In the not-so-distant future, a pandemic ravaged the nation. Now everyone lives in fear of getting sick, wearing masks when they do go outside. Those who do get sick are likely to die. If they survive, they face life with newfound telekinetic abilities, immunity to the illness, and complete lack of support by former friends, families, and society at large. Mer finds out firsthand how badly this can all go, and finds herself clinging to one of the many gangs that have formed of those survivors. But even that life turns out not to be very safe, or even happy.
One of the most striking things about 20XX is the art, which doesn’t follow the convention of Western comics in having full color pages, but instead is much closer to a manga. The entire comic is in greyscale, with little texture, and has minimal sound effect visuals, something that does not follow manga or comics conventions in terms of how sound effects are represented. While it’s an interesting approach, ultimately for me it made it harder to connect to the story because everything felt flat and about the same mood throughout, no matter what’s going on. For example, the few scenes someone laughs in, it’s typically a small “ha” and that’s pretty much it. This can be effective, but there’s not enough context to know how to read that simple sound effect. Part of the effectiveness of the black and white of manga is due to the use of high emotion or visual cues, and there just isn’t much of that going on in 20XX.
Similarly, the writing was a bit rough. We get no exposition or explanation at the start, which isn’t always a bad thing; there are quite a few stories out there that throw the reader in and it works, but this one left me with questions. I don’t actually know if this virus was worldwide, or just in the U.S., or even what it’s called. We get a graphic at the very beginning before the comic starts that explains the different kinds of telekinesis, but then that is never used inside the comic. Mer never registers with the government like she’s supposed to and that never comes back into play aside from a brief mention late in the comic about her lack of registration. It adds to a sense of not knowing how much time has passed since the beginning, because she was given a deadline by the government. It’s unclear why or how Mer still has an apartment when she no longer has a job and we never learn about her earning money or getting rent assistance. Some of these issues I could ignore, since they aren’t exactly key to the story, but the problem is that the primary storyline doesn’t keep me engaged enough to keep me from wondering about these things.
However, I could see appeal for this with readers of manga who want to try Western comics or for fans of more restrained stories that don’t go to extremes while still exploring difficult situations and topics. I haven’t been able to find anything on this, but I’m curious how coincidental the creation of 20XX was with the rise of the COVID-19 pandemic. It certainly hits like a commentary on the pandemic, intended or not, and could make this a more difficult read for people heavily affected by it.
By Lauren Keely
Art by Jonathan Luna
Image Comics, 2020
Publisher Age Rating: M
NFNT Age Recommendation: Adult (18+)
Character Representation: Queer, Missing Limb