David Mazzuchelli had allied himself with Frank Miller for seminal graphic novels “Daredevil : Born Again” and “Batman : Year One,” but it wasn’t until “Asterios Polyp” that he won real acclaim as a solo creator. “Asterios Polyp” won any number of Harvey and Eisner Awards, and the benevolent attention of mainstream media in 2009. That last part isn’t surprising, since it indulges in a couple of cliches that cling close to “literary fiction,” in that comforting Philip Roth mold. The most prominent of all: The mired-in-ennui middle aged college professor who hooks up with the sexy, unfathomably younger disciple. (Want variety? Instead of the usual English professor, Asterios Polyp teaches architecture.) For a similar beam supporting a different graphic structure, see Paul Pope’s “The Ballad of Doctor Richardson.”) BUT this is one of the most daring achievements of the form, ambitiously intelligent in ways that novelists of more “cache” rarely reach for.
Let’s move on from the negative quibbling to the positive raving. There may be a few “fancy lit” cliches in the tale of Polyp, but it’s hard not to be awed by the way Mazzuchelli tackles endlessly complex ideas from a visual point of view – and manages to prove that “negative” and “positive” are false, or at least insufficient, dualities. In fact, the novel constantly explodes the neat, “rational” geometrical reasoning to which a philosophical architect (of Greek descent, no less) naturally would pay homage. Reality keeps evading Polyp’s comprehension because, like most of us this side of Mazzuchelli, he’s accustomed to function within the easy dichotomies of Religion and its nephew, Philosophy: good vs. evil; fate vs. free will; nurture vs. nature. Mazzuchelli exposes their absurdities and insufficiencies time and again. It’s pretty simple and woefully inaccurate to pit “the heart” against “the brain” as we often do. The human body has something like 76 other organs: Our love for binary systems left them out of the conversation.
Ignazio: “Why must choice always lie along a linear spectrum, with two poles, instead of, say, among a sphere of possibilities?”
Asterios: “Duality is just a convenient organizing principle. By choosing two aspects of a subject which appear to be in opposition, each can be examined in light of the other, in order to better illuminate the entire subject.”
Ignazio: “As long as one doesn’t mistake the system for REALITY.”
RATING: Near MASTERPIECE!!!