Or – “It’s Pronounced ‘Burn.’  If You Say ‘Brine’, HE WILL FIND YOU!!”

There have been numberous “boom” period in comic book publishing, notably the original comics explosion of the early 40’s, the 1966 post-Batman-television series expansion, the Black & White boom of the 80’s…  The most recent boom came in the early 1990’s, as many creators began to realize the power of their own personal branding.  John Byrne was practically an elder statesman of comics in ’92, due to his work on X-Men, Fantastic Four, his high-profile revamp of Superman and, honestly, work on nearly every other character in existence.  When I was a kid, his covers conned me into buying dozens of comics drawn by lesser lights, so when the announcement came that John was launching his own creator-owned title, I was sold.  Fifteen years or so later, the Next Men are back, and many Faithful Spoilerites have no freakin’ idea who they are.  Time to remedy that situation…

John Byrne’s Next Men #1
Written by John Byrne
Art by John Byrne
Colors by Ronda Pattinson
Letters by John Byrne
Published by IDW Publishing

Previously, on John Byrne’s Next Men:  Years ago, a mysterious explosion in Antarctica deposited a misshapen monster from another era into our world.  The monster, known as Sathanas, curried influence with all the right people, including corrupt Senator Aldus Hilltop, with whom he created a secret government experiment to grown superhuman soldiers.  While the soldiers bodies grew in tanks in a laboratory, their minds were educated in a virtual-reality containment world, where they were taught what their masters believed they needed to know to be forged into the perfect human weapons.  Five of these poor experiments escaped into the real world, but found that their education didn’t prepare them for what lay outside Project Next Men.  On the run from those who would use them as pawns, Jasmine, Jack, Nathan, Bethany and Danny searched for some sort of meaning in a world where nothing and no one can be trusted.  Hilltop becomes President of the United States, while the Next Men remained outcast from everyone, even moreso when it was discovered that anyone they had sex with would gain their own superhuman powers.  But that, as they say, was then…  What’s going on NOW?

This issue begans where we came in, as the five members of Project Next Men are awakened from their slumber by technicians under the command of Aldus Hilltop, each still shaky from the effects of their extended coma-like states.  John Byrne’s art is very good throughout this sequence, using a thinner line than some of his recent work (I’m thinking of “Lab Rats” from DC a few years ago, where the lines were very thick, as it done with a sharpie marker) and with a great range of physical expressions.  As the characters talk about their experience, Jasmine (the acrobatic Next Man) loses her cool, kicks Hilltop in the face and tries to escape.  It becomes clear that she is the only one who remembers his turn as Sathanas and all the experiences of their previous comic book appearances.  This particular fakeout is familiar to me, having appeared in the Dark Horse version of the book to set up a giant swerve, but it is an effective way to get where we need to go, as it leads to the characters “debriefing” their hallucinations while in the project, a nicely handled way to get the exposition out of the way.  It’s a very nicely handled sequence…

Jasmine’s hallucinations get weirder, as she sees (or thinks she sees) futuristic flying cars, Jack with his super-powers back, and Tony Murtchison (the super spy-type who helped them escape back in the first series) trapped in a wheelchair ala Stephen Hawking.  Jazz’s explanations of what she saw in her dream goes over all the high points of the original series, ending with Jasmine being confronted by a mysterious man in jet-black armor and taking his hand (the cliffhanger of JBNM #30 back in ’94.)  Jasmine is transported back in time, and explains how she lived in a cave with Nathan and Danny until Danny was eaten by a fuzzy T-Rex.  It gets weird, and she wakes up AGAIN, this time lying in an actual cave in the distant past, alone with Nathan.  Poor Jazz doesn’t get it easy, does she?  There is discussion between them implying that they’re losing their powers, then we cut to a strange coda with Jack 40 years in the future finding the grave of an old friend…  A grave that dates to nearly a century before they were born!  It’s a mystery, and the teaser for next issue strongly implies that this isn’t the only paradox in play.

