John Byrne’s Next Men #1
Writer/Artist - John Byrne
Publisher - IDW Publishing. $3.99 USD
I’ll give John Byrne some credit here: to return to a famously unfinished series after 15 plus years is pretty ballsy. Those who never liked it or have come to not like Byrne or his work in that time are going to be very difficult to win over, while many of those who liked the series may have built up their own endings or high expectations. I suppose I fall into the the category of a fan of the series when it came out, and I enjoyed rereading the first IDW collection of it, though hadn’t gotten around to reading the rest.
What I found here, then, as an old fan who had partially revisited the material already, is a first issue that shows heavy tinkering, but with too much of an emphasis on bringing the reader up to speed with every event in the previous 28 issues, as well as too many misdirections. We meet the Next Men, unplugged from their virtual reality of The Greenery as well as the reality that had them as escapees from Project: Next Men into a life of fugitive, costumed heroes. Only Jasmine has doubts about this new reality, not to mention the readers, as her long flashback leads into a creepy rape dream sequence, and finally into her being trapped in dinosaur times with Nathan. Is she still telling a story? I don’t know.
Although his stock of poses and angles is very familiar by now, Byrne does deliver some good art here…and some not so good art. It’s one of the most uneven books of his I’ve seen, with a wide variation in style that leads one to suspect some of these pages date back to the ’90s, before he’d decided to cancel the book. The rape pages seem to be in his most current style, but then it’s hard to place some of the earlier pages where he draws Danny as if he has Bell’s Palsy. Maybe things will even out as we get into for-sure all new territory.
What I was more disappointed in were the ideas here. And maybe this isn’t fair—for the early ’90s, this was a fairly sophisticated superhero book. Or was it? I’m trying to nail down just what makes this different from any other superhero team book. They all deal with alternate realities, conspiracies and increasingly bloody violence. Having sex be the catalyst for the emergence of superpowers is still a bit unusual, but it’s hard to say that Byrne has done much with the idea, and to a large extent, it’s hard to say he shows the capability of doing so. He deals in broad, obvious signifiers: Aldus Hilltop is a bad guy because Byrne draws him with a sneer and a gold bracelet. A decent, honorable man has no need of such ornamentation.
The recap was unfortunate in that it reminded me of times in the series where Byrne took the path well-traveled. The Next Men eventually got costumes and codenames. They fought a foreign team much like them who were led by someone at one time involved in Project: Next Men. Very typical stuff here, even reminiscent of Byrne’s X-Men and Alpha Flight work. And unfortunately, as of this issue, I’m not getting much to grab onto to feel like there’s a huge, amazing story to come, nor do I feel like I have a handle on these characters yet. At one point, this was Byrne’s baby, and the possibilities were only limited to his own imagination. Here’s hoping he can come up with some stories that live up to that potential.
— Christopher Allen