Review: ’20 Fists’ Packs A Punch…With Romance

by James Ferguson

The Big Jackets and the No Names are two rival gangs forever at war. They take any opportunity to beat each other up. Chel and Billie are in rival factions, but are finding love amid all the violence. They have to survive the battle if they hope to get any sort of relationship going.

20 Fists has an undeniably great hook (no pun intended). It’s described as “a comic about fist fights and bad romance.” That vibe shines through in spades. Writer Frankee White balances the squee-filled feelings of a budding relationship with two groups that just want to wail on each other. It’s an interesting dynamic.
Artist Kat Baumann really drives this home with some super expressive artwork. You instantly understand what a person is thinking based on what’s on their face. This includes some more subtle movements, like the sneers that show up from the No Names when the Big Jackets stroll into the bar.

Baumann has a clear design for each character, which helps since 20 Fists is in black and white. It can’t rely on color to differentiate between characters with a similar look. It also helps that the Big Jackets…wear big jackets, so it’s clear which side they’re on right when they show up.
Where 20 Fists comes up a little short is the why of it all. It’s unclear as to why the Big Jackets and the No Names are fighting in the first place. Where were these lines drawn? How did the gangs form in the first place? We don’t need all of this information at once, but for two issues of a three issue series, there’s a good amount of confusion as to why this is all happening in the first place. You get the sense that the gangs and the fighting is just a way of life in this world, but it’s not clearly established.

Similarly, we don’t get a ton of time with the characters aside from Chel and Billie, so there’s not a lot to go on in understanding their personalities. There are five members of each gang too so the supporting cast is pretty big. What does shine through is how much they care for each other. Each gang is a tightknit group and they’d die for one another.
Some personality comes through in the dialogue and how letterer DC Hopkins presents it. Snide or sarcastic comments are delivered with just the right kind of emphasis that help define a voice. These little details help quite a bit.

When the fight really gets going in 20 Fists #2, Baumann uses a great effect to show the status of each gang member. We see a row of head shots and when someone is knocked out, a big X is drawn through their picture. This gives the segment a video game feel, like we’re completing levels to get to the final boss.
20 Fists has a lot going for it, but it hasn’t quite come together yet. I’m curious as to how the creative team will tie this up with the third and final issue. There’s a lot to dig into with this world and this book shows that romance and action can live side by side.

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