28 May 2015

Cover To Cover: FIGHT CLUB 2 #1

Writer by: Chuck Palahniuk
Art: Cameron Stewart & Dave Stewart
Dark Horse Comics $3.99

James R: '"Recycling and speed limits are bullshit," Tyler said. "They're like someone who quits smoking on his deathbed." It's Project Mayhem that's going to save the world. A cultural ice age. A prematurely induced dark age. Project Mayhem will force humanity to go dormant or into remission long enough for Earth to recover. "You justify anarchy," Tyler says, "You figure it out."' - Fight Club, p.125.

Flicking back through Chuck Palahniuk's 1996 debut novel ahead of picking up the first issue of Fight Club 2, a number of things struck me. Firstly, it is amazing how perfectly formed both Palahniuk's style and voice as an author are, and also how immensely readable and essential it remains as a story. Before we get on to the keenly anticipated sequel published by Dark Horse, it's worth highlighting just why this story matters.

By now, I'm sure most of you would be familiar with how Tyler Durden and Fight Club came to be, but for those of you who are maybe a little younger: Palahniuk's novel came about after he had become embroiled in a fist fight whilst on a camping trip when he asked a nearby tent to turn down their music. On returning to work, he was amazed to see that people were desperately trying to avoid talking about his injuries, and were uncomfortable looking at him. From this kernel, Palahniuk imagined an underground club where men would go to brawl in order to escape the prisons of (as was) 20th century culture - a meaningless job, worthless aspirational purchases and bland social conventions. Fight Club was born.

The book was an immediate success on publication, and optioned for a movie. Given that the novel was first published in 1996, and the movie was released in 1999, it gives some indication as to how hot a property the novel was. The movie remains most people's cultural point of reference when talking about Fight Club (which - hey - we all know we shouldn't do!). Normally, there's a disconnect between the novel and the adaptation - and I certainly won't bore you as to the myriad reasons as to why that can happen here. In the case of Fight Club though, it was that rarest of creatures: the successful adaptation. Director David Fincher captured the essence of the novel (which, at 208 pages was the perfect length for an adaptation) and on it's release, it hit a storm of adverse publicity.

Many accused the film of that most tired of crimes - glorifying violence - whilst other esteemed reviewers, such as the Evening Standard's Alexander Walker, warned that the movie would inspire copycat violence and mayhem. As a person who saw it on it's original cinema release, I felt that these critics couldn't be more wrong. Fight Club is a masterful critique of the need for individuality in an increasingly homogenised world, and a warning about simply exchanging one set of blindly accepted rules for another. The combatants of Fight Club - who become the Space Monkeys of Project Mayhem - may believe they're being revolutionary, when in fact, all they're doing is being as docile as those who obey the commands of advertising.

As the years passed, Chuck Palanhniuk has proven himself as a masterful storyteller. His style - comprised of short, staccato sentences - is instantly recognisable, and with many of his novels he draws the reader in with a great hook: the story of the sole survivor of a religious cult (Survivor); a children's book that is in fact a witches' grimoire and kills whoever hears the tale being told (Lullaby); or the tale of a porn star trying to break the world gang bang record, and in the queue to make up the numbers are both her potential murderer and son (Snuff). Inevitably, Palahniuk is seen as an author who 'shocks', but primarily, the man knows how to tell a cracking good story.

I was both thrilled and fascinated as a comics fan when Palahniuk announced the sequel to Fight Club. It was a canny move on his part - by not making it a novel, he avoids any direct comparison to the original, and in the same way that the movie can be considered another 'version' of the tale, then so too can a comic be considered a continuation and a reimagining. I was also really keen to see how he'd fare switching mediums - even the most talented of writers don't always understand the dynamics of comics, and I wondered if this series could possibly live up to the hype and pressure surrounding it.

As the 21st century barrels on, I am starting to realise that there's two distinct kinds of cultural satisfaction you can experience when presented with a long-anticipated piece of art. There's the 'Relief' category - as in "Oh, thank gawd - they didn't screw it up. That's what I was hoping for!" (the endings to both Mad Men and Breaking Bad spring immediately to mind as examples from television.) Then there is the much rarer - but somewhat sweeter - 'Astonished' category, where you think "I was hoping it would be good... but that was something else!" (Captain America: The Winter Soldier and Mad Max: Fury Road fall into this category for me). After the first issue of Fight Club 2, I'm not quite sure which of the two categories it should be placed in yet, but without a doubt, the creative team have achieved great things here.

Firstly, there's Palahniuk's script - not only does that short, punchy (forgive the pun) dialogue work well in comics, but he has a wonderful understanding of the language of the medium. For example, on the second page, Palahniuk conveys that the culture of Fight Club has continued, that our Narrator (now calling himself Sebastian) has married Marla, that Marla continues her addiction to support groups, and that Sebastian is a father - but a virtually absent one. That's exceptional storytelling, and gives you some clue as to the depth that's reached in these pages.

In Cameron Stewart, Palahniuk has a terrific co-pilot. Stewart has said that he actively campaigned to be the artist on this title, and you can see that he's put absolutely everything into these pages. As a long-time fan of his work dating from his Seaguy miniseries with Grant Morrison, I've always enjoyed his stuff, but here he shows that he's the perfect artist for this story. The emotion conveyed by the characters is a joy to behold, and his splash pages - one depicting Sebastian's head exploding(!) , another showing the frenetic copulation of Tyler and Marla - simply sear the eyeballs.

I loved every single page of this first issue - and I cannot wait to see what Palahniuk has in store. In the - gulp - 19 years since the Fight Club novel was first published, the world has changed a great deal, yet the themes that resonated with both readers and then cinema audiences are still valid today as they remain eternal questions: How do you live a meaningful life? Who are we really? What is it to be a man? It's clear from this first chapter that Chuck Palahniuk still has plenty more to say on these questions, and he's lost none of his storytelling verve in swapping mediums. If you ever enjoyed Fight Club on any level, I implore you to pick this series up. Tyler Lives! 9/10

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