Next Men #9 ReviewA comic review article by: Shawn Hill
After last issue's sci-fi romp through the centuries (for once in this book, in a linear fashion), this issue we're back to focusing on the flaws and foibles of our main characters. Specifically, Jasmine, the sensual, alluring and seemingly most shallow of our main cast.
"Jazz" has always been about lithe energy, jumping around tom boyishly in a black bikini, locks of curly hair falling across her forehead. That her kicks can be deadly comes as a surprise, and despite her seeming youth she's also faced several very familiar gothic heroine topoi over the course of this series. She's been raped, impregnated, had an abortion, caught a ravaging disease and been married to a demon. In a scene I never saw coming, she and Bethany (the other distaff member of the team, harder to hurt because she's almost literally an invulnerable ice queen) take the time to discuss everything just the two of them have been through, as friends and adventurers and heroines and women.
The plots of this series and this issue, which finds everyone reunited (mostly) after their time-lost adventures, and many of them miraculously recovered due to the futuristic science of their benefactors, require one last sacrifice. The team members who remain must head back to a crucial moment in the past yet again, to prevent the very onset of the Next Men project (and all the horror that ensued from it thanks to Sathanas/Aldus Hilltop).
He's the very cruel patriarch at the core of this story, but this new volume hasn't really been about him. Also sidelined were speedster Danny and to some extent Jack/John, as the series focused on the horrible fates of Nathan (Nazi torture), Bethany (insanity), Jasmine (venereal disease) and Antonia (slavery) before their eventual rescues. It turns out it's all been a bit much for Jazz, and she is not prepared to make a final sacrifice that everyone seems to require of her. There's a chance to return to the past and, with a well-timed bomb, prevent the mutates from ever being created.
In another story, this might make her a coward or a villain. It's certainly a different choice than Toni's, as she also is at a crossroads in this issue. But we know Jasmine by now; we've seen her strengths and her weaknesses through all her trials. And what really gets her is the ambiguity of this final plan; she may or may not exist when it's over. No one can give her a solid answer. After all the levels of virtual reality that many of the characters have been put through (not just alternate timelines, but actual attempts to deceive and de/re-program them as soldier operatives), relating to her frustration is not a stretch. As she desperately confesses at one point: "Maybe I don't even exist at all!"
So guess what? She doesn't have to go. Instead of fighting, the characters talk intelligently, and her adult decision is honored. She even goes seeking advice from John/Jack, who found religion in the previous series and lived out his years as a benevolent padre. This is a very talky series, but if anyone knows how to balance action and panel layout and word balloons, it's Byrne. Colorist Pattison keeps the future in immaculate white, the past in sedate earth tones, and the explosive moments bright and mysterious.
In the end, Bethany and Nathan carry out the plan, and remain uninjured by the transformative blast that was apparently more light than heat. As we watch, their mutate powers begin to revert to baseline human. What that means will have to wait for the subsequent series, but Byrne has made sure to give us a full story in this successful continuation of his best 1990s title.
Shawn Hill knows two things: comics and art history. Find his art at Cornekopia.net.