For well over a decade a major question hovering over a certain segment of the comics readership has been who would step up to capture the legacy of The Invisibles as Morrison had originally intended. As discussed in my exploration of Black Mask’s Young Terrorists, he wanted the general idea fed back to him by the next generation of creators, somewhat like what Walt Disney had planned for Fantasia. To reflect on the fact that until Young Terrorists builds some momentum for itself, that Gerard Way (with Shaun Simon and Becky Cloonan on The True Lives of the Fabulous Killjoys) and Chuck Palahniuk are the writers who have struck the closest to that legacy so far is truly surreal.
Fight Club 2 certainly doesn’t carry with it the metafictional call to arms and hopeful consciousness raising that Morrison imbued his epic with, but Palahniuk and Stewart are reaching much further in their aims than an Animal Man like reckoning between creator and creation. There’s a clear desire to push the envelope in terms of how we view our interactions with fiction and how it can shape us, as evinced by the discussion of suicide contagion and the Werther Effect last issue, but it takes center stage in an even more explicit way this issue as the story returns to Palahniuk and his real life writers’ group, with the fertilizing of an egg and development into a fetus overlayed. We’re witnessing creation in a way that blurs the lines between the creative arts and childbirth, but Palahniuk brings the comparison crashing back down to earth when he admits that he has no idea how to resolve Tyler now that he’s established him as, in the words of one of the group members “an infectious mental virus.”
“Try removing Santa Claus from the cultural landscape,” Palahniuk laments before slamming his head into the table. He’s right of course. That’s exactly how pernicious the things that he’s used Tyler to signify are. How do you resolve toxic masculinity and its continual thirst for domination? Don’t ask me, I’m a trans woman, Fight Club was one of the things that set me on the path to opting out of that garbage for good years ago. I’m still rooting for him though. It’s not hard to see how the inversion of creator and creation flows through the issue thanks to the sperm swimming upstream across the issue and the semen stains that mark their passage (oh god, I just wrote semen stains in a review, this is why I’m the only one still covering this series monthly), but there’s another, and infinitely more fraught, relationship that takes center stage this issue.
Chloe has been hard at work with the children with progeria and their merciless exploitation of the “Magic Wand Foundation” (I’m still holding out hope for a John Cena cameo), spreading the efforts between invading Tyler’s compound and sending the rest to Somalia. At first blush, it looks like this has been in service to the really crass image of children with progeria invading a castle like the Dirty Dozen, and that certainly informs part of it as we see a child in a wheelchair parachuting into what is effectively a war zone, but they form a worthy and thought provoking resistance to Tyler and his rhetoric. Looking back on Tyler invoking the great flood and interpreting Moses leading the Israelites wandering through the desert as weeding out the weak and old before arriving at his paradise, not to mention that one Space Monkey who was putting needles in old couches, it becomes pretty clear that these are exactly the kind of people who Tyler has been victimizing all along, and they, through Chloe, have decided to take a place and a voice in the narrative.
While the text of the issue doesn’t address it directly, there’s a very important point to be made about dystopian fiction and its politics in this sequence. Apocalypse scenarios, especially of the post nuclear and zombie variety, attract a particular crowd of survivalists who fetishize these scenarios as satirized by characters like The Walking Dead villain Negan. The primitivist vision that Tyler holds so dear to his heart is one that exclusively privileges a very narrow band of people and is particularly ruinous to anyone with chronic illnesses or disabilities, so what we’re seeing with the emergence of Chloe’s allies as a direct physical threat to Tyler is a foregrounding of the fact that no matter how vicious and ugly late stage capitalism is, there are many people who find themselves deeply entangled by it. What we’re also seeing is a kind of perfect weapon to counter his fanaticism.
