I’m almost done talking about Scott Pilgrim.
For a while, anyway. I guess.
But before I do, we have to talk dudeness in the series. Because it’s complicated. Issues around homosexuality, masculinity, and violence abound in the narrative, and work together to create a complex picture of contemporary maleness. Let’s start with Wallace Wells: Fabulous Gay Roommate.
Wallace, however, is more than Scott’s gay roommate — Wallace pays all the bills, bankrolls much of Scott’s social life, and acts as a protective, older brother figure to the terminally clueless Scott. Without Wallace, Scott would be homeless and penniless; Scott is, as Wallace points out, his “bitch forever.” On a date with Ramona, Scott tells her he has borrowed Wallace’s credit card. Deeply unimpressed with the “agreement” Scott professes to have, she accuses him of freeloading — which is basically accurate.
But Bryan Lee O’Malley isn’t content to make Wallace a Gay Best Friend archetype à la Sassy Gay Friend or the Pet Homosexual. Instead, Wallace’s sexuality is fully developed, he has relationships outside of the framework of his relationship with Scott, he has an identity and a set of life experiences of his own, and he doesn’t simply act as a foil to or reflection of Scott’s experience. Wallace Wells gets to be — wait for it — a whole person!
Through Wallace, O’Malley is able to challenge notions of sexual identity and sexuality; as the breadwinner of the tiny “family” of himself and Scott, Wallace takes on a stereotypically masculine role, but subverts it by virtue of his homosexuality and his lack of sexual relationship to Scott. (When Wallace takes a sexual interest in Other Scott, however, this relationship becomes slightly more complicated.) Because of his unique living situation — he literally shares a bed with his gay roommate — Scott spends a lot of time (especially in volume 1) attempting to convince Ramona that he is not, in fact, gay; O’Malley manages to create a homonormative space wherein these two characters exist. For all his (significant and numerous) faults, Scott’s comfort with Wallace and with his own identity are compelling aspects of his character.
This homonormative apartment space is altogether interesting when considered against the larger frame of the series: remember, the central conceit here is a masculinized and largely heteronormative one. Scott must defeat Ramona’s seven evil exes in order to win her hand; of course, this very framework is challenged in a few ways, namely (1) Ramona’s disinterest in the process, and (2) the femaleness of one of the exes. But the framework is still one by which masculinity — and the spoils of masculinity in the form of the desired woman — are achieved through physical (albeit cartoony) violence.
In volume three, the battle is Todd, a vegan with superpowers bestowed upon him at a Hogwarts-like school for vegan ninja fighters. Todd’s self-righteous veganism (“The main thing to know is that I’m better than most people.”) is what protects him, not his idealized masculine form or his superior physical strength. He’s larger, stronger, better looking, and more gifted than Scott, but his power of veganism (which frees up the 90% of the brain the rest of us have weighted down by curds and whey) is what enables him to harm Scott. His power, then, is specifically not rooted in masculinity or maleness, but in… diet?
Here’s the thing about Scott Pilgrim. For a series all about fighting, there’s remarkably little actual fighting. The Todd fight produces a perfect example: about to be defeated, Scott lampshades us: “I need some kind of, like, last minute, poorly-set-up, deus ex machina.” Enter the vegan police to arrest Todd for “veganity violations” — namely, consumption of gelato. The upshot is that the fight ends without Scott having to do very much of anything, though he claims the victory proudly. The fight isn’t brawn versus brawn or even brain versus brawn. It’s vegan versus deus ex machina. That’s got to be a new trope.
So while Scott Pilgrim is a series that appears on the surface to reify a heteronormative, fairy-tale-like worldview — rescue the princess, defeat the monsters — it is more complicated than that specifically because O’Malley seems committed to continually challenging that heteronormativity. How masculinity is defined is always sliding and shifting, whether through Wallace’s subverted patriarchal role or Todd’s vegan power. This is part of what makes the Scott Pilgrim series so much more complex and interesting than it first appears.