I used to love Chuck Palahniuk. His prose was well-groomed—coiffed and manicured. I discovered Fight Club and Survivor my sophomore year in high school, and my teenage brain, so desperate to intellectually Other itself from its banal and ephemera-focused peers, confusing superficiality and accidental satire for meaningful substance, latched onto his oeuvre. I gorged myself on his novels (I’ve unashamedly read nearly every word he’s ever published). I was bawled over by his anarchy and his derision of civilized society—what white fifteen/sixteen-year old growing up middle-class in the suburbs wouldn’t mistake “You’re not your fucking khakis” for genuine philosophical insight?
He wrote prolifically, and beyond his novels and short stories, his pedagogical essays seemed to hold all the answers for a fifteen-year old obsessed with the doxa and praxis of writing. His pedestal grew. He became an idol. I parsed his work over coffee and cigarettes, and his work become one of the touchstones for one of my longest-lasting friendships. I emulated him in short stories that never saw the light of day (and sometimes in the work that did).
As time wore on, I become more critical. I became more discerning. I became better read. The illusory prose was revealed as style without substance. The thematic repetition was no longer the considered genius that I thought but the result of an overreliance on prosaic calculation, a rhythm and cadence dictated by a set of dictums moreso than any natural inclination. I stopped buying the annual Chuck Palahniuk novel, which at that point had become a yearly, and much anticipated, tradition. I killed the Buddha that I had convinced myself I had met on the road.
Though I have divested myself of the golden calf, I still retain a deep and abiding familiarity with his work, with his authorial voice, his peculiar literary style, and I can say without hesitation that Palahniuk completely dominates Fight Club 2. The signal of Cameron Stewart, Dave Stewart and Nate Piekos, are lost for the noise.
What kept me hooked to Palahniuk’s prose was his informal, oratory style, and through the weary Continental philosophy and trite misogyny, that singularity shone through. Unfortunately, that is, by virtue of comics’ prioritization of the visual over the written, completely absent.
Now, Palahniuk does deserve credit for not falling into the same trap that many novelists writing in comics do: assuming that more words makes your comic more “writerly” and therefore more legitimate. However, he is just about the only person for whom that’s necessarily a detriment.
Shedding the charismatic style that’s charmed many a juvenile Nietzsche fan, all that Fight Club 2 retains is the clunky turn-of-phrase that sours on the tongue, the line of narration that just sounds…gross. This is manifest, literally, in the first issue in a mechanical, formal dialogue about synthesizing gunpowder from dog shit. The structure is obviously novelistic, and this first issue is conspicuously paced like a first chapter. This means this first issue is devoted entirely to catch-up and introduction, and the narrative doesn’t even truly begin until the last few issues. Nothing much happens…
If there is a theme present in this first issue, it’s that: nothing much happens. There’s nothing new or interesting here, and it doesn’t feel additive to the spirit or letter of the original novel. The characters are reprisals; the story is a continuation of a previous one; even lines of dialogue are consciously transposed from the original. And that recycled milieu isn’t even pushed in any discernible direction either. The only fresh or purposeful introductions are patently absurd: Tyler Durden is visually represented as a physically distinct entity from the novel’s unnamed narrator and he’s been secretly controlling the world.
Everything is stale—reclaimed wood for an indistinct, Platonic abstract of a table.
Whatever poles there are in this tent are erected by Cameron Stewart, and he carries the lion’s share of work in explicating this story. Aesthetically, he demonstrates his value by providing a populist, mimetic style of rendering without a hint of homogeny or sameness. This ensures the necessary balance of appeal to casual readers and engagement with more visually sophisticated ones, and he deserves every laudatory word directed at him regarding this comic.
His acting is uncommonly communicative, and his characters’ interiors are ever present but never overacted. Marla Singer’s scheming is knowable before it’s spoken, and that’s down to Stewart’s sheer competency. The reasonable frustration and the disillusionment that keeps Sebastian (the novel’s narrator) awake at night are clear and understated via Stewart’s line, and his insomnia is elucidated without the wittily repetitious quote from the novel.
Similarly worthy of note are his layouts. They are clean and intuitive, and his pages are consequently dense without skimping on readability. If comics is drawing in time, Stewart is more attune to the rhythmic sequencing of time than most all of his contemporaries. He avoids the ideogrammic and collage-heavy designs that would’ve lost laypeople, and he’s able to tailor the storytelling conceits to the audience that a book like this is primarily pitched at. That’s certainly admirable in and of itself, though I’d be lying if I didn’t say I wished Stewart was working with more engaging material.
Bizarrely, Fight Club 2 utilizes some particularly disengaging techniques; it suffers from invasive sound effects and meta-imagery. Second-order simulacra hover above the pages in the form of pills that obscure faces, actions, and monologue. Similarly, sound effects emanating from off-panel obscure parts of narration captions. There doesn’t appear to be any reason for this Brechtian alienation from the diegesis, but who knows? Maybe it will be addressed in future issue. In the meantime, though, seemingly irrelevant dialogue is effectively excised (maybe Palahniuk was drawn to comics for the added layer of narrative complication) for ostensibly no reason.
It appears to be a simple aesthetic choice on the part of letterer Nate Piekos (though it might have been in the script), which is a detriment to the flow and rhythm of the book, though I do grant that it may read as a more prudently considered move once we get a few issues deep.
That said, the first issue’s greatest sin is the greatest sin of all: It’s rehash. It’s old tricks performed by an old dog. While it could certainly be a whole lot worse, it’s offensively middling. The original’s currency was transgression, but this sequel is passe. Guy Debord wrote that every revolutionary idea eventually gets recuperated back into the status quo; while the revolutionary nature of the first is certainly debatable, this sequel is as status quo as it gets. And anything not pre-fab and fully furnished is laughably, almost surrealistically, bananas.
This first issue—and subsequent issues, no doubt—will move an enviable number of units, but it will be a resting-on-laurels of the highest degree and an egregious collective affirmation of that stagnation.
Fight Club 2 #1 will be out May 27th, 2015 from Dark Horse. We’re not supposed to talk about it, but you really shouldn’t buy this comic.
Shea Hennum is a Texas-based writer who currently serves as the lead writer about comics for This Is Infamous. His work has also been featured at Paste, The Comics Alternative, eFantasy, The Fringe Magazine, and Schlock. Essays of his will be included as backmatter in upcoming issues of Shutter from Image Comics, and he can be found as sheahisself on both Twitter andTumblr.