As we’ve seen since the misappropriation of customs employed by Buddhist monasteries in the original novel, Tyler places great importance on rites that prepare his followers to give up their lives in his service, originally conceiving of a nihilistic inversion of Buddhist doctrine that praised incompleteness and ultimately entropy. The children with progeria have been just as alienated from the beauty norms of late capitalist patriarchy as Tyler’s followers, and they have a far more intimate understanding of entropy owing to the degenerative nature of the disease. As such, they’re ideally placed to oppose him, yet they serve the ideal of sacrificing themselves towards the aim of preserving life as we know it, not ending it as Tyler does. In that sense, the children unite with the overriding symbolism of the sperm fertilizing the egg as they converge on their target with a singular overriding purpose.
We also get Tyler putting a bit of the dust from the floor of the cave underneath the castle on Sebastian’s tongue, eliciting the statement that it’s saltier than expected, so we are going there in absolutely every way possible. It’s worth pointing out Dave Stewart’s colors in this sequence in particular, because he takes special care to use rosier, healthier tones to define Tyler’s figure as he seems to be at the peak of his powers and control over events, but beyond just the hue employed, he also builds up a lot more volume from Cameron Stewart’s inks than he does on Sebastian, completing the effect of making Tyler look more real and three dimensional, defining Sebastian as sinking into being flatter and more two dimensional, signifying the former’s dominance over the latter in a way that very clearly communicates just how much power contemporary colorists can have on storytelling, even when working with someone of Cameron Stewart’s caliber. The semen joke itself is very Palahniuk in the sense of the cult of personality that surrounds the transgressive elements of his work, but so too is it as deeply Morrisonian as it gets, intermingling the highest and lowest impulses in a way that hasn’t been seen quite this explicitly in a mainstream comic since that issue of The Filth that involved a parody of Max Hardcore named Tex Porneau and the visual of women being swarmed and killed by giant sperm.
“It’s all cum and blood in the end, baby doll,” Porneau says at the peak of his bacchanalia, and that’s more or less the point that we’ve reached in Fight Club 2. Putting a razor sharp point on it, David Mack makes his first incursion into interiors this issue with a centerfold of Marla labeled “Mother of the Year” and Stewart returns the favor by filling a word balloon with his version of Mack’s cover for the fourth issue, of Marla in a wedding veil, when Tyler tries to tempt him with his own projected future bacchanalia. Of course there’s even deeper resonance to this imagery as Tyler walks Sebastian back through a visualization of his family tree and the different mechanisms that he used to manipulate Sebastian’s forebears into creating the line that has lead him to this point.
The tree is barren and where the giant sperm that swim through the issue, away from the focal point of the Marla pin up, shrivel up and die among its branches. We sure do get the semen joke of Sebastian remarking on the saltiness of the floor of the cave, but there’s also the salt of the earth, the recognition that Tyler has traditionally, like contemporary demagogues such as Donald Trump, targeted the working class to incubate himself and his doctrine, and the fact that the immediate goal of his plot is to salt the earth. There’s an incredible density to the visual language at work here.
What is definitely most frightening about Fight Club 2, and increasingly mirrored by Gail Simone and Jon Davis-Hunt’s Clean Room, is that on the cusp of 2016, I find myself reaching towards my shelf to pull out The Filth far more than I am The Invisibles. In the former, the insurrection weren’t the sexy queer rebels leading humanity towards emancipation, they were vicious and brutal demagogues whose only thrill in life was violence and degradation. If this truly is the zeitgeist that we’re facing as we bid farewell to 2015 and the pendulum has swung in such a way that necessitates an excavation of the worst that humanity can offer, the incongruity of Palahniuk following Morrison begins to resolve itself. What better guide, what better Virgil to our Dante could there be than Chuck Palahniuk to lead us through the darkness?
Written by Chuck Palahniuk
Drawn by Cameron Stewart and David Mack with colors by Dave Stewart
Lettered by Nate Piekos
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Emma Houxbois is a fiercely queer trans woman from the wilds of Canada, most recently spotted in the Pacific Northwest. She is a two time IWC Women’s World Champion and has written about comics for the web since 2005 for sites including Playboy, Bitch Media, and Graphic Policy.