Even by the standards of the graphic novel, this cosmic epic pushes the creative envelope.
With previous credits including superheroes for Marvel Comics and the transformation of Paul Auster’s City of Glass into a graphic novel (2004), Mazzucchelli returns with a title that suggests a mid-period Pink Floyd song and an illustrated narrative that is every bit as mind-blowing. It begins with a bolt of lightning that destroys the New York City apartment of the title character, a pompous academic who is celebrated (or who celebrates himself) as a “paper architect.” He draws plans for buildings that will never be built, and his theories inform many of the panels, rendering them as the graphic equivalent of metafiction, design about design. For many pages at a stretch there are few or no words, as a single panel might stretch across a page or two. Yet the narrative functions something like memory, flitting from the present—in which Polyp finds work in a small-town auto shop, after losing everything in his apartment fire, and inserts himself within a community that proves surprisingly accommodating—through critical junctures of his past. It seems that Polyp was actually a twin, and that his stillborn brother might be providing narration. He has also somehow married a beautiful, talented, Japanese-American artist named Hana, though something went wrong with the marriage well before the lightning bolt. In this graphic novel of fate, chance and shooting stars, Polyp insists that “I am the hero of my own story,” yet the art provides plenty of evidence to the contrary.
A visual and even philosophical stunner.