SO MUCH FOR being another flavor of the month.

Not only are graphic novels increasingly popular despite the misguided predictions of some, the quality of books released this year couldn't be finer.

Just halfway through '09, I could easily whip up an impressive Top 10 year-ender list with Koren Shadmi's unsettling "In the Flesh," Gene Luen Yang and Derek Kirk Kim's fabulous trio of fables "The Eternal Smile" and Didier Lefevre and Emmanuel Guibert's riveting "The Photographer" hovering in the top spots.

  • Now comes "Asterios Polyp" by David Mazzuchelli (Pantheon, $29.95, 344 pages), which could well become this year's best novel — be it graphic or print.

    A brazenly original and metaphysically complex work, "Asterios" presents one unforgettable character, a pompous and cranky architect who is overly praised by his peers and critics even though none of his plans ever produced one actual structure. Asterios is hardly an endearing fellow, an intelligent but psychically stunted man victimized by his own voracious ego. Mazzuchelli makes him utterly fascinating and relies on his dead twin to narrate the story. (Yes, it sounds like a hackneyed device, but trust me, it works.) A personal crisis eventually humbles Asterios, sending him away from his structured and stagnant life in New York and into the more simplified life of a quirky family.


    Advertisement

    I hate to reveal much more, since Mazzucchelli has crafted a surprising experience that is robustly filled with rich supporting characters and features a series of unexpected developments that could even evoke an epiphany or two out of you.

    And then there's that ending: a masterstroke that unifies everything that has preceded it. You'll be in awe of how perfect it is and certainly envious of it if you are a writer. What a beautiful, staggeringly brilliant piece of literature. A

  • "George Sprott: 1894-1975," by Seth (Drawn & Quarterly, $24.95, 96 pages). New York Times Magazine readers are acquainted with Seth the artist and his fictional character Sprott. If you haven't encountered either, you're in for quite the treat with this oversized book, which expands on the serial featured in the magazine.

    Sprott is a TV host and former explorer who, similar to Mazzucchelli's Asterio, isn't a sympathetic protoganist — a self-centered man who treated women horribly and ultimately paid the price with loneliness. The inventive Seth fills in the details about this sad character through interviews, internal musings and scenes from the hours leading up to his death. You'll be seduced into Seth's vivid, nostalgic world, and feel the melancholic loss as the people and buildings around Sprott deteriorate and fade from memory. A

  • "Bayou: Volume One," by Jeremy Love (ZudaComics.com, $14.99, 160 pages). Welcome Jeremy Love. You're one fearless author and illustrator willing to take us to scary and disturbing places by melding a swamp fantasy featuring a monster with the crushing reality of racism in 1930s Mississippi. Some books you forget immediately after closing; this is not one. Originally published as a webcomic, it is now the first printed release for DC's Zuda webcomics line. A-

  • "The Collected Doug Wright: Canada's Master Cartoonist," designed and edited by Seth (Drawn & Quarterly, $39.95, 240 pages). Leave it to Drawn & Quarterly. The Canadian publisher of literary comics has released an especially handsome oversized collection of Wright's influential work. Everything about this production is classy; from the insightful bio about Wright to the reprints of his amusing wordless comic strip "Nipper," which featured a trouble-prone boy. B+

  • "Final Crisis" by Grant Morrison and J.G. Jones (D.C., $29.99, 352 pages). Big doesn't begin to describe Morrison's superhero bonanza. Dense, complicated and overrun with a battalion of DC superheroes, "Crisis" reads like a rocket. The tangled yet involving story finds the world poised for total destruction by an army of villains. Superman, the Green Lantern, Wonder Woman and numerous others join in the battle. I suggest reading it in one sitting, since there are so many characters and plots in play you might get lost. But this book is a whole lot of fun, with absolutely everything you want in a superhero showdown. Maybe too much for some. B+

    Graphics Detail appears the fourth Sunday of the month. Reach Randy Myers at 925-977-8419 or rmyers@bayareanewsgroup.com.