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AICN COMICS ROUNDTABLE REVIEW: The @$$Holes gangpile JOHN BYRNE'S NEXT MEN #1!

 

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Hey folks, Ambush Bug here. Every now and then, something comes along that makes the @$$Holes start a-chattering to themselves behind the scenes. And once and a while that chattering signifies the need to talk about something a little deeper than what would normally occur in a single review. When the name John Byrne comes up, it seems everyone has an opinion. With JOHN BYRNE’S NEXT MEN #1 hitting the shelves last week, the Holes couldn’t stop sounding off so we decided to compile the little discussion in a roundtable and share it with you all’s. Enjoy!

JOHN BYRNE'S NEXT MEN #1

Written and Drawn by John Byrne
Published by IDW Publishing
Roundtable reviewed by A Collection of @$$holes

BAYTOR: With the wealth of critically acclaimed material weighing down the shelves of book stores these days, it’s hard to believe that 20 years ago you could count on one hand the number of great writers actively transforming the medium into something more palatable for the mainstream. Most would find themselves scratching their heads after saying Alan Moore, Frank Miller, and Neil Gaiman. This is the power vacuum that John Byrne found himself in when he created NEXT MEN. While DC was slapping Mature Reader stamps on Green Arrow and The Huntress, Byrne approached the idea of the “realistic” super-hero with a fairly novel slant.

It would be disingenuous to say it was a simpler time. Sex & violence were increasingly finding its way into comics and even the Comic Code Approved work of John Byrne had the stalwart Superman executing criminals in cold blood and narrowly avoiding a career in porn. Such plots would have been unthinkable a decade before, but we were still a few years from books like THE AUTHORITY elevating super-hero violence into the realm of spectator sport it is today. The times they were a-changing, but there was still a small window of opportunity to tell a thoughtful super-hero story that married shocking violence with matter-of-fact sexuality before we became bored with watching superheroes punch people’s heads off.

PROF. CHALLENGER: By the time NEXT MEN originally came out, I already had a seriously diminished enjoyment factor for John Byrne product and the idea of his superhero book that's not superheroes really didn't sound appealing to me, so I did not buy it off the racks. I did, however, around 2002, pick up all the collections for about $5 each on Ebay along with a $1 copy of his 2112 one-shot that served as some kind of loose prequel for the series. Part of the reason for the book not appealing to me at the time was that it seemed to be just jumping on the bandwagon of darker, grittier, post-WATCHMEN books and I was and still am not a fan of that period of comics -- while still being a huge fan of WATCHMEN itself. Another point of disinterest was that Byrne had said something, either in an interview or in a guest-column somewhere, that gave me the impression that he was launching NEXT MEN with some sort of attitude of "show those whippersnappers how it's done"...and I hate that kind of shit. Don't preach at me in your comics. Entertain me or expand my mind, but don't preach.

BOTTLEIMP: Keep in mind also that this was during the "Big Boom" of the 1990s, when Image Comics had just emerged in a blast of hyperbole. There were Lee, Liefeld, McFarlane, Larsen and the rest all crowing about creator-owned properties and (my personal favorite statement from McFarlane) "growing roses" while the Big Two publishers, according to him, were putting out "crap." As a writer and artist who worked for the Big Two for decades on such titles as X-MEN, CAPTAIN AMERICA, and DC's revamped SUPERMAN, Byrne must have been really insulted by the Image mentality. In fact, I know that he was insulted, 'cause it became a talking point for the NEXT MEN letter columns for years. But in any case, Byrne rose to the challenge and put out his own creator-owned superhero comic that rose above the standard slugfest mentality.

superhero: Guys, when this book came out it was a big deal. I remember it like it was yesterday. Image had gone and trailblazed their own path but a lot of their opening books were flailing as far as getting out on time and having cohesive or even enjoyable stories that weren’t just clones of what they’d done in the X-Men or Spider-Man books. Sure the Image guys had proven that you could go out and start something of your own, but Byrne was the first big old school superstar who’d been working with the Big Two since the ‘70’s who was going to go out and do a series on his own. McFarlane and co. had the appearance of being upstarts and whippersnappers who’d gotten “lucky”. Byrne was one of the first of the older big talent guys to go independent. He’d proven himself time and again. A lot of people were waiting to see what would happen and wanted to see if he’d fall on his face. He didn’t--e put out one of the most memorable books of the ‘90’s that, in my opinion, holds up a lot more than early Image stuff or even a lot of what Marvel and DC were putting out at the time.

