The cover kind of spoils the issue, but actually given the way so many characters have been slashed and burned, maybe it’s a good thing that Byrne reveals that Jazz survives the deadly sexual disease she contracted in Elizabethan times. Since the uniform she wears coordinates with Beth’s clothes, you may also deduce that the duo of Next Men joined the time travel away team, breaking a little this issue from their initial Star Trek origins.
You may wonder if the artwork inside the book matches the quality of that on the cover. The answer to that is a resounding yes. Byrne can draw anything, and that’s why I glare at people when they dismiss him as nostalgia. Opening the book, Byrne renders period dress, complete with frills. He puts the ugly in pox. He infuses optimism to science fiction healing. He restores Jazz’s ebullient expression. He softens the former Hardbody Bethany, who finds new enthusiasm in her impervious skin, and dig her blonde eyebrows. Byrne’s one of the few artists that actually draws eyebrows rather than lines. Yet, as pretty as the book is, especially with Ronda Pattison’s attentive coloring, it ain’t nothing compared to the story.
Byrne relates a fascinating pulp in which time and space have gone askew. Alternate versions of our heroes spin the web, lie caught in the strands or break free. Time as the time travelers know it exists in a bubble, and there’s a secret catalyst within the protectorate.
The protectorate appear to spring from a timeline that we would recognize as altered. In our reality, Lincoln was assassinated. Byrne imagines an alternity in which Antonio Murcheson saved Lincoln from history’s backhand. Other science fiction writers plotted different courses for the former President, and Byrne does not challenge them. Rather this one page summary of history is merely part of the story. Still, some of Byrne’s twists are ingenious.
Ray Tate’s first online work appeared in 1994 for Knotted. He has had a short story, “Spider Without a Web,” published in 1995 for the magazine evernight and earned a degree in biology from the University of Pittsburgh. Since 1995, Ray self-published The Pick of the Brown Bag on various usenet groups. In the POBB, as it was affectionately known, Ray reviewed comic books, Doctor Who novels, movies and occasionally music. Circa 2000, he contributed his reviews to Silver Bullet Comic Books (later Comics Bulletin) and became its senior reviewer. Ray Tate would like to think that he’s young at heart. Of course, we all know better.