Adventures in Reading: Whoa There, FIGHT CLUB 2, Issue #1! Off To Some Kind of Start, I Guess…

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You know, there was time when not everything you read or saw was gobbled up into the sequel/franchise machine.  Nowadays, everything is written to lead into something else. Almost as if culturally we’ve lost the ability to tell really good, singular stories. Yeah, that’s not completely fair, those stories are still being told, but the audience for them has certainly dwindled. If it’s not connected to some major tent-pole, even in a tertiary sense, it’s hard to get people to show up. Now, there was a time when singular adult stories were pretty much the dominate form of story-telling in popular media, back in the eighties and nineties. Hell, even most of the genre stuff was aimed directly at adults, and by that I mean they were nuanced, mature stories that were about adult things, and, no, I’m not just talking about sex, but, yes, there was plenty of it(Softly lit breasts and buttocks for life!). It was a time before everyone was offended by everything, and it was beautiful; creators having the audacity to make something that not everyone would like.

In the great, diverse pantheon of stories told, I can think of a lot of things that might lend themselves to a sequel, but you know what, never once have I ever thought one of those things was Fight Club. The novel, and even the movie, for that matter, are fairly finite pieces of work. It’s a story about our enslavement to rampant consumerism, and how we define ourselves by the things we have. The better our stuff, the better person we must be, because in a black and white world, one that’s defined by commercialism and corporatism, we must be superior if we are in a place that allows us to buy nice cars, expensive clothes, and $200 dollar meals. It wraps these themes in a story of modern masculinity, or, more to the point, the evolving nature of masculinity, and of person-hood. It’s about our basest needs, our animal side, and the cost of indulging in those things to our own detriment. It’s the great ironic twist of the tale, people looking for individual empowerment devolving back into an oppressive collective, whose values are defined by the barbaric need to control chaos. The cavemen had fire, the modern man has credit cards and debt.

I can’t imagine Fight Club being a story that would be written in today’s world. Well, at least not in the same way. The sociopolitical climate is reaching new levels of absurdity by the second it seems, and with something like Fight Club, being as skewed to the male perspective as it is, it doesn’t strike me as something that would be embraced by today’s audience, be it literary or film. While it does in some ways feel a little bit antiquated in structure, a lot of the lessons inside are just as valid today as they ever were. In fact, I’d say it’s broadened to include everyone, and not just the masculine leaning. Because it’s not about fighting, it’s about people coming together, and finding strength in one another. Quaint, I know, but it still can be an effective message once you move past it’s aesthetic, and posturing.

I don’t know why I was so shocked last year when Fight Club 2 was announced. We are living in a time where artists are constantly going back to their creative wells, years and even decades later. I don’t know if my confusion was due to the fact that Palahniuk was continuing the story at all, or if it was that he was going to be doing it as a comic book, which is something that I have issues with on a fundamental level. You see, the original story is one of the most misunderstood things in pop culture, maybe ever. “Bro-dudes,” jocks, and kids(I was one of these) saw the movie version of the story and never went deeper than the surface. I know I was guilty of that when I was 12, quoting all the cool lines out of context, and even engaging in some Fight Club esque bullshit with my friends(Although, it was more of a Shove and Push Club, to be honest.) I was a part of the problem; engaging in the very things the film was criticizing.

Sure, the misunderstood business wasn’t entirely on the acne covered shoulders of the young, there were plenty of adults, well-meaning, middle class types, that I knew that saw it as nothing more than a grotesque horror show, exemplifying the worst parts of ourselves, as they read it as a celebration rather than a study of the nature of it all. So, it’s already got a lot going against it, which isn’t the stories fault, but going down a road, the comic book road, is, in my opinion, going to reinforce the negative stereotypes that surround Fight Club. Because, at the end of the day, even the most “adult” orientated comics have a streak of the juvenile in them. Now, that can be useful when used to make a point, but more often than not it’s there just because that seems to be how the medium operates. Mark Millar, for instance, is a writer that works in comics, whose work has a preoccupation with immature leaning content in very adult stories(Wanted, Kick-Ass). I’m not saying that there is anything wrong with his stuff, or that he shouldn’t write the stories in the way he wants to(Even though most of his stuff is actually pretty terrible. My opinion. GET OFF MY SACK, FUCK-STICK! Whoops! You see that’s what happens when you think about Mark Millar for too long.), that’s his right, but it is indicatice of quite a bit of the medium unfortunately. Even more thoughtful writers, like Brian K. Vaughan, fall victim to this kind of thing, and it makes me wonder if it’s because that’s what people who read comics want, or is it just the type of people that tend to work in the industry. Well, the more mainstream stuff, anyways. So, with Fight Club 2 being created as a comic, the danger that it will adhere to the trends and tropes of the medium is something that concerns me.

“WHAT ABOUT ISSUE #1, DOG!” you’re screaming inside. Okay, I hear you, but I would appreciate it if you would refer to me as “DAWG,” rather than “DOG.” Please respect my wishes. I’m a cool dude, and how you refer to me should reflect that. Moving on…

Upon completing the first issue, a particular word immediately came to mind: Pandering. It reads like bad fan fiction that you might stumble across on some fan message board. Almost all of the Narrator’s dialogue stuff is pulled directly from the original novel, and for every paraphrased concept, my eyes would lodge themselves firmly into the back of my head. You know, from rolling them so hard(Idiot).

