Are the Next Men from alternate timelines, or is there but one timeline being cleverly manipulated? Was the mad Beth from the opening issues a weird surviving paradox, or was that Beth and our Beth one in the same?
Byrne's artwork is, as, usual remarkable. He emphasizes Jazz's relative youth when compared to the rest of the Next Men through an emotional turmoil she wears on her sleeve. It's also nice to see Toni Murcheson in one piece and in good spirits. Most of the series has had her enslaved and pissed off.
In terms of writing, I appreciate how Byrne naturally whittles the Next Men down to Beth and Nathan and grants them a moment alone to reaffirm their friendship. Nathan and Beth were a couple, but Beth never forgave Nathan for his "dance" with Jazz in the previous volume. In Nathan's defense, he and Jazz were certain of death.
Beth's anger over the incident increased exponentially as her invulnerability became a scientific curse that nullified her ability to experience physical sensations. This meant, she could not feel pleasure. Because her fingernails and hair continued grow and because she couldn't trust the volatility of her emotions, Beth also could not give pleasure, just pain. This likely exacerbated the madness experienced by the "alternate" version of Beth introduced in the opening chapters of this new series.
Byrne appears to be suggesting that Gil's alternate many worlds theory about time travel isn't exactly correct. Byrne signifies this by having Toni return, exactly as she left, to her proper place in the timestream. Thus, the Civil Rights movement will occur far sooner rather than later through her defeat of John Wilkes Booth and rescue of President Lincoln.
Byrne buries that possibility in clever obfuscation. Gil lends Toni her own future autobiography. Gil appears to aid history, but I'm unsure of him, especially with his cavalier offers to give Toni penicillin before Pasteur discovers the miracle drug. I think the Next Men are unwittingly carrying out the plans of a hidden Big Bad not a beneficent fellow Next Man. I suspect the prevention of the Next Men's birth will ripple through time and space but instead of stopping Sathanus, the elimination will aid the villain, or catalyze a new villain's rise.
Whatever the result, Byrne's musings are intriguing. History is willing to accept time-lost individuals so long as certain criteria are met. Doctor Who kind of corroborates this idea when the Doctor's companions choose to stay in other periods of time. So long as they don't make waves, history shouldn't notice them. The situation in Next Men is a little different, however, since the time-lost individuals attempt to prevent their origins. In Beth's and Nathan's case, history removes anything that doesn't fit with physics while preserving the actual time traveler's existence. Such a move precludes the manifestations of numerous paradoxes including the grandfather paradox, which is essentially what this issue of Next Men explores.
While excessive dialogue is usually a tick in the downside column, the discussion in Next Men kept my attention rapt. Objectively Byrne includes subtle characterizations that can be enjoyed by any reader. Beth for example is more humorous now that her invulnerability isn't such an issue. She now has the opportunity to hug, kiss and feel. The almost off-the cuff reference to Next Men continuity acts as a window to a master craftsman’s shop, and it's extremely clever how Byrne manages to keep the Next Men apart, without resorting to contrivance. For these reasons, Next Men earns four bullets even if there's not a whole lot of action to be found in the panels.
Shawn Hill also reviewed Next Men #9. Read his thoughts, too!
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.