story.
Whatever happens, we still got an entertaining story that addresses trauma thoughtfully and respectfully. That’s no small feat.
Writer: Mariko Tamaki
Artist: Nico Leon
Images Courtesy of Marvel Comics
Scott Pilgrim Shows Scars From Past Relationships
After “Scott Pilgrim’s Precious Little Life” introduced us to the likes of Scott, Ramona, Knives, Wallace, Stephen, Kim, Young Neil, and our hero’s main quest — defeating Ramona’s Seven Evil Exes and thus being able to date her in peace —, the next installment “Scott Pilgrim Vs. The World” carries on with the plot besides adding some much-needed texture to Scott’s past relationships.
Right off the bat, creator Bryan Lee O’Malley takes us to a 16-year-old Scott on his first day as a transfer student at Northern Ontario. He formally meets Lisa, another new kid on the block who seems eager to befriend Scott. It is her idea that the two should form a band. Concurrently, Scott seems to be developing feelings for a classmate, Kimberly Pine, and it is for her that Scott ends up fighting a whole load of another school’s kids after they sort of kidnap her. Now Scott’s official girlfriend, Kim joins the band as a drummer, and things seem to go well for the gang at least for a while. All that gets interrupted with Scott’s announcement that his family is moving to Toronto.
Back in the present, Wallace Wells confronts Scott with the reality that he has to break up with Knives Chau if he plans on maintaining a relationship with Ramona Flowers. Despite his initial resistance to doing the dirty deed (because it’s hard!), Knives’s declaration that she is in love with Scott finally propels the breakup. For a second there, Scott is upset about it, but ultimately, he takes a positive stance as he sees the pathway to Ramona is clearer now.
Scott invites Ramona over for dinner and, surprise, her hair is shorter and sporting two colors now. The date goes as well as it can, but the makeout session is cut short after Scott freaks out over his own current hair; he largely blames his last breakup (which hit him like a shovel, apparently) on a specific haircut.
The next part begins with a short insight on Kim’s life. From a dream she has, it’s likely that she harbors less-than-ironic resentment towards Scott. In fact, her whole thing seems to be an inherent distaste towards people in general, which includes her housemates. At her work as a video/DVD store clerk (Scott Pilgrim makes you feel old, huh?), she gets a visit from Scott who wants to rent a few movies starring Lucas Lee who Wallace found out is the next ex-boyfriend he must fight. According to Wallace’s dossier, Lucas is a former pro skater turned buff-actor — keep in mind that, in the movie, he’s played by Chris Evans.
Through a couple of short scenes we find out some other tidbits of information:
- Knives is still hung up on Scott. She ends up dying her bangs red after catching sight of Ramona during one of her stalking sessions.
- Scott hates The Clash at Demonhead’s lead singer, Envy Adams.
- Scott’s parents are traveling through Europe.
- Ramona dated Lucas during high school. It was brief and there was a lot of drama.
- Ramona REALLY hates Scott’s “apartment”.
Finally, it’s time for the big fight. Lucas doesn’t sound like a particularly evil or bad guy, to be honest, even when he is whooping Scott’s ass. He tells Scott that Ramona cheated on him and about the official designation of The League of Ramona’s Evil Ex-Boyfriends (that’s how they’re organized). Scott takes advantage of Lucas’s ego/vanity and challenges him to do a skate trick on the rails of a really long set of stairs. The aftermath, as expected, is Lucas exploding as he reached ultra-speed, leaving behind fourteen bucks in coins.
As Stacey Pilgrim is showing Ramona around the Toronto Reference Library, she is attacked by Knives and the two fight briefly before Knives makes an exit. During the fight, Knives recognizes Ramona from the day at the library when Scott first saw her, and she realizes that Scott was cheating on her.
Scott receives a call from Envy in which she asks his band, Sex Bob-Omb to attend a show of theirs and then to open for them at a later date. The rest of the band is excited to open for a local band that has made it big, but Scott hates the idea due to his non-friendly breakup with Envy. As he tells Ramona, Envy (who used to be called Natalie) wanted to move to Montreal and, two weeks later, she was sleeping with her best friend Todd.
At the show, we first meet Joseph, Kim’s friend Hollie’s roommate — he is important later on! Also noticeable is that Young Neil is on a date with Knives. Finally, as the show begins, we catch sight of Envy and her bass player, Todd, who, to make things more interesting, happens to be Ramona’s third evil-ex.
In comparison with volume 1, this one feels quite more grounded and less “weird.” Yes, I say that knowing full well that there is an entire section where the characters break the fourth wall to teach the reader how to cook a vegan Shepherd’s Pie. Still, as the concepts from volume 1 have been internalized by now, the weird factor doesn’t reach a higher threshold.
Story-wise, the flashbacks are a nice a piece of exposition. They are not quite linear and feel more like snapshots at specific moments of Scott’s life during a long period of time, so a lot is expected of the reader to fill in the blanks. The first flashback feels important not only for introducing Lisa but for giving some more texture to Kim who appeared underdeveloped so far. She’s fallen under the “Negative Nancy” stereotype most of the time. As we are witnessing, Scott’s past relationships tend to leave scars on the people involved — Kim and Knives, for one, but also Scott’s own hurt left by Envy — and it is a big part of his arc: how to become a better person when it comes to dealing with Ramona.
Speaking of the Knives/Ramona relationship, I’d say it’s at least icky the way Knives talks about Ramona when she finds out she is dating Scott. The only space for apology here relies on Knives being a 17-year-old suffering from a broken heart. Still, there’s a level of cattiness there that reads horribly.
Now, as someone who has read the comics after watching the movie, I have to say that the big fight between Lucas Lee and Scott feels quite underwhelming in comparison with the visual media. While I am trying to keep any comparison between movie/comics to another piece, this particular moment doesn’t quite reach the cinematic-ness of Matthew Patel’s fight. It makes sense that the film screenwriters enhanced the brawl while keeping the roots pretty much the same thing.
In terms of expectations for the future and if I haven’t spoiled you too much already, the confrontation between Scott/Ramona/Todd/Envy is definitely one of my favorites. Plus, Lisa returns and we get to see far more of Knives whose arc is incredible throughout the six volumes. It’s hard seeing her getting her heart broken by Scott to the point where it reaches levels of unfairness, but perhaps knowing that Knives ends up learning a lot from the situation (along with Scott, it’s always important to point out) may give you hope.