Fight Club 2: why I loved the original and why I'm hating the sequel

First, a confession: I'm one of those weirdos who greatly prefers the book version of Fight Club to the movie.

Fight Club has always been one of those rare cases where, generally, the movie gets a lot more love. And I get it. David Fincher is a talented director, Brad Pitt, Edward Norton and Helena Bonham Carter are incredible actors, and Chuck Palahniuk, for all his popularity, has never been what most would call a great writer.

But reading Fight Club during the summer after I graduated high school but before I started college, I fell in love. I had seen the movie and enjoyed it well enough, though I had some issues. The book, however, just spoke to me on a deeper level. I was a kid bored to tears with my small town life, preparing for adulthood and terrified of becoming a bland, boring grown-up, someone with "cheap, mass-produced Ikea ideologies," as Palahniuk puts it.

I'm one of those weirdos who greatly prefers the book version of Fight Club

What I loved about Fight Club (the book), though, was that it simultaneously rejected a traditional, shallow life but also critiqued the common, hyper-masculine, anarchist rejection of a traditional, shallow life. It showcased characters who found escape from the mundanity of everyday life in violence, but it also was skeptical of that violence and whether or not it was a real escape.

This is especially true of the ending, one of the major changes between the book and the film. In the movie, the narrator "defeats" Tyler Durden and reunites with love interest Marla, but nothing changes. The massive destruction sought by Durden still happens, and there's even an implication in the final lines that the world will be better off for it — that violence really was the answer all along.

It's arguable that the book ends on a darker note. That is, the destruction doesn't happen, but it's also heavily implied that Durden is still alive, still lurking somewhere in the narrator's subconscious, and that his followers will do what they must to bring him back. But this grim conclusion cements in something I understood well as a teenager on the verge of adulthood: My frustration with some elements of adult life would lead to anger, depression and other mental issues, and learning to cope with those was to be a life-long struggle, not something I could simply magically overcome one day.

Sure enough, Fight Club 2, the new comic series and sequel to the book, picks up with the narrator (now going by the name Sebastian) still struggling with his dual nature. He's married to the film and book's love interest, Marla, and the two have a nine-year-old son, but their marriage is failing.

And ... here's where things start to get a little rough. Spoilers for Fight Club 2 #1 ahead.

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Most of Fight Club 2 #1 is devoted to why Sebastian and Marla's marriage is failing and how Marla chooses to react to that. Basically what it comes down to is this: Marla thinks Sebastian is boring. She misses Tyler Durden; she misses the time nine years ago when Sebastian was mentally unstable. She misses "that crazy man I fell in love with."

And she'll do anything to get him back, up to and including replacing Sebastian's medication with aspirin.

For me, this is where Fight Club 2 moves into especially shaky territory. Marla's monologue opining about her wreck of a relationship is centered on an all-too-common narrative that if someone medicates themselves for mental issues, they ruin themselves. The comic's narration furthers this suggestion a little bit later in the issue:

"When Sebastian met Marla Singer, his heart began to open. But by the time his son was born, the drugs had shut it just as fast. Now Sebastian is the father he'd vowed never to become. Detached. Disconnected by the drugs."

Sebastian on medication is not the real Sebastian

The implication is clear: Sebastian on medication is not the real Sebastian. The true Sebastian suffers from multiple personalities, and to medicate that away not only kills off one of those personalities but also robs Sebastian of any of his appeal.

If there's one thing that's good about Fight Club 2 #1, it's the art — including both the beautiful cover by David Mack and the excellent interior work by Cameron Stewart. Stewart's work heads into a particularly cool and fitting meta-fictional direction, with pills "on top" of the comic, covering up dialogue and bits of art. It can make for a frustrating reading experience, but one that mirrors Sebastian's own clouded head in a way I appreciated. And that brings me back to the issue's overall approach to medication and how it "changes" people.

This concern about medication for mental disorders is disturbingly prevalent in our society, and that can cause major problems for people. Case in point: I suffered from an undiagnosed anxiety disorder and clinical depression from probably as far back as the age of 16. I avoided even talking to a doctor about medication for years, because, hey, I wanted to be a writer. Doesn't that shit kill your creativity? Doesn't it make you a different person?

It wasn't until I suffered a complete breakdown at age 24 that I finally decided to try medication. It changed my life, 100 percent for the better.

The point of all of this, of course, is not to say that medication is the right choice for everyone, nor that Palahniuk should give a fuck about my personal experience regarding getting medicated. He probably did not even intend for Fight Club 2 #1's arc to come across the way it does regarding that topic. But the approach to medication here just feels ill-considered, which extends to so much else about the book.

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Take Marla herself. I'm not going to pretend that Marla from the first Fight Club was a particularly brilliant, strong woman. Palahniuk is notoriously less-than-stellar with his handling of female characters. But at the very least, Marla in that book was a unique, challenging character. In Fight Club 2 she has become that most generic of stereotypical women characters: the jaded wife, the evil temptress who pushes "our hero" onto a dark path.

This culminates three-fourths through issue #1, when Marla whispers into Sebastian's ear as he sleeps, unleashing Tyler for the first time in the comic. Curiously, in an interview with MTV, Palahniuk said that he felt Marla needs to be "more of a character, something beyond just the catalyst that she was in the book." Yet in this first issue, she is far more of a catalyst and serves no other purpose.

With that recognition from Palahniuk, perhaps there's hope that this will change. There's even a smidgen of that change in the second issue. Without spoiling anything, Marla gets a little more development, Sebastian gets more history, and Tyler is made out to be more of a bad guy and less of the exciting, interesting half of Sebastian's split personality.

Maybe things will continue in this direction. Perhaps by the time Fight Club 2 wraps up, it will be brilliant, or at least something with the sharp insight of the original. As of these first issues, though, this sequel is exactly what its characters claim to despise — a carrier for cheap, shallow, bargain-bin philosophies and boring stereotypes.