Asterios Polyp

August 31, 2009 | Graphic novels

David Mazzucchelli made an indelible mark as a comic artist by the time he was just 27 years old.

He caught eyes and dropped jaws with his gritty, inky work on two of the most critically acclaimed stories of the 1980s: Daredevil: Born Again and Batman: Year One, both in collaboration with industry giant, Frank Miller.

And then he was gone.

Well, perhaps it wasn’t that sudden, but Mazzucchelli had pretty much disappeared from mainstream comics by the end of the decade.

He briefly published his own anthology series, Rubber Blanket, and contributed to various other anthologies and magazines, including The New Yorker, throughout the 90s. He also masterfully adapted Paul Auster’s novel, City of Glass, into graphica, but sadly it seemed like Mazzucchelli’s best work may have been behind him.

Now, exactly 25 years since he first broke into the industry, Mazzucchelli bursts back onto the scene with his first graphic novel — and it is well worth the wait.

Asterios Polyp (Pantheon Books, $34, 344 pages) is a tour de force that opens with the destruction of the titular character’s Manhattan apartment on his 50th birthday. Polyp boards the next bus to nowhere and finds himself in the aptly named town of Apogee — the farthest place he can afford to get from anything he ever cared about — where he proceeds to reinvent himself as a humble auto mechanic as he reexamines the triumphs and failures that led him to this point.

These flashbacks often depict Polyp as egomaniacal, pompous and pretentious — even as the love story with kind-hearted artist, Hana, unfolds — contrasting the very Zen-like man with axle grease on his hands.

Mazzucchelli draws on his fine arts degree as he experiments with numerous art styles for his varied characters and scenes and pushes the envelope with challenging digressions into philosophy, religion and mortality throughout Polyp’s tale as the once thoroughly unlikable man’s motivations begin to clarify many of his actions.

This engrossing effort culminates with a bombshell that will leave readers both reeling and hoping Mazzucchelli won’t keep them waiting so long for another masterpiece.

(This review first appeared in the Toronto Star)

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