When I saw that Dark Horse Comics was publishing a sequel to Fight Club, my first thought was “Cool, but … really?” And then I saw that it was written by Chuck Palahniuk, the author of the eponymous novel, and became very intrigued. How would the novel’s sensibilities translate into a visual medium of a comicbook?
Palahniuk is joined by Cameron Stewart, and both create a wonderfully rendered and superbly realized world. The characters are distinct but never overly caricaturized, and the arrangement of panels are perfectly synched for tone and thematic resonance. Everything feels purposeful and pregnant with meaning— from key close ups to dream-like inset panels. The most exciting part of the art? What’s *not* depicted. There are several times that narration boxes are obscured by objects (the pills are literally blocking out pieces of the Narrator’s thoughts) or when panels are placed over things like faces during a Fight Club brawl (we aren’t supposed to talk about it, after all) or wilting flower petals hiding the words “I love you.” This plays visually into several things at once— the deterioration of the narrator’s life, his jumbled mind, the dehumanization of existence as “things” supersede “people.”
These themes were already evident in Flight Club 1, so it’s equally telling and disappointing that there has been no resolution to the Narrator’s original dilemma. This sequel then answers another obvious question to sequels everywhere— how does the story *work?* Didn’t the original have a beginning, middle, and end already? Why continue? But, if you remember, the book itself held a clue. The original story ended in a cliffhanger, as followers of Project Mayhem assured the narrator that his counterpart would return. And indeed, as various panels (and an attempt at guerrilla marketing by the author/publishers) would attest: “Tyler Lives.”
The comicbook sequel takes place several years after the events of Fight Club, and there is a seamless transition here into the new life of the Narrator (now “Sebastian”) and his wife and kid. All the horrors of suburbia are here, the drudgery of life that plagued Sebastian before is simply repackaged. The narration box tells us “he calls himself happy” but the depictions are anything but. His wife Marla is just as damaged, and is subtly sabotaging his life, which is just one more thing enabling Tyler to re-emerge. It’s a destructive return, too, as Sebastian escapes a burning house and, it seems, the loss of his son.
It’s a mixed blessing that it’s such a seamless sequel. One one hand, it’s great to see these themes reiterated, and the plight of the characters are much more poignant as we have already been along for part of their journey. That said, I’d imagine there will be some disconnect between those familiar with the characters and situations and those coming in a bit cold. I would rather not have any clunky exposition, but the conceit of the personality disorder and some non-linear sequences thrown in there coupled with the backstory that’s assumed by the writer might be a recipe for some confusion.
Also, some fans excitement about the original story, especially in the film version, was the whole “twist” ending, and here it’s already a given. Will the sequel attempt a similar device? I hope not, as it would come across as a bit cheap/gimmicky. Instead, we have essentially a horror story, with the antagonist and protagonist as one and the same. It’s the unrelenting evil of selfishness and ego, and the helplessness and tragedy that our world doesn’t give us solutions for it, and in fact may be causing and enabling it.
In another light, with Tyler being completely the antagonist here, there’s little opportunity to sympathize with him. Perhaps it was the charm of Brad Pitt, but Tyler was a favorite character for many, and quite charismatic to other characters and the audience alike. This charisma seems completely absent, or perhaps intentionally withheld, that results in somehow cheapening his character, and comes close to dangerously dragging Marla’s down with it.
The art is not without its downfalls, too. The comicbook has several narrative and visual tricks, but overall perhaps it’s a bit too much. The red car passing Sebastian outside the flower shop must have been Marla’s, but it’s difficult to catch that without a close read. The phone call Tyler is devoid of context, and Sebastian’s fight with the neighbor is presented in a manner disconnected, nonlinear way. Why does the whiskey bottle shatter?
All in all, Fight Club 2 is a near-perfect continuation of the story, with many poetic touches and turns of phrase that is equally matched with artistic flourish and visual metaphor. The existential dilemma of the Narrator and Tyler is taken to the next level, proving you can’t keep a good bad guy down, although I do hope we get to see more nuance of Tyler’s philosophies and other complex explorations on the mind-state of the modern individual.