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by Robert Greenberger
John Byrne marches to his very own orchestra, with an outsized view of the world and picks and selects assignments and companies as they fit his current paradigm. As a result, he has worked on the largest characters from the major publishers to his own creations. Although heavily influenced by the likes of Jack Kirby, his career in many ways tracks more after Steve Ditko as the last handful of years has seen him indulge his personal whims and inspiration for smaller houses, including IDW of late.
John Byrne’s next men Omnibus Vol. 1
As a result, he’s been off the radar for a while but not gone entirely. one of his first original creations post-Superman was a band of super-powered humans called the next men and now IDW is repackaging the entire run in a four volume collection, beginning with John Byrne’s next men Omnibus. These will be trade paperbacks affordably priced at $24.99 and allows readers to catch up with these interesting characters.
The next men actually began as an idea he hatched with his photographer partner of the time, Andie. Called Freaks, it was offered to DC Comics and the company was so high on the concept they ran off an ash can edition to trademark the title and teased it with a plate in the history of the DC universe portfolio. Alas, John had a falling out with management and withdrew from the company before completing a first issue.
Divorced and on his own, John retooled the concept and published it as the next men for Dark horse Comics in 1992. The series ran thirty some issues before fading away as the field underwent seismic changes that made a project like this financially unfeasible for some time. The first volume will include the 2112 prequel story plus the first eight issues of the series, including the M4 backup stories, which were left out of previous editions.
Readers first met these people in the four-parter that ran in Dark horse presents #54-57 (subsequently reprinted as John Byrne’s next men #0). He saw the story as more of a science fiction story of a near future rather than another super-hero tale and avoided some of the storytelling devices commonly connected with the genre include thought balloons and sound effects.
John Byrne’s next men #0
His story began in 1955 when scientists went exploring after an explosion was detected in Antarctica. They find the stays of alien beings including that of a survivor, thanks to his exoskeleton, Sathanas. The alien killed all but one scientist and used that human connection to enter Man’s world and Washington D.C. where senator Aldus Hilltop learned we are not alone. He obtained the funding to begin project next men which sought to genetically engineer the next evolutionary step in mankind. working with babies given up for adoption, they were artificially enhanced and were raised in a virtual world.
The series more or less picks up when they leave the idyllic fantasy for the harsh reality of Earth. The quintet leaves the lab and fends for themselves, learning how to cope with a world as alien to them as their powers are to the man on the street. Led by Nathan, whose sight lets him see throughout the light spectrum, they included the acrobatic Jasmine, the strongman Jack, Bethany the flawed but invulnerable one, and Danny, the speedster. When government agent Tony Murcheson encounters them, she sees they need a guide and appoints herself to the task.
The kids don’t know how to handle their powers and worse, their emotions. As a result, puppy love leads to impregnation letting Byrne explore the choices super-humans have to make and here the series sets itself apart from competitors. He explores a variety of “mature” issues throughout the run, from abortion to abuse, and lets the team’s innocence give him story possibilities.
John Byrne’s next men #4
That senator Hilltop was a product of his generation meant none of the team were of color, the team has to learn about prejudice and racial strife. cold war fears confuse things on their very first adventure, taking them from America to Russia. soon after, a trip to new York allows the kids to be manipulated into giving up their media rights and a comic book about them distorts the general public’s understanding of them, making a tough life even more difficult.
The M4 backup stories included here deal with the mark IV android and he runs in a separate storyline that doesn’t dovetail with the lead until issue #23, or volume three for those keeping score at home.
During this period, Byrne was not only experimenting with storytelling but with the coming computer technology that allowed him to letter and colors his work over time. The series therefore has a distinctive look and feel despite the surface look of a typical Byrne book, with solid page construction and background details that have been currently ignored by the modern generation of artists. While the series meandered over time and was therefore uneven, it stays collectively a worthy story from a master storyteller.
John Byrne’s next men Omnibus Vol. 1
Classic John Byrne’s next men covers from the Grand Comics Database.