The state we find the characters in completely undermines the end of the original story, and the journey that Joe, now Sebastian, went on. All of the lessons learned have been rendered inert, as Sebastian is now just another kind of consumer, another kind of drone, an ineffectual man-baby that has to rely on pharmaceuticals to get through the day to day of his suburban enslavement. In a weird way it feels like a characterization that would have been at home back in 2001, or maybe even even earlier, like 1999. The words, tonally speaking, tell me this is supposed to be a sequel to Fight Club, but it reads more like American Beauty. Yeah, that sounds a little out of left field, but I don’t think I’m really all that far off the mark.

This continuation is basically about suburban malaise, about feeling stuck by the trappings of middle-class America. Sebastian has just swapped things to be “owned” by. Once it was his condiment filled and Ikea furnished fortress, but now it’s a wife, Marla, a son, and a nice house in the before mentioned suburbs that caused all the malaise. Every element of his life is another link in a chain of his own enslavement. What happens when you go for the American dream? You get really bored and act pathetic, apparently. That’s the most bothersome thing about this sequel, Sebastian is basically the same person he was in the beginning of the original story. It’s almost as if Chuck Palahniuk was unable to see these characters past their original conceit. Like he couldn’t imagine them as real people, because they were never really intended to be seen that way. They were archetypes, and trying to humanize them seems to be proving difficult.

It’s been ten years, and all of their life experiences during that time have left them worse off than they were before. Now, that’s not necessarily a bad thing, that could be the point, I suppose, but it doesn’t come off that way in this first issue. They feel static, and the passage of time doesn’t feel like it’s effected them at all. Even Marla is, more or less, the exact same person she was before. Chain smoking, telling dark jokes, and looking for a good fuck. In fact, her desire to be broken out of the routine is the impetus for part of the story. Sebastian has to take drugs to keep his personified id, Tyler Durden, at bay. So, Marla starts replacing his medication with sugar pills and other placebos, because she doesn’t want Sebastian, no, she wants Tyler, and she doesn’t care what that might cost. Well, from her perspective, I guess.

All throughout the issue we see Sebastian going about his daily business, and, while he does so, he continually runs into people that hold him in high esteem. They say things like “There’s no charge, sir.” when he grabs drinks at a bar, for instance. It would seem that Project Mayhem, the radical anarchist collective from the first novel, still has some type of presence, or maybe it’s just old members holding on to their glory days. Again, this is another element of the story that undermines the way the original story ends, as one would assume that Project Mayhem would have been disbanded. There’s more, though, there’s a new group, or the old group with a different name hanging around the edges of the story, but they seem to be somewhat organized. But by who? (DUN, DUN, DUN!)

Tyler Durden. I mean, he had to show up right? Actually, it probably would have been a more interesting story if he didn’t, and then just tell a story about how Sebastian grows into becoming Durden, without all the Scizophrenia business, but that was never going to happen(This is Fight Club, dawg!). The character kind of struck me as funny, honestly. Not for anything he did, or said, no, it’s that he seems to be the only character that’s changed at all. Sure, he’s still doing the same things he was before(If there was a character what would be okay to do that with, this would be be the one.), causing mayhem, destruction, and delegating other acts of assuredly violent mischief. The difference is he’s basically the President. Not literally, but basically, or at least that’s how it’s presented. If this gets explained, and fleshed out better down the line, I’ll be be more than happy to eat crow about what I’m going to say: That’s really fucking dumb. I mean, on the one hand, it could conceivably work. Tyler is just base need and ambition, and it would make sense if he just continued organizing things until it grew into what the issue purports it to be. On the hand, that’s really fucking stupid. So, there you go.

The art work is perfectly serviceable, kind of reminded me of Y: The Last Man, but to tell a story like this requires a deft hand. Someone that can take Palahniuk’s terse writing style and find a way to visualize the underlying themes. Like I said before, Palahniuk’s characters are archetypes, but, to be more specific, they’re concepts more than relateable people. So, when designing the visual elements of the world you have to take all that into account. Unfortunately, this series artist, Cameron Stewart, is kind of just putting in some “status-quo” work here. Yeah, that’s not totally fair(I honestly felt kind of bad writing that.), but it just feels uninspired, I guess, and even generously cribbing from Fight Club the movie isn’t enough to elevate it beyond adequate. It does it a disservice, and that “juvenile streak” thing I was talking about before is exacerbated by some of the choices, and visual cues.

This is just the first issue in a ten issue run, so who knows. It could get better, it could all come together at the end of it all. I doubt it, but it totally could, and I’ll be more than happy if it does. Having said that, this has made me really consider whether Chuck Palahniuk is a good writer at all, and has made me want to go back at reasses some of his earlier stuff. I haven’t really read him since I was in my early twenties, and I’m very curious about how it will hold up. I think I’m going to re-read Survivor. I’ve been telling people for years that that is my favorite book of his, let’s see if I’m a liar or not. My eyeballs are baited and ready.

I’m going to revisit this series after it’s all comes out. I don’t see the point in  reviewing each issue, honestly. I need to see the whole breadth of the piece to make any kind of real judgment. It’s only fair, and since I was pretty harsh with Issue #1, I owe it to the creators to see it through. I’m not going to do it issue by issue, though, because what’s the point? It’s like reading episode by episode TV reviews. They are mostly just recaps, and don’t really bring anything to the table beyond that, because you can’t. Anyways, I’ve got some Game of Thrones to watch. So, I gotta go, dawgs and dawgettes. Don’t be a dick about it.

If you’d like to check it out for yourself, it’s being published by Dark Horse Comics, and you can pick it up in stores now. Or you could just stay in your underwear(I can see you.), and get it here.

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I'm starting this blog in an effort to become a better writer, and thinker.

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Posted in Books/Comics, Nerdage

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