It may not be fashionable to admit this. But bloody hell, this is comics. Fashion can go swivel.
Throughout 2011, I’ve discovered that the comic book I’ve learnt to turn to first, every month, is John Byrne’s Next Men. A truly unpredictable time travel romp with a wide cast and a tendency to diverge onto tangents repeatedly in a most entertaining fashion. Diving into slavery, concentration camps and the Earl Of Oxford being Shakespeare (I know, I know), he’s telling stories set amongst the evil that men do, but also the heroic impulse to put things right, even when it’s not quite aimed in the right direction. Because people get in the way. It’s a multi faceted action adventure that presses all the right buttons. And it’s been a wonderful rediscovery.
I was a big John Byrne reader in the eighties and nineties, especially as a writer artist, from Fantastic Four to Alpha Flight to Hulk to Superman to Star Brand to West Coast Avengers to Namor and She-Hulk straight through to 2112 and his first run of Next Men he could do no wrong for me. I was a clear Byrne Victim. But then there were projects I found I just couldn’t get into Wonder Woman, Babe, Danger Unlimited, Spider-Man Year One, Amazing Spider-Man, Generations, New Gods, True Brit, it all fell away for me. Not even X-Men Hidden Years could keep me on board (and I did try). When Next Men stopped… so did I. There were other creators I could get the same superhero/action adventure buzz I used to get from John Byrne. He’d changed or I’d changed, I couldn’t tell which. That’s the way of things of course.
So when IDW began reprinting Next Men and teased at its continuation, I was immediately intrigued and also fearful that the memories and experiences of my younger self would be tainted by a man whose work I found I no longer enjoyed. The original was a mixture of superheroics, pre-Matrix reality switching, time travel with an emotional core, and the classic panel to panel storytelling abilities of a master. Would the book live up to my memory of it? I re-read the series and didn’t feel a different person to the one I was when I first read the series. Could anything live up to my expectations?
I tried a John Byrne Angel here, a Star Trek there, but nothing seemed to stick out for me. But dammit, I loved Next Men, and in the same spirit that I read And Another Thing… knowing I’d be disappointed (and was right), I started buying the new Next Men.
And I really enjoyed it. Still fearful of what might come, I held my commitment back. But month after month, I’d be rewarded, and it would creep up to the top of my pile. Until last month, Hellboy, DMZ, Unwritten, Fables, Batman Inc, DeadpoolMAX, Iron Man, FF, Crossed, League Of Extraordinary Gentlemen, they could all wait. I had a Next Men to read. Whether I’ve changed back or John’s changed back, or we’ve both found a new meeting point as creator and reader, I don’t know. It has worked its way into my brain and I just couldn’t wait to see what happens next. But as of Thursday I won’t be able to any more.
Because on Wednesday, IDW will publish the final issue of John Byrne’s Next Men. For now.
I can’t wait to read it. But I’ll be bummed that it’s over. So, for now, here’s a half way house, below are the first seven pages of John Byrne’s Next Men #9 or #39, whichever way you wish to count it.
Odds your your local comic shop has a copy or two of the series, if it’s that kind of shop. The new issues aren’t exactly burning up eBay. It can be our little secret, no one else has to know. If you read Next Men back in the Dark Horse days, you need to know that this is as good, if not better. And Future Mad Bethany is waiting to get you.
Then from Byrne and IDW, we have Cold War. Fingers crossed. Then Next Men: Aftermath to come. Some time.
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