The triumphant return of one of comics’ greatest talents, with an engrossing story of one man’s search for love, meaning, sanity, and perfect architectural proportions. An epic story long awaited, and well worth the wait.
Meet Asterios Polyp: middle-aged, meagerly successful architect and teacher, aesthete and womanizer, whose life is wholly upended when his New York City apartment goes up in flames. In a tenacious daze, he leaves the city and relocates to a small town in the American heartland. But what is this “escape” really about?
As the story unfolds, moving between the present and the past, we begin to understand this confounding yet fascinating character, and how he’s gotten to where he is. And isn’t. And we meet Hana: a sweet, smart, first-generation Japanese American artist with whom he had made a blissful life. But now she’s gone. Did Asterios do something to drive her away? What has happened to her? Is she even alive? All the questions will be answered, eventually.
In the meantime, we are enthralled by Mazzucchelli’s extraordinarily imagined world of brilliantly conceived eccentrics, sharply observed social mores, and deftly depicted asides on everything from design theory to the nature of human perception.
Asterios Polyp is David Mazzucchelli’s masterpiece: a great American graphic novel.
Even the superior work done by artist David Mazzucchelli on such icons as Batman and Daredevil, and in his graphic transliteration of Paul Auster's novel City of Glass, fails to adequately prepare the reader for the magnificence of his first-ever solo graphic novel, Asterios Polyp. Daring, engaging, insightful, and gripping, this tale intertwines brutality and compassion, arrogance and pity, the quotidian and the ethereal. The eponymous protagonist is a hopeful monster if ever there was one. Just 50, Asterios is a "paper architect," one who's never had any of his concepts reified, and his personal life mirrors his career: all head trip, no outreach. We meet him on the skids, with gracefully interspersed flashbacks revealing his whole sad history. To his own consternation, he allows a chance catastrophe to propel him on a painful journey of self-discovery, repentence, and reconciliation, which culminates in a shocking conclusion. Mazzucchelli's tremendously variegated art pays homage to any number of greats: Los Bros Hernandez, Abner Dean, Will Eisner, Saul Steinberg, David B. all register. But his unique page compositions and the color palette are not imitative but endlessly clever and diverse, as the tale oscillates between naturalistic and fantastical. Cubist touches, cross-hatching, and "clear line" drawing contribute their flavors, and nearly every detail, down to the word balloons, is open to innovation. The character designs themselves are revelatory: the scribble-swirl eyes of Asterios' wife, Hana, betray all her inner confusions. Recurring motifs, such as the lightning bolt that sends Asterios on his quest, provide a sense of rich patterning. Mazzucchelli has layered in depths of visual and prose multiplexity that will reward rereadings in ways that the average graphic novel simply cannot sustain. --Paul DiFilippo