John Byrne’s Next Men #1
Written by John Byrne
Art by John Byrne and Ronda Pattison
Lettering by John Byrne
Published by IDW Publishing
Review by Scott Cederlund
When it has been 16 years since your last issue, I don’t know if the best way to jump in is to try to pull off an “everything you knew was wrong” type of story but that’s just what John Byrne does with John Byrne’s Next Men #1. Byrne’s original Next Men series, published from 1992-1994, was always trying to play around with our perception of reality as we were introduced to five young people living in their very own Garden of Eden. Everything seemed perfect in this paradise as every wish was granted to them and they had the power and strength to deal with any threats that could possibly find them. Everything was perfect until they woke up in some laboratory and found out that paradise didn’t exist and they were the subjects of experiments to breed super humans. That was 16 years ago and Byrne told some decent stories about this group of super humans trying to discover who they were and what their place in the world was. After 30 issues, it ended as a couple of the kids were pulled into a mysterious hole in space. As a reader, what do you do when “to be continued next issue” is 16 years later? What do you do as the creator?
The 2010 edition of John Byrne’s Next Men #1 contains a heavy amount of exposition, an unneeded amount of clunkiness and some of the nicest art that Byrne’s produced in ages. Someday, someone is going to figure out how to relaunch a series after a lengthy hiatus. There’s got to be a way to dive into a new story, introduce the characters and their situations that pleases both the longtime readers and gives a welcoming introduction to new readers. Actually that has been done and IDW has published a couple of them but Byrne unsuccessfully tries to move his story forward with baby steps while catching everyone else up.
In a move that echoes his original series, the kids wake up in a lab, finding out that everything they’ve experienced was just an induced dream. This gives Byrne the perfect chance to recap the last series in excruciating detail. In 10 pages, he gives a history lesson of the Next Men that’s not pertinent to anything else in this issue. Instead of somehow letting this information flow out naturally or even letting the reader discover for himself what’s going on, he recounts almost every event from the old series, making sure the reader knows exactly what has been missed. John Byrne has never been the subtlest writer but this sequence has to be one of the clunkiest pieces of exposition in the last 20 years.
Take that sequence out of the book and there are a couple of interesting little mysteries that Byrne begins to set up in this issue as we catch up with the characters and discover pieces of what has happened to them since we last saw them. A couple of them are apparently trapped in the past, one or two have disappeared and the one who remains in the present day is a bit older, maybe more wiser, and discovers the tombstone of a friend of his, with the date of death set impossibly at 1921. These interesting pages get the reader questioning what’s going on more than the opening pages, which are just over-the-top setup to get to the point where Byrne could summarize the whole series.
This book looks just like a Byrne-drawn book, right on down to the outdated 1980’s fashion that all of his characters are wearing. Fashion sense aside, Byrne has always been a crisp, clean storyteller, more interested in communicating something visually to his reader than drawing the next “kewl” thing (although he is known for plenty of “kewl” X-Men images.) That clean and efficient storytelling is out full force with this book as Byrne uses the whole page to move his readers through the story. Since this issue is mostly flashback, it will be interesting in the next issue to see if his storytelling style has evolved to have a more modern feel or if he’ll still tell a story in 2010 like he was drawing it in 1992 or even 1983.
If you’ve never read John Byrne’s Next Men, this new #1 may be a good time to jump on and find out what the story is even if you only get a slight flavor of how the story is told. Now that Byrne’s got the recap out of his system, hopefully he’ll be able to start redeveloping his story. There’s a skeleton of a plot in John Byrne’s Next Men #1 but you’ll have to wait another month before you can dive into it and see if John Byrne can tell an old fashioned superhero story to an audience that’s grown used to mega events and the illusion of change.Are you going to pick up NEXT MEN?