What do you do for a followup after a triumph like the Scott Pilgrim series? If you're Bryan Lee O'Malley, you do Seconds, a graphic novel that's three notches less self-consciously clever, and six notches more heartfelt, smart, and sweet. Cory Doctorow reviews Seconds.

The Scott Pilgrim novels were exuberant, snarky, and full of delightful meta-humor about comics, popular culture and coming of age. They were a delight, six volumes of absolute anarchy. But.

But — by volume six, it was clear as great as O'Malley was at being merely clever, his real talent was in telling stories of sweet heartbreak and desire thwarted — there were big muscle-masses beneath the slick skin of Scott Pilgrim.

In Seconds: A Graphic Novel, O'Malley really flexes those muscles.

Katie is just about to turn 30, and if things go according to plan, she'll be realizing her lifelong dream of opening her own restaurant, a competitor to Seconds, the hottest restaurant in town, thanks to Katie's hard work as head chef there.

But work on the new restaurant is delayed, and there are unexpected expenses, and this leaves Katie hanging around at Seconds as a kind of minister without portfolio. Her protege (and secret boyfriend) Andrew is in charge of the kitchen now, and isn't in the market for Katie's kibbitzing over his dishes. Upstairs in the dining room, there are customers to charm and servers to chivvy, but there's also Max, Katie's ex-, who shattered her heart and her self-confidence, and so Katie is betwixt and between.

To make things worse, Katie is still living in her tiny, money-saving apartment over Seconds, and it's in her bed there that she is haunted by dreams of a spirit that dwells in her dresser. Or are they dreams? One day, Katie finds a notebook and a mushroom, and these instructions: 1. Write your mistake; 2. Ingest one mushroom; 3. Go to sleep; 4. Wake anew.

Seconds is a story about what happens when we get the power to undo our past regrets, and what those regrets make of us. It's a cautionary tale about being careful what you wish for, about the mirage of true love lost, about the malleable nature of the heart's best hope, and about the spirits that dwell in our homes and the homes of our heart.

As Katie navigates all the different futures she could have had by changing all the pasts that she did have, we're drawn into a story that has all the superficial charm of the Scott Pilgrim books, but even more depth. As encores go, we couldn't have asked for any better.

Seconds: A Graphic Novel

-Cory Doctorow