Or – “Time, See What’s Become Of Me…”
My biggest problem with this particular review was actually whether or not to use that quote at the top of the page. Sometimes, you think you’re being clever but you end up just being a schmuck, and I’m occasionally not all that clear on the line between the two. Likewise, the characters of Next Men have been put into situations where they have to make judgement calls as well, but theirs have consequences a lot worse than sounding like a putz on the internet…
Previously, on Next Men: Five young people, each with a particular super-power, the Next Men escaped from a government experiment and went on the run with the help of federal agent Antonia Murcheson. Their flight was short-lived, and they were captured by the very unpleasant Senator Aldus Hilltop, but ended up separated through time and space. Last issue, we caught up with Jasmine and Nathan, who had been trapped in the distant past, living in a cave and scraping out an existence. Jack also put in an appearance, some 15 years after the point where we last saw his teammates, discovering a Civil War-era grave that seemed to belong to his one-time savior, Antonia! We still have little to no idea what has happened to Danny (the speedster) or Bethany (the invulnerable one), save for something that I’m pretty sure was just a dream of Jasmine’s. One thing seems to be clear, though: Time is NOT on their side.
We open with a very uncomfortable sequence, as Toni Murcheson encounters what she believes to be a Civil War re-enactment society in action. The truth is a little more dangerous, and the combination of a strong-willed black woman and a group of southern soldiers during the mid-1800’s goes about as well as you would expet for poor Toni. She gets clubbed with a gun butt and tied to a post in preparation for whipping. On the plus side, the characters (while a bit course) aren’t full-out despicable, but the entire thing seems to be designed to remind us of the unpleasantness of slavery and the mindset that leads to it. Things aren’t any better for Nathan, who steps out of a portal into a war zone. He is picked up by another group of soldiers, this time World War II-era Americans, who clean him up and get him some clothes. Byrne’s art is very faithful to both time periods, giving us authentic looking uniforms and equipment for 1865 and 1942, which is a difficult enough proposition.
In the future, Jack is interviewed about Toni’s gravesite, while the woman herself falls deeper and deeper into the life of a Civil War slave, while Nathan ends up captured and taken to a concentration camp in occupied Germany. We find Jasmine in what seems to be 17th Century England, and at least she doesn’t end up beaten by jerks, although her new patron, the Earl of Oxford, may have less than savory intentions. The issue’s cliffhanger comes with Nathan in Germany starting to recognize someone (probably either Hilltop or his scientific advisor, Jorgensen) in the camp’s infirmary. Best of all, the Next Issue blurb shows Bethany face to face with the shiny-helmeted creature that transported Nathan and Jazz through time in the first place, which makes me happy as Beth is probably my favorite character in the book.
There’s not a lot of explanation yet for the temporal machinations going on since the last couple of issues of the original series, but that’s okay given the strength of the issue. While I have my reservations about the twin use of WWII concentration camps and slavery, this issue doesn’t veer off into sensationalism or flat-out nastiness. I would say that if you’re sensitive about racism or violence against women, you might want to consider the purchase of this issue carefully, but overall it’s a well-handled tale. JB’s art is excellent throughout, and his trademark use of heavy black areas in the art make it a unique experience. John Byrne’s Next Men #2 is a good, if somewhat squicky, read and earns 3.5 out of 5 stars overall. While we may not know for sure why these things are happening, the storytelling is good enough that you’re drawn into the issue regardless, making this one successful for me…
Faithful Spoilerite Question Of The Day: What’s your opinion on comics touching on issues like slavery or historical atrocity in the context of an adventure story?