Review: 2020 Visions

Artist(s): James Romberger, Jamie Delano.

Jamie Delano is a British writer who began working for DC Comics a few years after Alan Moore – he launched the Hellblazer series showcasing John Constantine, the character created by Moore, Bissette & Totleben in their Swamp Thing series.
Unfortunately, Jamie Delano never managed to be as recognized as Moore, Neil Gaiman or Peter Milligan, maybe because he never really did super-hero comics, and he seems to have left comics. It is a shame, since he has a very unique voice, with an unromantic view of life and a real ability to build moving characters.
2020 Visions is a 1997 12-issue series he wrote for the Vertigo imprint, containing four slightly connected stories set in 2020, in a USA which has fallen low1. Each story follows the life of a member of a family who’ve have long lost touch with one another, and it’s rather gay & lesbian inclusive – but don’t read this looking for nice love stories.

The first story (drawn by Frank Quitely), Lust for Life, revolves around Alex Woycheck, an old guy who lives in a very different Manhattan, where rich people are cloistered in high rises, sheltered from the many diseases which infect the less fortunate population. Woycheck makes a living off selling old porn works, now illegal in the current fascist feminist regime (and no, this is not a anti-feminist story, far from it). Woycheck is still in contact with an old flame of his, a not rich but not poor woman who lives with two women and has sworn off men in general and Woycheck in particular. They’ll meet again on Ellis Island, now a quarantine camp for the infected. In the midst of such a dark and cold future, some human warmth will be found between the old lovers.
The second story (with art by Warren Pleece), while not showcasing queer characters, has gender-bending ones. Jack Atlanta is the daughter of Woycheck, but hasn’t seen him in decades. In Nueva Florida, babies aren’t easy to make, since men are highly infertile, due to chemical pollution. Jack is a private detective, dressed as a man, with sexual tastes tending to the virtual. She’ll find herself involved in a baby-smuggling affair. Jack had two boys in a violent situation, and the babies were taken from her without her consent. One of the boys, Ethan, is the main character of the third story.

From the Renegade story

Renegade, drawn by Jame Romberger (artist of the David Wojnarowicz autobiographical comic Seven Miles a Second), takes place in Detroit – now the home of black Muslims who live by the Shariah – and in Montana, where tribes of native Americans fight a guerrilla war with White supremacists who like to nail their adversaries to burning crosses. Not that the Indians are nicer to their enemies… Obviously, Detroit is not a good place to be for a gay teenager who hustles and steals, and Ethan is sent to prison, but is quickly bought by a Montana farmer. There, during a hunting party against squatters, he meets Chico D’oro, a handsome young Indian who befriends him. But Ethan has never known anything but betrayal and violence… This chapter, the more gay-themed one of the four, is also the most violent, and finally the most romantic, in a despairing kind of way.
The fourth story, drawn by Steve Pugh, is about Adam, Ethan’s long-lost brother, who looks like the classic Californian surfer boy, very different from Ethan, a dark, skinny and cross-eycoed boy. Adam is more or less a sperm bank on legs for the women running Los Angeles, where people, as in the rest of the country, take great pain to ensure reproduction is done following scientific rules. Which means that Adam, a healthy boy with a great physique, is a prize bull. He’ll be kidnapped by a female rebel group, and his life will take a less safe, but also less controlled, turn.

As you can see, the 2020 Visions stories are highly concerned with  gender relations, which logically includes queer characters. In that world, it seems the patriarchal system is largely down, but the matriarchy isn’t doing a better job running things… Delano had already commented on the gender wars in World Without End, a science-fiction 1990 mini-series drawn by John Higgins and published by DC, where, in the far future, men and women live separately, and where fanatics trigger war on a global scale. Over-the-top and evocative, this was a very impressive comic which unfortunately didn’t make the impact it should have had. Delano’s stories are usually rather deep and dark, but not in the grim-and-gritty way of a lot of super-hero comics, only in a more real-world way, despite their fantasy settings. 2020 Visions is a book which deserves a second chance with more mature readers who like their fiction, as outrageous at it seems at first glance, to have some relevance to today’s world.

  1. It has been collected in a trade paperback by Speakeasy (after a hardcover by Cyberosia Publishing last year), published last month. You can find it at Amazon.

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