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Bookends: The Next Chapter of the Next Men February 6, 2013

Posted by klondykewriter in Bookends.
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Bookends: The Next Chapter of the Next Men

Next Men

By Dan Davidson

November 7, 2012,      Star, Nov. 9/12

– 833 words –

John Byrne’s Next Men: Scattered, volume 1

by John Byrne

IDW Publishing

104 pages

$21.99

Back in 1991, writer/artist John Byrne, who had done the 1986 revamp of the Superman franchise, and was previously famous for his run on the X-men, took some of Superman’s powers and distributed them among a group of young people who had been genetically altered and raised in a virtual reality environment.

He didn’t just give them the abilities; he explored what the downside of these powers might be.

Nathan got vision powers, by means of rather ugly looking mutated eyes that allowed him to see a wide spectrum of light but left him pretty much blinded to normal vision without the aid of special glasses.

Jasmine became super acrobatic.

Jack became super-strong but, in a reversal of the usual situation, had to wear a special exoskeleton to damp down his ability because he could not control his strength.

Bethany developed invulnerability to the point of having razor-sharp hair and indestructible fingernails, but she gradually lost her sense of touch and other physical sensations while her skin bleached white. In addition, she apparently no longer needed to breathe.

Danny, the youngest and most enthusiastic of the group, developed the ability to run at superhuman speeds, and the mutated legs and feet needed to support such activity.

The young people had to adapt to living in the real world, were the objects of a massive manipulation by a secret government agency and were exploited by a comic book company in sequences that appeared to be Byrne taking whacks at DC and Marvel comics.

The series ran for 30 issues during the big comic book boom of the early 1990s until 1995, when the bottom fell out of the industry. It ended with the explosive destruction of the White House and the apparent disappearance of the Next Men, each of them whisked away by a strange figure in a suit of armor.

That did sort of end a portion of the larger story Byrne was telling, but it left us with one heck of a cliffhanger.

Fifteen years later the comics field hadn’t improved that much, but the companies are making money in licensing fees, so they’re not as concerned with the print runs. Next Men was first issued by Dark Horse comics but, unlike most of what we see from the two big houses, that company dealt with creator owned material, so eventually their control of the series lapsed and IDW, another of the smaller houses, picked up the material, reissued it in collected hardcover and paperback editions and persuaded Byrne to pick up the story where he left it.

It turns out that he left the kids scattered through time, plopped down and isolated from each other as some sort of plot by the mysterious armored figure who states very clearly that he or she was somehow betrayed by them.

This volume collects the first four issues of a story that has a lot of twists and turns as it follows the adventures of Nathan, Jasmine, Jack and Bethany, along with their former government control agent, Tony Murcheson.

Nathan and Jasmine spend some years hanging out with dinosaurs before they are separated again. He ends up in a Nazi concentration camp and she lands in Shakespearean England. Tony is dropped off in Civil War era America where, as a feisty, combative, modern liberated black woman, she has a very hard time, but apparently ends up triggering a whole new alternate timeline where Lincoln did not die.

In this same timeline (but 150 years or so later on) Jack, who underwent a religious conversion experience during their earlier adventures, is, in fact, 15 years older and serving as a priest is Greenwich Village.  It is his discovery of Tony’s grave that tells us what she was able to accomplish in the past to which she was consigned.

Bethany is forced to watch all of this by her mysterious abductor, who also reveals that she has been plucked out of her own timeline years before an accident with an experimental particle accelerator would have left her buried alive miles underground for 238 years.

In another timeline we see her rescued all those years later, rescued but dangerously unbalanced by her ordeal, and we are not surprised to find that this insane version of Bethany is the one who is behind all the mysterious abductions and time shuffling which dominates this tale.

Mad Bethany has stolen time travel armor and has scattered her former teammates to the four winds of time as payback for them failing to rescue her, all the while trying to save her younger self from enduring the same fate.

I’m not at all sure just how Byrne is going to resolve all the time travel paradoxes that this first volume seems to have created, but it was quite a ride.

-30-

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