“Celebrate that soon the high will be brought low.”
When “Fight Club,” the first published novel of a then-unknown Chuck Palahniuk, was released eighteen years ago, the literary scene was already knuckle-deep in the far-reaching existential dread that embodied first-world life at the end of the twentieth century. Be it Douglas Coupland’s influential “Generation X: Tales of an Accelerated Culture,” which helped popularize the term “Generation X,” or the so-called “transgressive” works of Bret Easton Ellis and Irvine Welsh, who both portrayed the shameless superficiality of modern depravity via the violent and the strange, or even the more compassionate leanings of David Foster Wallace — regardless of the chosen herald, the overall message was starkly clear: things weren’t all right.
The rampant disillusionment, loneliness, need for self-actualization, oversaturation of material goods packaged, branded, marketed, and sold as substance — the man isolated in his self-created castle, hungry for and distasteful of everything all at once — each of these themes explored from myriad other angles by Palahniuk’s contemporaries manifested themselves in “Fight Club,” a work simultaneously loving and loathing of violence, a story as compassionate as it is savage.
But let’s face it: the reason most people know of and adore “Fight Club” is David Fincher’s well-made, well-acted cult classic 1999 film adaptation, which starred Edward Norton, Brad Pitt, and Helena Bonham Carter as the unnamed narrator, Tyler Durden, and Marla Singer respectively. The film, whose characters abhorred the systems of advertising and the film and music industries and even compared self-improvement to masturbation, was nevertheless produced for upwards of $70 million, co-starred 90s Adonis Pitt as a chain-smoking, “all-singing, all-dancing,” walking, talking eight-pack, and altered the original ending of the novel, confusing one of its finest thematic arguments in the process. But let’s once again face the truth: despite its failings, it was a great film, one that established Palahniuk as an enthralling voice of his generation and influenced countless male viewers to reflect on their own lives and, well… start fight clubs of their own.
Now, mini-history lesson aside, where does “Fight Club 2,” a sequel nearly two decades in the making and a surefire conversation piece for many months to come, fall into this spectrum?
Well, if the first issue of this ten-issue comic miniseries offers any indication of things to come, what’s to come won’t be all that original, all that compelling and timely and assuredly beloved. “Fight Club 2” starts off by catching readers up with the unnamed narrator of the original novel — for curious fans, “Fight Club 2” is a sequel to the novel, not the film adaptation. Now married to Marla Singer, with whom he has since fathered a son, Sebastian (as he now likes to be called) finds himself even worse off spiritually than at the beginning of the original novel.
Sebastian is a shell of a shell, “a copy of a copy of a copy” (and yes, that line is reused). His marriage is failing, Marla dying to relive her interpretation of their salad days, their Tyler days. He is a distant father to his son, much like his own father was to him. He gains no satisfaction from his job, where he spends most of his time playing an online shooter. He gobbles up pills like assorted Skittles, regularly visits a therapist to no positive effect, and even after nine years is still unable to escape his past as Tyler Durden, anarchic messiah, king of the Space Monkeys.
But a new narrator, a familiar voice, promises the reader that “true enlightenment” is still on the menu, because “some imaginary friends,” as the cover of the first issue reads, “never go away.”
Overall, the first issue of “Fight Club 2” is an underwhelming start to the long-awaited sequel. Nevertheless, Palahniuk exhibits his ability to easily transition from prose to comic, adapting his minimalist style well to the realm of sequential art. Artist Cameron Stewart’s style also brings a virility and beauty to the pages that conforms well to that of Palaniuk’s; it is clear that neither writer nor artist are taking for granted the narrative and visual tools this medium has to offer. And despite some thoroughly treaded thematic grounds, “Fight Club 2” still offers the same narrative Molotov cocktail that made the original novel and film adaptation so unique and compelling, while also expanding upon the mythology of the characters in thought-provoking ways. For all its faults, there are still high hopes for the rest of the miniseries. Rize or die!