There's not that much about video games or comic books in Seconds, the new graphic novel from the creator of the much-loved Scott Pilgrim series. And it's one of the best things about Bryan Lee O'Malley's ambitious new creation.
The dearth of geek-centric signifiers in O'Malley's latest work comes as a bit of a surprise. After all, he won nerd hearts worldwide in large part due to his use of video game tropes and superhero comic-book allusions in the Scott Pilgrim series. But Seconds, out this week in hardcover, still succeeds in delivering charming characters and heartfelt meditations on life's crossroads without XP references and X-Men parkas. It feels more grown-up.
If the Scott Pilgrim books came from the soul of a creator deep in the figuring-out phase of his mid-20s, then Seconds is a work that speaks to what life is like after you've become a success. Main character Katie is a young chef with one popular eatery under her belt and who's getting ready to open a new restaurant. But, with a hovering ex-boyfriend, contractor complications and an ill-advised workplace affair, nothing's falling where she wants it to.
That state of dissatisfaction changes when an enigmatic girl shows up with a process that lets Katie erase mistakes and re-live crucial moments in her life, thanks to a secret crop of magic mushrooms. But the urge to use the super 'shrooms to make her life picture perfect in every little way is a temptation that Katie can't resist and she soon finds that screwing with the natural order of things has dire consequences.
Katie isn't that likable at first and her self-involved abrasiveness is the biggest departure from the Pilgrim books. While it feels like she deserves some comeuppance for being so glib about people in the jumble of her professional and personal lives, you can also understand the yearning underneath all her bad choices. That complicated emotional texture is another sign of increased observational and executional skills on O'Malley's part. He still draws on big, bold cartooning tools that harbor manga influences but the rhythms in Seconds are slower, deeper and more thoughtful.
O'Malley wrapped Scott Pilgrim and his romantic melodrama up in the too-cool trappings of indie rock, old-school video games and martial arts showdowns. Seconds doesn't have the same touchstone elements. Seconds continues to uses fantasy constructs as a metaphorical filter for life's big questions. But the well he's dipping into for Seconds feels more universal and folkloric than the specific comic book and video game memes that showed up in Scott Pilgrim. It still comes out in adorably designed characters and interactions but there's more weight and regret here.
After Edgar Wright exploded the charms of the six-part Scott Pilgrim series into a big-deal movie adaptation, you can imagine that it certainly would have been easy for O'Malley to turn out more comics that looped back on the geek culture that spawned them. The most tangible accomplishment of Seconds is how he avoids that comfortable route while still tying the highs and lows of everyday relationships to the fantastic. O'Malley shows that he still knows how to find the magic in life's awkward, drunken fumbles, even after becoming a star in the eyes of a certain cohort of fans. You can download a small preview here.