Vertigo published Jamie Delano’s maxi-series 2020 Visions in 1997. It was a bit before the Millennium buzz had really gotten going, but that appears to be part of the inspiration. The twelve issue series is divided into four three-issue arcs, each with its own subtitle, and each illustrated by a different artist. The sections all feature a view of dysfunctional U.S. society in 2020, but they’re set in different parts of the country and have no direct connection with each other. “Lust for Life” gives Frank Quitely an economically stratified, plague-infested Manhattan to draw. The beautiful (healthy, rich) people live in a walled part of the city. But Delano’s story feature the underclass, especially Alex Woycheck, an aging ex-pornographer. Woycheck’s luck goes from bad to worse when he becomes infected and is sent to Ellis Island, which has become a plague prison colony. He leads a breakout, and as he is about to exact revenge by committing suicide, he finds himself hungry for life. It’s an oddly uplifting tale, despite all the suffering and death.
“La Tormenta” is set in Miami, and illustrated by Warren Pleece. Miami has a different set of problems, being part of an independent state called Nueva Florida formed when Florida seceded from the U.S. and annexed Cuba. The protagonist is Jack Atlanta, a private detective. In the course of looking for a missing girl she becomes involved in a murder investigation: the hunt for El Escultor, a serial killer who remakes his victims with bizarre plastic surgery. So it’s a classic detective story, albeit with bizarre futuristic touches.
The third arc is titled “Renegade,” illustrated by James Romberger. The story starts out in my hometown of Detroit, although in 2020 it’s known as Free Islamic Detroit, and is ruled by Sharia law. Protagonist Ethan McWhirter is a lost son of “La Tormenta” protagonist Jack Atlanta, which gives a slight connection with the previous arc–but if this wasn’t mentioned in the “On the Ledge” summary I don’t think I would have known it, since it’s not clear in-story. Ethan is arrested and sentenced to a Texas slave farm, but is instead recruited into a private militia in the New Montana Territory of Freemen. His journey takes him through slaughtering squatters, to trying to rescue the rich owner’s son from Indians, to joining the tribe himself. It’s a confusing narrative, which seems to have less to say about the state of the dysfunctional U.S. society than the previous arcs. Romberger’s art is comparatively primitive, also, which makes the story less enjoyable to look at than the others.
Finally, “Repro-Man” is illustrated by Steve Pugh and set in Los Angeles. It features Jack Atlanta’s other son Adam: the connection is clear early on when Adam sees his brother Ethan being crucified on TV (although he doesn’t realize who he is). Adam is a perfect physical specimen, and his DNA is being marketed in a society in which unlicensed sexual reproduction is illegal. His kidnapping by the guerrilla group M.A.M.B.O. (Militant Action for Maternity rights, Breeding security, and Obstetric care) sets him on the run with one of the revolutionaries named Zonia. They wind up in Las Vegas, with a child who resembles Ethan, thus closing a circle in a way. I liked this arc a bit more than the third, but the first two were much stronger. I wonder if Delano started out intending arcs 2 – 4 to be connected. It’s a pretty tenuous connection, and I still thought the completely stand alone first arc was the most memorable by far. The whole series is an imaginative projection of certain trends in American society, which I would recommend. It’s a shame the second half doesn’t maintain the quality of the first, though. It has recently been collected in both hardcover and paperback, but reproduced in black and white instead of the original color.