Coded green.

Freeday 12 July 2002

Comic book

Pic of the day: Comic book. (Next Men 30.)

John Byrne's Next Men

Now, this shakes my self-assurance. I felt that I remembered this comic book series reasonably well, even though I have missed a few issues. Today I read through from issues 0 to 30, and realized that I had only remembered the main storyline of the last 4 issues and nothing else. It was as if I had only glanced at it before.


"Next Men" was a kind of superhero comic written and drawn by John Byrne in the early 1990s. Well, at least I believe it is drawn by him, too. I have to say it is quite well done. In the years that have passed, I have read so much about what a poor artist Byrne is. And for that matter what a poor writer he is, too. But I find this stuff quite impressive, truth to tell. (Incidentally, I also liked his reboot of Superman; but this was largely because Superman was powered down to a more believable level.)

The plot in John Byrne's Next Men is quite complex, even though the number of characters is kept moderate. The plot twists all make sense when you know the conclusion, where the pieces finally come together. Some of the supporting cast actually come across as more complex than the main characters (the Next Men themselves). Oh, and half the "Men" are actually women. And yes, there is sex, or "dance" as the innocent Next Men call it, since they found it out without being told. (Yeah, likely.) Suggested for mature readers which is just as well, since there is also lots of violence. Not suggested for extremely mature readers, I guess.

The main characters are mutates. Not mutants, oh no, that would be too much like Marvel. Instead, Stephen Jay Gould is cited as an influence. Uh oh. Yes, right. Mutates. You know, humans with superpowers that manifest during their teen years. Hated and feared by the people they were meant to protect.

While all the Next Men have superpowers, most of them are not particularly useful. Beth, the invulnerable girl, gets to use her power fairly often, and the strong guy - Jack - is useful to break out of locked rooms; but that's pretty much it. Oh, and the girl without a body is active in a couple of subplots. The rest of the powers don't really impact on the plot. They are more like hair color or facial features that set the characters apart.

I like this. I like stories about people with "superpowers" and how they cope with that, outside the predefined framework of a traditional superhero career. Perhaps it reminds me of myself... Being different and not knowing what to do about it.

Oh, I almost forgot: The sex thing, it is not just fairly tastefully done, it is also essential to the plot. Each and every time. It is never even hinted at unless it makes a difference. Of course, it seems kinda cheesy in the first place that superpowers are triggered by having sex with someone who is already superpowered; but it works, plot-wise. As I said, it all comes together in the end.


One of the best parts, in my opinion, is when Jack becomes a Christian. The Next Men were raised in a virtual reality, a literal neural network. They never learned about religion at all. They did learn to read, however. When Jack gets a Bible, he reads it as a true story of something that recently happened. We get to see a beautiful sequence of the Easter gospel as imagined by Jack, the various characters played mainly by people he has met. Jesus is seen as a powerfully built middle-aged black man, and his chains are stereotypical power dampeners worn by super powered criminals to keep them from breaking free. (The Next Men had recently been arrested themselves and found guilty of a mass murder actually perpetrated by the evil vice president of the USA.)

I have said years ago that someone ought to hire John Byrne to make a comic book version of the Bible, or at least the Apocalypse, the revelation of St. John. I am even more convinced after seeing this. He is not a Christian, but I'm sure he would enjoy the work. All manner of fantastic things are right up his alley, and he is quite good at illustrating abstract concepts through his art. I hope he is still alive ten years ago, he looked older than I do now.

In conclusion: I recommend John Byrne's Next Men if you can find the whole series any longer. Of course, if you are interested in super comics, you probably have it already. If you haven't read it since it was new, I still recommend you pull it out of the bags again. (Suggested for slightly mature readers.)

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