BAYTOR: The Next Men weren’t superheroes in the traditional sense. While they had superpowers, they didn’t fight crime, most of the team didn’t wear costumes, and they were almost always the pawns in someone else’s schemes. And while the series had a resident supervillain, he was crippled and reduced to the role of adviser to a psychotically ambitious politician. So subverted were the standard tropes of superhero fiction that Byrne would later declare the work science fiction. But whether you embrace it as straight science fiction or an alternate take on superhero fiction, for those of us on the ground in the early 90s, JOHN BYRNE’S NEXT MEN was one of the books helping comics break free of its reputation for simplistic juvenile fiction and setting the stage for something far more ambitious and intelligent.

BOTTLEIMP: I got into NEXT MEN fairly recently, having purchased the entire series via the cheap boxes and quarter bins of the local comic shops, but I found that for the most part, the series holds up as still being compelling and fairly innovative (although some elements that were fresh in the '90s have become familiar; the artificial reality of the Greenery program that trained the Next Men doesn't seem so wild now, thanks to the MATRIX movies).

PROF.: So, what did I think when I finally sat and read the entire series way back in 2002? Pretty damn good...up to a point. I could see that Byrne actually had something to say well beyond just show those whippersnappers how it's done. He crafted some solid science fiction...perhaps a little titillation...I'm unnerved a bit by his incorporation of images of Jasmine, drawn to look essentially pre-pubescent at times (completely flat-chested with no hips), having fairly explicit sex (not to mention getting pregnant and getting an abortion). Jasmine is shown later having sex with the much much older Hilltop (a creepy recurring theme in Byrne's work overall). The kid, Danny, is eventually banging an adult woman. Sex is rarely in NEXT MEN shown to be anything more than control, kink, and manipulation. As well, the rampant graphic violence in the book is at times on par with some of the garbage spewed out of Avatar Press.

Most, if not all, of these excesses could've been tamed down and not distracted from the narrative. However, I get a sense that Byrne was trying to prove something here. But he also had some interesting science fiction to play out. And up through...oh...about the peak of the work...the arc called "FAITH"...I think it worked. After that, it feels to me like the air being let out of the tires. By the time Byrne had the comic book characters coming to life and was self-indulgently imposing his characters from his forgotten novel THE WHIPPING BOY, I was checking out. The last arc felt passionless to me and the "monumental" cliffhanger? It felt like a big "Fuck You" to the readers because by that time he had already intended to stop publishing the series because he was so pissed off at the current state of the direct market, fan press, and retailers. He killed his own book by letting his attitude outside of the work impact the storytelling...and, in fact, I felt no sense of wanting to read any more about these characters at that point. The high point of the series was FAITH...and I just don't think he had anything more to say. Much like he did with SUPERMAN. Take the series to this major high point...then run out of anything more to say of any merit and that's when we get him leaving that series after flipping the finger to everyone by having Superman murder the only 3 living Kryptonians he's ever encountered.

So, that's my background on NEXT MEN. I have to confess that while I had no driving interest in seeing these characters ever again after the last 2 story arcs of the original run...the fact that Byrne has been just pissing in the well of bad STAR TREK and ANGEL stories (bad because of the EXTREME level of mediocrity) for the past few years makes me very curious if he still has it in him to do anything of excellence anymore or if the passion is really gone.

That's why I want to at least check out this book.

BOTTLEIMP: The series ended on a cliffhanger some 15 years ago, and although Byrne had stated repeatedly over the years that he knew how he wanted to continue (and end) his comic, it seemed like it was never going to happen. But now, finally, we have the next volume of NEXT MEN commencing with Byrne back at the helm and IDW publishing. The question is: does this title still represent intelligent, sophisticated science fiction storytelling? Has John Byrne still got it?

BAYTOR: The jury is still out on that one. The last few pages of the book feel like a solid continuation of the story, but the reason I can't make an accurate judgment of this issue is twofold. Firstly, the great bulk of the book is taken up by the recapping framing sequence. Secondly, none of the plot points I found intriguing were developed beyond teasing. It also sets up a bit of dilemma as a reviewer, because it's nearly impossible for me to articulate the problems I have with the recap without spoiling the resolution of the framing sequence, and I would feel like a heel if I spoiled the genuinely interesting bits at the end.

Coming back from any sort of narrative break is always a huge challenge. You have to resort to a lot of exposition you normally wouldn't have because you have to get new and old readers up to speed. If you're really lucky like the recent “Doctor Who” relaunch, you have a premise that can easily be short-handed and you can spend the next few years slowly re-introducing the complicated bits of your mythos. If you're unlucky, you have a more complex back story that has to put into play from the jump. The “Firefly” spin-off movie, “Serenity”, managed to do a pretty good job of it by linking the exposition to a new and exciting development.

