Fight Club 2
WARNING: We are about to break the first rule of Fight Club and talk about Fight Club as such you can expect spoilers for Fight Club the movie, Fight Club the book, Fight Club 2 the comic mini-series (Issues 1-6) as well as some mild spoilers for some of Chuck Palahniuk’s other works (used for comparison purposes).
Since its release in 1999, Fight Club (the movie) has gained iconic status and is regarded as a cult classic. As a fan, I was both excited and weary upon the announcement of the sequel; on one hand, I get more content but on the other hand, they could really mess up something great. I was then just plain old confused when it was announced that the sequel wouldn’t be a novel or movie but rather a comic mini-series. To my knowledge, Chuck Palahniuk hasn’t explored this medium before and I didn’t really understand the decision. But, like a good a space monkey, I diligently followed the series as it was released. We are now 6 issues in and I think my hype has died down enough at this point that I can share some relatively unbiased thoughts about the mini-series thus far.
The beginning of the series includes a lot of fan-service-y elements that could be criticized as being pandering or indulgent. Consider the following examples:
We have a re-introduction to the same radical themes presented with the same disturbing graphic presentation,
A re-using of classic lines,
A reference to the lye-burn incident through use of similar imagery,
And just fun little remarks.
Chuck Palahniuk himself even appears at one point during the story!
I think that opinion on this is largely a matter of personal preference. When I was the reading the series, I actually really enjoyed these little “tips of the hat” to the avid fans. That being said, I don’t have a solid rebuttal to critics who claim that the mini-series is just trying to feed audiences the same content packaged in a different way. So, I guess it’s up to you how you want to take that aspect of this sequel.
The story does however eventually move away from using the original work as a crutch. For example, Tyler reappears in Sebastian’s life due to Tyler’s influence on their therapist as well as Marla’s decision to take him off his medications. In Tyler’s discussions with the therapist, the audience starts to understand that Tyler may have been responsible for the death of Sebastian’s parents and has therefore been present a lot longer than just the start of the original work. This gives the reader more insight into the main character as well as creates a bit of a prequel to the story. As a fan of origin stories, I thought it was really interesting to get a glimpse into the past and the events that lead to Fight Club.
Furthermore, the introduction of Sebastian’s son as a character is an interesting choice that at first, seems to have been made solely for the progression of the plot. Tyler takes their son and Sebastian must face his alter ego in order to save his child; it creates conflict and forces the characters to face one another. However, in recent issues, we learn that Tyler’s motivation for kidnapping the son is his own longevity. It is explained that Tyler, as a thought or as a sickness, can be inherited. He wanted a child to be born in order to ensure his own survival into the next generation. This becomes a metaphor for the passing of mentalities and values to one’s children. Since this aspect was only touched on in recent issues, it’s hard to say where it’s going to be taken or what conclusions will come of it. Either way, I’m intrigued.
For me, the appeal of Chuck Palahniuk’s work has less to do with actual storylines and more to do with the introduction of peculiar yet uncomfortably relatable ideas. So, how does this sequel function as a vehicle to for this aspect of Chuck Palahniuk’s storytelling thus far? There are two aspects that I think detract from the “Chuck Palahniuk experience”: the familiar setting and characters as well as the choice of comic mini-series as a medium. Firstly, a large part of a Chuck Palahniuk story has to do with “unveiling”. The themes addressed are meant to bring to light ugly parts of society or to discuss the taboo elements of the human mind. This is done through the exploration of characters in their world and the subsequent uncovering of the darker aspects of it. For instance, in Invisible Monsters we are introduced to Shannon. She is initially understood as a superficial model but as the story progresses as we slowly begin see her disdain for the vanity in her world and the lengths see will go to in order to create an identity for herself apart from her physical appearance. Another example can be seen in Haunted as the audience begins to see the writers of the retreat need so badly to be seen as the “heroes” and “survivors of insurmountable hardship” in their lives that they are willing to self-handicap in frightening ways in the hopes that they will appear “stronger” or “in greater need of saving”. That feeling of discomfort that comes with the slow unveiling is augmented by the realization that the thought process and behavior of the character is recognizable in themselves and others they know (albeit it on a smaller scale). It’s these kinds of realizations that make Chuck Palahniuk’s work so engaging and probably a part of the reason he has such a passionate fan base.
By nature, a sequel takes away this unveiling aspect by already having characters and setting established. In Fight Club 2, because we are familiar with the characters and their motivations, it is harder to surprise us. Although the situations may appear disturbing from an outside perspective, the audience has already settled into this world and it’s harder to make us uncomfortable with it. For example, we’ve already seen the introduction of a revolutionary idea spiral into the formation a terrorist group when fight club became project mayhem in the original work. Hence, watching the progression of Project Chaos in the sequel isn’t really that jarring. We already know and understand Tyler and so his dark side doesn’t isn’t all that surprising anymore.
Aside from “unveiling”, Chuck Palahniuk also communicates the unique themes introduced in his novels through long rants and monologue from the characters. The language used in these is usually very rousing and extremely quotable. Consider the original work: the rant about materialism at the bar, the monologue at fight club about the plight of this generation etc. In Lullaby, the entirety of Chapter 3 is a colorful rant about noise and volume that I’ve gone back to re-read multiple times because of the powerful way it was written. This is an aspect that is lost in the format of comic mini-series and personally, this took away a lot of the appeal of Chuck Palahniuk writing for me.
In conclusion, I think a fan reading Fight Club 2 will encounter many enjoyable aspects as well as perhaps a few causes for complaint. In order to enjoy this sequel, I think it is important to leave behind expectations of it being a typical Chuck Palahniuk piece of work. There are unmistakable parts that mark the work as his but the change in medium makes the experience vastly different than reading one of his novels or watching a movie based off one of them. If you are open to that, Fight Club 2 can be a fun new way to continue exploring the tale of Tyler Durden and enjoying the world of Fight Club.