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Chuck Palahniuk Destroyed His Legacy With Fight Club 2 (His Best Work In Years)

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Chuck Palahniuk Destroyed His Legacy With <i>Fight Club 2</i> (His Best Work In Years)

While addressing Chuck Palahniuk’s sixth novel, Diary, back in 2003, Salon infamously eviscerated the writer for trafficking in the “half-baked nihilism of a stoned high school student who has just discovered Nietzsche and Nine Inch Nails.”

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That’s a harsh, but accurate, critique. However, it dismisses the possibility that this imagined stoner would finish a few of Palahniuk’s better novels—Fight Club, Survivor and Invisible Monsters—and get curious about what other contemporary fiction lies beyond the required reading for AP English class. Not that there’s anything wrong with Dostoyevsky, but seeing as how he was long dead ’n all, I don’t know if he had anything reassuring to say to depressed teenagers in 2003.

Someday, just like Dostoyevsky, Chuck Palahniuk will be dead. When that time comes, call me a contrarian, but I doubt we’ll talk about Palahniuk post-mortem in the same breaths as a rage-lit despot like Bret Easton Ellis, or an artful destroyer of cinematic taste like Lars von Trier, or a shit-smeared instigator like questionable punk icon GG Allin.

Despite one of his most cited stories revolving around a swimming pool masturbation mishap in which the protagonist escapes drowning by biting through his own large intestine, Palahniuk’s impact is more akin to that of J.K. Rowling; both figures led an embryonic generation to the art of reading books. Maybe in a world without Tyler Durden or Harry Potter, that same generation would’ve discovered the magic of fiction via other, possibly superior, authors. But circumstances as they are undermine the elitist conceit that there’s anything anti-intellectual about, or wrong with, accessible literature.

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Fight Club 2 #10 Interior Art by Cameron Stewart

That’s not to say Palahniuk deserves unlimited free passes. The man has smashed out 16 books in almost 20 years. Unsurprisingly, they’re not all terrific! The press has made no secret of this, reflected in reviews like 2014’s Beautiful You (which I didn’t read and can’t vouch for) and 2011’s Damned (which I can confirm kind of sucks).

Within this dichotomy, two versions of Chuck Palahniuk’s legacy exist: that of a crucial gateway author who penned at least three great novels, and that of an overly ballyhooed shock scribe who lucked into a career when Hollywood adapted his first, and arguably best, work into a beloved dark comedy featuring alpha-hunk Brad Pitt.

Last summer, Palahniuk told Paste that his Random House editor predicted publishing Fight Club 2 as a comic book would “destroy whatever legacy” he had forged for himself as an author.

Maybe that was the whole idea.

Dark Horse’s 10-issue Fight Club 2, illustrated by industry darling Cameron Stewart with covers by David Mack, wrapped this week. I gave up on reading it month-to-month around issue #5, opting to form an opinion once I could soak in the confounding, manic experience all at once. For this reason, I shall wait until the already announced Fight Club 3 comes out in trade paperback before picking it up.

FC2 begins with “Sebastian,” the nameless narrator from the previous Fight Club novel, married and raising a son alongside wife Marla Singer, the sole female character from the preceding work. Marla is also the former lover of Tyler Durden, Sebastian’s anarchist cult leader alternate personality.

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Fight Club 2 #10 Interior Art by Cameron Stewart

Weary of suburban ennui and Sebastian’s general indifference, Marla replaces the medication her husband takes to keep Tyler dormant with aspirin, and resumes carnal relations with her bygone slam pal. Unbeknownst to Marla, Tyler has been resurfacing to command Rize or Die—a paramilitary incarnation of his establishment-annihilation squad, Project Mayhem—whenever Sebastian’s undergoes hypnosis during therapy sessions.

Tyler uses the extra time on his hands to (apparently) blow up Sebastian and Marla’s house and kidnap their son, Junior. The rest of the series entails the couple’s attempts to reclaim their offspring: Sebastian infiltrates Project Mayhem, while Marla searches war zones across the globe alongside a close friend who is not who she claims to be.

And there’s more. Rize or Die plans a nuclear holocaust codenamed “The Tranquility Gambit” to wipe out the global population and give the remaining humans a fresh shot at the world. One subplot also follows the ongoing defrauding of a Make-A-Wish-style charity organization. Another concerns Robert Paulson (the character Meatloaf played in the movie), who returns as a lumbering revenant, reminiscent of DC Comics baddie Solomon Grundy. Now and again, the fourth wall crumbles when someone in the story runs into a problem and calls Palahniuk—as he runs the story past a writers’ workshop—for guidance.

Ask yourself, “Do those last few paragraphs sound like the content of a cohesive, structurally solid comic series, or an overflowing garbage bag of barely related ideas?” What if I told you the saga concludes with Palahniuk throwing up his hands, agreeing with a small army of readers who are infuriated by his bleak, abortive ending? Or if he then enlists their help to figure out a better one?

What if I reminded you that Chuck Palahniuk has never written a comic book before this one? I’m not even sure if he had read many comics before signing his Dark Horse contract. And let us not forget that Fight Club 2 exists for the same reasons as Fuller House, SLC Punk 2 and the woefully uneven tenth season of The X-Files.

There are many theoretical reasons why I should be able to pan Fight Club 2 as a cynical nostalgia cash-grab, or the meandering, self-indulgent dribblings of a celebrity dilettante. In practice, I can’t say those things, because Fight Club 2 is actually pretty neat!

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Fight Club 2 #10 Interior Art by Cameron Stewart

The maxi-series stays faithful to the Sebastian/Marla/Tyler relationship paradigm while dropping those characters in fresh environs. Palahniuk mines the original novel and film for satirical fodder as much as source material, and the aversion to self-seriousness serves the story in ways a typical end-times earnestness would fall flat. Maybe Palahniuk really did, as he half-admits in the comic, run out of ideas, and dialed in some meta-bullshit to put a pin in Fight Club until the third installment. If so, he compensated for that terminal faux pas with a savage, blood-curdling cackle of a final page.

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I once watched Fight Club as part of an undergraduate psychology-in-film class. (I owe the professor an apology for, at the time, insisting the gay symbolism was her misinterpretation.) Fight Club 2 won’t end up on any collegiate syllabi. Unlike the novel, the comic has nothing to say about masculinity in the modern era, the endless bummer of consumer culture or the American Dream’s dubious promise of fulfillment. With respect to its clever-ish toying with the medium and light cerebral undertones, Fight Club 2 is the sequential art equivalent of a three-hour drum solo by The Muppets’ Animal.

Perhaps it’s the the best thing published under Palahniuk’s byline this decade, and successfully rehabbed his image for at least one once-and-maybe-future diehard, disillusioned by novels that weren’t as good as his first three.

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