EDITOR’s NOTE: Next Men #1 will be in stores December 15th.
Dear Reader, if you’ll let me lay my cards out here–I have never, ever read an issue of Next Men. I like John Byrne (Man of Steel? Uncanny X-Men? Get outta town), but I just never sought the book out because, well, there are many things I haven’t sought out. Anyway, there’s no time like the present, so I decided to check out this inaugural issue of the newest Next Men series now that Byrne is resurrecting the property after a 15 year hiatus.
Appropriately, this first issue opens with the Next Men coming out of some kind of extended hibernation. In different hands this would be the very last page of the first issue, but we’re lucky Byrne is a veteran comics writer and knows that shit don’t play.
Clearly this in medias res opening is for the people who were around for the original 30 issue run, but Byrne repays our patience for a recap detailing the events of the original series: Our heroes were part of a secret government project to create superhumans, but they escaped and began going on superheroic missions. And then it gets insane, with sexually-transmitted superpowers, run-ins with comic book publishers, supervillains from the future, and a dinosaur. Let me tell you, Internet–after that recap it’s hard to resist clicking over to Amazon and ordering The Compleat Next Men collections.
Soon we find out that there are multiple Saragossa Manuscript levels of narrative going on here that I won’t spoil, but suddenly the thing jumps 40 years into the future for a final scene that, coupled with the “Next Issue” teaser image, makes for a central mystery that may lure newcomers like me back for #2.
Byrne’s scripting is solid, though I can’t say much for his plotting in this first issue because most of it is about setting up intrigue and recapping the original series. Byrne fills his panels with dialogue, which is strange to see from any writer/artist just because he can express some of his ideas in a purely visual manner if he wanted to, but in his defense, he has a lot to get through in this first issue. Perhaps in later issues he’ll take the chance to let the story breathe a little.
As far as art goes, this is classic Byrne, working in his trademark hand-drawn style that should make for a seamless transition from the original Next Men #30 to the new Next Men #1. His dense panels are rendered in a dynamic but traditional style–none of those weird diagonal panels that he’d been playing with back when he returned to Action Comics with Gail Simone. Byrne is a master storyteller, wisely using only one single-page spread to convey a very big moment. Ronda Pattison’s restrained color work suits Byrne’s art, seeming pretty much in line with what the books apparently looked like back in the ’90s. Not to say that it looks dated, it’s just doesn’t look a product of modern, more ostentatious coloring tricks.
It’s especially good to see Byrne doing creator-owned comics considering the bulk of his output (even his legendary work) has come out as part of Marvel and DC’s superhero universes and especially since most of his recent work has been licensed Star Trek and Angelcomics for IDW. There’s obviously nothing wrong with being the guy who helped make the X-Men a must-read, but I like the guy enough to want to see original stuff from him, too.
Byrne has a clear aim with Next Men #1–to reintroduce the team and set up the current story. He succeeds in both, making for a promising first issue of a series that will hopefully allow Byrne to finish the story he started in 1992. I cannot tell you how a die-hard fan will appreciate it, but as someone who until this very moment knew nothing about Next Men, I’m intrigued enough to want to catch up on Byrne’s original run.