[**MASSIVE HONKING SPOILER WARNINGS AS IT SAYS IN THE HEADLINE FOLKS**]
I wrote previously about the ways in which Fight Club 2, and the fandom around the series, have been interacting, including elements from the "real" world where in one sense the spread of Project Mayhem in the comic parallels the large fandom for things Fight Club in our world. To the point where Chuck Palahniuk is consulted on the whereabouts of Sebastian in the comic.
In many ways, it feels like I'm writing about a different comic today. Reading the first four issues of Fight Club 2 was a totally engaging and entertaining experience. Chuck Palahniuk and Cameron Stewart create this interesting tension and almost combative tone between the panels and segments of the story that keep you amused and entertained as you construct the narrative. The bright colors and cartooniness add to the lively crackle of energy building up in the comic.
Sure, there are darker themes—no doubt essential to this story. I like the way I'm encouraged to look at them, sideways, over someone's shoulder, a glimpse at Sebastian's computer screen, or the background to Marla arguing with an ill child in a war zone. The world is in chaos, Tyler Durden is seeing to that. I think we kind of approve of that, or at least 50% of the time. Tyler is entertaining. He does stuff. He has ridiculous confidence. That makes for good comics. Even as we sympathize with Sebastian and the gut punch of another personality taking his son away and receiving respect and affection from the child, we still want to see Sebastian learn to fight back. We may not think he deserves to win yet. This is his battle.
Enter Issue #5. This is when you realize that there were hints of the building and morphing change in the emotional tone of the series. For me, one of the hints that comes to mind is the abandoned needle couch, encouraging homeless people to sit on it and get infected. Which people, I saw, commented about on Twitter, as being a god-awful but wickedly clever element in the narrative that stays fixed in one's mind. I'll be overly literal and say I choose to think of the couch now as a symbol not to get "too comfortable" with the cozier aspects of the narrative. That would be a fatal mistake.
Now, in Issue 5, we can see how this is going to be a sustained narrative for 12 issues, not just of madcap happenings in the world of Project Mayhem and tales of Marla and Sebastian hunting around on some potentially international quest for their son. That could've worked—it just would have been a different kind of comic. Maybe a kind of "Fight Club Lite" rather than where Palahniuk has gone with this. Instead I think the creative team together got really serious about the comics medium, which might sound like a strange thing to say. I could say that they got really serious about Sebastian and how this kind of crisis between he and Tyler is no joke, and it was always destined to end in somebody getting hurt, but what I mean is that the two are the same thing for the creative team. They aren't just going to tell us point for point what Sebastian got himself involved in when he joined Project Mayhem, or even show us in basic terms. They are going to keep flipping our expectations of the medium to get through to us. Hang on, hardened comics readers—even for you this will be a bumpy ride.
Let's start with the use of the 3D pills on the page, which isn't new. But it seemed teasingly random before, when portraying Sebastian's pills that Marla has been switching out early in the series. Now, members of Project Mayhem being sent on their field assignment are being given different drugs and we don't know why yet. As they are given different drugs, the 3D pills overlay their "heads" on the page so they become like walking, talking, acting pills. We could stop there and talk about all that suggests about the loss of identity, the sway of drugs, and the like. But if so we should also notice how Sebastian dances around playing along with it, and in the end, doesn't seem to have taken all his drugs or at least have been as affected by them. And yet he doesn't back down from his assignment going to deface major works of art. We don't exactly how the team are going to deface the paintings and your attention is really solidly flagged away from that question until you need to know that information.
I put a spoiler warning on this article, mainly because I felt that I couldn't review this issue without talking about Cameron Stewart and Dave Stewart's work on #5 that's so tied up to the ending of this comic. The 3D pills are one thing—a triumph in how they are used, rendered, presented, for comics. The way being able to see and not see builds up the tension in this issue during the pills sequence is another really strong use of the medium. Placing something obstructing apparently "between" the reader and the page to the point that some part of their brain is actually giving them the impulse to clear off the page with their hand because the story is getting so urgent is a significant moment for comics. But then allowing us a window through that obstruction suddenly, seeing Sebastian clearly, reverses that and we find we don't want to see his face or what he's about to do. But something about the way that sequence is presented—and I don't know that I can explain it further—is a really pointed coming together of the creative team on the book. And makes this book move from an experiment to a serious contender in the medium for critical attention as a representation of the art form.
To conclude, this is a really gross and horrifying issue of Fight Club 2. It's possible that you, the reader, thought this was going to be a fun series with only dashes of scariness you could look at in a sidelong way. But really we all should've known better, and if I'm honest this was the series I hoped would happen, but I was trying not to be too judgmental since Chuck Palahniuk has never written comics before. I think he just lost that status of a newbie. Cameron Stewart and Dave Stewart went beyond cleverness, a trait that's been very winning so far, into really seriously challenging the medium on this issue, too, and so I think we'll find, looking back later, that this issue was decisive in establishing the kind of imprint the series is going to make on comics.
Fight Club 2 #5 is out today, September 23rd.