I did not realize until I went back and checked (did you know that the most collectible issue of Next Men volume 1, by the way, is #21, which features the debut of Hellboy?), but Byrne has picked up this comic exactly where the first series left off. I mean exactly. All that has happened in these 8 issues thus far is what he was planning back then, so, for long-term readers, we're getting a full story that just happens to have a 17-year-long blip in the middle. Will someone someday come along and fill in those issues that would have been, just as Byrne himself once attempted with X-Men: The Hidden Years? No need, I suppose, because his plotting is air-tight. And the art is just as good.
The intriguing cover this issue very cleverly shows us the biography contained inside, and despite appearances, it's just of one person. Gillian was a disembodied consciousness that lived inside various of the Next Men, before jumping into a young human ally named Chrissy. This issue begins with Chrissie (both spellings are in the book, so I can't say which is right; Toni Murcheson's name is similarly variable) as an anxious adolescent, tired of sharing her brain with an interloper.
So Gillian, decent invisible person that she is, moves on, and what follows is the story of her lives through her subsequent hosts throughout the years, until she finds one with the technology and wherewithal to grow a clone body. That the body she chooses is a male one is all part of Byrne's larger concept.
It's a fascinating story structure, and one that allows Byrne to explore his own vision of the diversity of humanity. From the teenage Chrissy, Gillian moves to an elderly delivery man, and then to a scientist. Some of her carriers can sense her presence, and some can't. She also lives with both halves of a lesbian couple, nearly dies on a "Gears of War" style future battlefield, and eventually makes it into space with an astronaut. Each of her hosts is given distinctive character attributes by Byrne, and it all leads to her meeting the Next Men we've been following recently in their future and her present, to tie up all the threads that of course always lead back to Sathanas.
I'm going to have to one day re-read all of it to figure out what's going on, but I'm enjoying each issue nonetheless. If Gillian's cerebral tale lacks some of the high-concept action and historical topicality that made Tony Murcheson's story so dramatic, it still continues Byrne's fascination with time travel paradoxes. The series has definitely been worth the wait, as Byrne's commitment to the concepts, which take typical superheroics as the starting place but stretch the concepts into unexpected science fiction territory, shows unflagging consistency.
Shawn Hill knows two things: comics and art history. Find his art at Cornekopia.net.
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