Next Men #3(3) Review or Repairing Ignorance is Bliss

Written and Drawn by: John Byrne

Colored by: Ronda Pattison

Publisher: IDW

I hadn’t read Next Men until a few weeks ago. Reviewing the first issue of John Byrne’s Jurassic Park: Devils in the Desert made me want to read more of JB’s work. Now hold on, I’ve read plenty of Byrne’s stuff: Iron Fist, Superman, Lab Rats, both Hulk runs, and Uncanny X-Men. It’s just that I was reminded what an amazing storyteller he was, and I wanted to get into another of his writer/artist works. So, I purchased the first IDW Compleat collection….then the second one. Finally, I got the first two issues of the recently relaunched series. This all happened in the space of ten days. That brings me to this week and my first time buying a new Next Men off the shelf.

Let me backtrack a bit and mention that I was stunned by the story Byrne spun through 30 comics and one graphic novel. It’s the first time in a while that I have been utterly captivated by a series . Next Men immediately moved into the upper reaches of my most cherished sequential stories. The story Byrne crafted through that original ’90s run was magnificent leading to a cliffhanger. Would the new series fizzle or sizzle?

Returns to formerly excellent properties can be dicey. Anyone enjoy those Star Wars Prequels? John Byrne has proven to be an auteur capable of building on past glories. Next Men fans waited 16 years for a continuation! It reminds me of the similar wait that Warlord fans endured until Mike Grell recently brought his signature character’s run to close. Grell and Byrne compare quite favorably. Both began their careers as artists in the ’70s then progressed into writing their own books. I don’t want to digress on this tangent, but can any of you offer superior talents in the past thirty years that covered both ends of the spectrum as prolifically as this pair?

In any case, let’s talk about an astounding comic tale. If you never thrilled to the exploits of the Next Men this is not the issue you should pick up. Don’t fear, it’s unnecessary to go back to the beginning. IDW’s relaunched series began two issues ago with a premiere that recapped the first series and got this one moving as well. I’m pleased Bryne didn’t dumb the premise down, forget previous stories, or alienate new readers. It seems to be one of the best cases of pleasing all audiences. Now, you should go out and pick up the Compleat volumes like I did, since they are among the best comic stories ever. That contains no bluster, those stories are spectacular.

On to this month’s tale. Byrne proved his mastery of the medium by advancing five distinctive subplots (all will eventually come together) in the course of 22 pages. This is dense storytelling, but the art is never overloaded with meaningless balloons. It’s a stunning feat to cover so much and still allow the art do most of the “talking.” Byrne deftly handles the original series cliffhanger that saw a strange figure pull our heroes through a window in time. I won’t give away the developments or spoil surprises, but the various periods Byrne includes vary wildly to create a wholly original experience. Bethany is face-to-face with the mysterious figure causing the time shifts. Nathan battled dinosaurs last issue, but is now trapped in a Nazi concentration camp. Jasmine is trapped in Elizabethan England while Tony struggles to survive as a slave in the American South. Jack is the only one seemingly undisplaced as we catch up with him in the fairly-distant future where he’s become a priest.

I tend not to talk a lot about the actual events in the comics I review and instead bring to light pieces that led to my enjoyment or lack thereof. I mention the seemingly disparate elements and general craziness to heap praise upon Byrne for writing comics unlike anything else today. His handling of multiple characters and cataclysmic events in each issue are missing from most of today’s stories. John Byrne doesn’t need 47-parts to tell a world-shattering storyline. Plus the events in this book have all built up naturally over the course of the 33 single issues to date.

The storytelling is enhanced by Byrne’s ability to draw multiple time periods and an elaborate array costumes and characters. There aren’t wasted panels or throwaway lines on these pages. Byrne may not be the showiest artist in the business, but he’s a first class sequential storyteller. This comic advances so many plot points and leaves us with another jaw dropping cliffhanger. For those that have been with it since the Dark Horse days, you must be anxious to find the answer to who the mysterious figure is that kidnapped our heroes. It appears next month we get our answers.

I am thrilled beyond belief there is a comic to crave each month. There are at least twenty comics I love right now, but this is far and away the best book on the shelves. I’m a bandwagon jumper for sure, but that doesn’t deflate the glory of the reading experience. If you’re like me and were ignorant of the brilliance of Byrne’s Next Men get your tush to the comic shop and try it.

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