Oh hi, you’re probably wondering what I’m doing posting a review for an old issue of a comic. You see, I’ve decided that it’s time to save all of my reviews from my time at PopOptiq from the website that is just a hollow shell of its former self. Y’see, when the website changed EICs a little more than a year ago, the new editor decided he wanted to make the website more like Buzzfeed and then proceeded to fire most of the staff. He then also claimed copyright ownership of our work.
Well, I know I never signed a contract with you or the previous EIC that said that was okay and my name is on the byline, so…
Written by Kieron Gillen
Art by Jamie McKelvie (with backup stories by Julia Scheele and Luis Sopelana)
Colors by Matthew Wilson
Letters by Clayton Cowles
Published by Image Comics
In an ongoing story about music and image, it feels only appropriate that the intermission in the story directly borrows from a comic about bands, growing up, and superpowered fights that are not out of the ordinary.
If you can guess from the cover and the title “(Let’s Make This) Precious Little Life,” the fourth issue of Phonogram: The Immaterial Girl is one big Scott Pilgrim send up.
And it works.
The issue is focused around Lloyd (aka Mr. Logos) and Laura (aka Laura Black fka Laura Heaven), two of the central characters in the previous Phonogram arc “The Singles Club”. It has been a year and some change since the night that arc took place, where Laura left Logos hanging in a cab after he spilled to her his great master plan. He hasn’t really forgiven her as shown by the fact that he comes to her house and tells her that the new Long Blondes album leaked just to see her reaction when she inevitably hates it.
The way this issue replicates the Scott Pilgrim series created by Bryan Lee O’Malley while still being Phonogramis nothing short of brilliant. Not just in the choice to go black and white, but in the way the backgrounds and landscapes are structured. The usual realistic approach McKelvie takes for backgrounds is substituted for a more angular stylistic design that feels more like O’Malley’s Toronto than McKelvie’s Bristol. Even in the way the characters move and react to one another is O’Malley influenced, and the best example of this is the background showing Logos and Laura’s heartbeat spiking as the Silent Girl requests an audience with them in the most Silent Girl way ever. It’s not all just Scott Pilgrim references though. There’s one brilliant scene where we see that Logos plays the moment in the cab over and over again using McKelvie’s old line work from that issue and leading to a moment from The Singles Club where Logos interacts with the panel edges like Seth and the Silent Girl do to break out of his infinite sadness.
The MVPs of this issue though are definitely Clayton Cowles and Matthew Wilson though. Cowles had his work cut out for him in this issue, having to replicate another comics lettering tics exactly and he sticks the landing. From the first page that nearly perfectly replicates the first page of Scott Pilgrim’s Precious Little Life to all the black text boxes that explain who the characters are to even all the chapter layouts and transitional panels full of text, Cowles goes above and beyond to make this issue feel like a long lost chapter of Scott Pilgrim.
Wilson’s colors are superb as usual, but it’s the way they let him play with the colors that feels less like the comic book Scott Pilgrim and more like Edgar Wright’s 2010 film adaptation. Wright, in interviews, described the film with the structure of a musical, but instead of musical numbers, the characters would break out into fights instead. This is probably why the two of the biggest influences on the film were Brian De Palma’s 1974 musical drama The Phantom of the Paradise and Stephen Chow’s 2004 action comedy Kung Fu Hustle.
While a comic obviously can’t have musical numbers in the traditional sense of the term, this is a comic where the feeling of music is a big factor, especially in this arc where the association of music and image is the central force and theme of the plot. So while most of this issue is in black and white, major scenes where the ritual of music is involved are colored bleeding in slow at first and then going full blast. This is where Wilson’s sense of color and magic really shines, especially in the scene of Laura’s transformation into Black Laura, and when Laura and Logos get to DJ indie night at Never On A Sunday themselves. When studying the intertextuality between Phonogram and The Wicked + The Divine, these scenes are sure to come up, but they also nail the electric atmosphere of the fight scenes in Scott Pilgrim.
Of course, being a Scott Pilgrim tribute, it wouldn’t be complete without one big overdramatic fight scene. And when you have two young adults who hate each other as much as Logos and Laura do, the overdrama gets cranked up so hard that it feels like the scene punches out of Scott Pilgrim land and into the world of Gerard Way and Gabriel Bá’s The Umbrella Academy. Seriously. The world even explodes. Of course, it’s all metaphor. In a regular Phonogram issue, this would feel out of place. Like Gillen may have misplaced a scene for a future issue of WicDiv. This isn’t a regular issue of Phonogram though.
The metaphor is really what Team Phonogram nails about the Scott Pilgrim series though. O’Malley used the video game and manga references to tell a story about a twenty-something slacker learning to stop being an asshole and get his life together. It’s hard to imagine how this type of story could have been done in typical Phonogram style, but by turning the world of Phonogram into one big Scott Pilgrim reference, Gillen and McKelvie tell the story of how Logos and Laura have to learn to get it together and cooperate with each other, especially in the face of Claire disbanding the coven in London and it feels like it’s them versus the world. Nay… the universe.
If the final scene is any indicator, there might be some hope for those two kids.
While it may initially appear irrelevant to the rest of the plot, Phonogram: The Immaterial Girl #4 may be one of Gillen, McKelvie, Cowles, and Wilson’s finest hours as a creative team. By using the tropes and tics of a popular and defining work, they manage to tell a story that both plays with the central theme of the arc and the central theme of the work referenced in astoundingly creative ways. It’s fun, electric, and even just a bit precious.