As with many books that I review, I find myself wondering how my subjective viewpoint really changes my expectations of a comic.  I honestly didn’t recall the details of the last issue of JBNM Vol.1, but was very impressed with how well the necessary history lesson went this issue.  I even enjoyed the lampshade-hanging with regards to this issue’s “waking up from a dream OR IS IT???” plot is going to be familiar to fans.  Knowing who each of the main characters is, knowing that Aldus Hilltop was villainous, knowing the way the Jasmine character has previousl been written, I enjoyed this issue greatly.  Mr. Byrne’s art is top-notch throughout, with subtle but noticable distinctions between young illusory Jasmine and trapped-in-the-past slightly older Jasmine as well as an elderly version of Jack.  I suspect that a first-time reader might be confused by the fugues and hallucinations, but the bones of the plot are clearly defined, and there’s nothing particularly off-putting or wrong that would throw the first-time reader.  As first issues go, this one clearly knows all the pitfalls and works to avoid them, which is a wonder in itself.  John Byrne’s Next Men #1 marks a return to form for some old friends, but won’t be alienating to someone who is meeting them for the first time, earning a very strong 4 out of 5 stars overall.  And no matter the book or company, it’s good to see Byrne going all out…

Rating: ★★★★☆

Faithful Spoilerite Question Of The Day:  What is the most underrated 90’s boom comic in your mind?

The Author

Matthew Peterson

Matthew Peterson

Once upon a time, there was a young nerd from the Midwest, who loved Matter-Eater Lad and the McKenzie Brothers... If pop culture were a maze, Matthew would be the Minotaur at its center. Were it a mall, he'd be the Food Court. Were it a parking lot, he’d be the distant Cart Corral where the weird kids gather to smoke, but that’s not important right now... Matthew enjoys body surfing (so long as the bodies are fresh), writing in the third person, and dark-eyed women. Amongst his weaponry are such diverse elements as: Fear! Surprise! Ruthless efficiency! An almost fanatical devotion to pop culture!

And a nice red uniform.

Previous post

Critical Hit #79: Listener Feedback

Next post

REVIEW: Green Lantern #60

9 Comments

  1. RC
    December 18, 2010 at 4:39 pm — Reply

    Bought it today – interested in seeing it played out.

    Totally agree that any first-timer is gonna be a bit lost. Heck! I was lost until I went back and read the 30 issue run to refresh my memory.

  2. Venomous Duck
    December 18, 2010 at 5:29 pm — Reply

    I was always excited about the latest issue of Shadowman from Valiant. That’s my underrated comic for the 90’s.

  3. Law
    December 19, 2010 at 7:13 am — Reply

    I was considering getting this but wasn’t there a second volume released somewhere between this series and the first series?

    • December 19, 2010 at 1:38 pm — Reply

      I was considering getting this but wasn’t there a second volume released somewhere between this series and the first series?

      If there was, I didn’t know about it. I know that the last few arcs of Next Men were released as standalone minis (“Next Men: Faith”) but wasn’t aware of a Volume II…

      • RC
        December 19, 2010 at 1:52 pm — Reply

        Here is what’s on the wikipedia entry on Next Men (notice how ‘complete’ is misspelled)

        1.John Byrne’s Compleat Next Men, Volume 1 (ISBN 1600101739) (May 2008) reprints 2112, issues 0-12 and the first five M4 stories.
        2.John Byrne’s Compleat Next Men, Volume 2 (ISBN 1600102727) (Nov 2008) reprints issues 13-30, including the M4 backup stories.

        Hope that helps.

        • December 19, 2010 at 1:53 pm — Reply

          .John Byrne’s Compleat Next Men, Volume 1 (ISBN 1600101739) (May 2008) reprints 2112, issues 0-12 and the first five M4 stories.
          2.John Byrne’s Compleat Next Men, Volume 2 (ISBN 1600102727) (Nov 2008) reprints issues 13-30, including the M4 backup stories.

          Yep. That’s the 30 issues of JBNM Vol. 1 broken into two trade paperbacks.

    • maxweis1
      March 8, 2011 at 6:11 am — Reply

      Yes, it was a one shot called, “2112”.

  4. maxweis1
    March 8, 2011 at 6:16 am — Reply

    Also, Dark Horse Presents #54-57, starts the preview to John Byrne’s Next Men.

  5. Damascus
    March 17, 2011 at 8:56 am — Reply

    Is the book going to overcome my general dislike for the design of every single character in the book? I never picked Next Men up before mostly due to how ugly I find all the character designs, is the story itself enthralling enough to get me past that? If so, I’d definitely give it a chance, I’ve done it before with things like The Walking Dead (where I got over my general dislike of B&W comics).

    Also sadly enough, my 90s comic that I feel was underrated was Clive Barker’s Hyperkind.

You know you have something to say, say it in the comment section