Byrne has "solved" the problem by creating a Shaggy Dog story. He devotes 10 pages solely to recapping every major plot point that Jasmine was privy to in the series; wrapped around it is a framing sequence that will be instantly familiar to old readers, because it's been recycled from an earlier story...which is also dutifully recapped. There is an in-story reason why it's so familiar, but it's played as a mystery whose solution should be dead obvious only a few pages in. It could be argued that this is needed to pull in the mythical new reader, but should we be exposing them to alternate versions of characters that have dramatically different personalities? And even more importantly, would they be drawn in by a dry recapping of every single NEXT MEN story arc? Even if every last element in the flashback is vitally important to the story to come, it's not exactly a page turner. I think the biggest problem is simply that it doesn't do a very good job of reminding us who these characters were and why we're supposed to care about them. It's been ages since I cracked a NEXT MEN comic and I have only the vaguest memory of their various personalities and after reading this issue, I still have only the vaguest memory of their various personalities, even though I've been thoroughly recapped within an inch of my life.

SUPERHERO: It’s interesting that you bring up the “Doctor Who” relaunch. You’ve got to keep in mind that in the UK Doctor Who, from what I understand, is practically like Spider-Man or Superman here. Everyone knows what his deal is. That can’t be said with The Next Men. At all. While I do believe that the recap thing may be a bit of laziness on Byrne’s part I do feel that it’s something he almost had to do. Hell, I have the COMPLEAT NEXT MEN collections, two of the hardcovers, plus the original series and I’m sure that I would not have remembered everything that had gone down. So much went on in the Next Men that those recap pages were going to be coming our way no matter what. Whether they were dispersed over the first several issues or in the first issue, you knew there’d be some re-capping at some point. I’m almost happy he just got them out of the way in the first issue so that we can say that we’re done with that now let’s move on! It’s a really big expectation for a new reader (which he’s got to be aiming toward, otherwise what’s the point?) to track down old issues of NEXT MEN so that they could understand what the hell was happening. Granted, he could have come up with a better storytelling device but I’m fine with what he did. I was thinking that the whole thing must’ve been a drag for Byrne, though, to have to re-draw all that stuff all over again. But then I realized it’s the perfect drawing exercise to get him familiar with the characters again.

BOTTLEIMP: I agree with you there, Superhero, about the need for the massive re-cap. Too much time has passed to just jump right back in without a reminder of what went before. As far as the recap not including much about the characters save for their abilities, Baytor, I'm willing to forgive it for this issue. What I’m hoping is that Byrne will revisit each character as the new series progresses; his manner of storytelling always followed the Marvel method of the 1970s and '80s-- namely, no matter what issue a new reader picks up, he or she will know all the characters and the major plot points by the time the last page is read. And no, I'm not a fan of paying four bucks for what amounts to 75% reprinted material, but I have to concede the necessity.

PROF.: Boy, I don't agree. Americans could totally follow what was happening with the “Dr. Who” relaunch even if they had no clue about the earlier iterations. I have turned on a number of people (my son included) who had no knowledge of “Who” before that first Eccleston episode.

SUPERHERO: I was one of those people who had no knowledge of “Who” before the Eccleston series and I agree that they did a great job. But we’re talking about comics vs. TV. It’s a different way of telling stories. There was so much that went on in NEXT MEN that I think he was serving his audience by just recapping the whole thing and saying, “All right, here we go…” It’s just a different way of doing it. Yes, it was clunky in NEXT MEN but it served its purpose. Hopefully it’s the last time he addresses the old series so directly.

PROF.: There was no need for a recap at all. He should have just jumped right in, in media res, and not bothered to give anything more than a mention of something from the past to give the reader a sense of a larger story. I think he did the recap because he sat down to pick up on a story he never intended to finish but has been pressured for so long to do it and when he looked at that blank page...he realized he didn't have anything more to say. So, like a writer with writer's block, who will just start rambling...I think that's what this first issue reads like: an artist/writer attempting to overcome writer's block. It wouldn't surprise me to find that he started drawing those pages with the flashbacks first and then later went back and added the sequencing around it. But the truth is...there is not story or plot here. It is a mere outline of storytelling bullet points. It's not very interesting. It doesn't mean it won't GET interesting now that he's gotten going and, hopefully, has actually come up with a story idea of substance. However, I can't imagine someone completely unfamiliar with Byrne and his NEXT MEN reading this and having any desire to come back for more. Which means...the success of this series is going to boil down to the faithful few who are still committed to anything Byrne puts out. I guess we will find out very soon whether that faithful contingent is anywhere near the "Faithful 50,000" that Byrne used to mention back in the day.

SUPERHERO: You’re kind of making a lot of assumptions as to what Byrne’s process was here. You’re also making a lot of assumptions about a new reader looking at this and not wanting to pick up another issue. I will agree that it’ll probably be better in a trade format but almost everything is to me these days.

PROF.: Oh, I fully admit I'm making assumptions. But they are assumptions based on what I see in the comic. As I said, "I wouldn't be surprised to find out..." is not the same as saying "I know for a fact that he..." It's just how it looked to me. And with a first issue, I always attempt to also approach it with an eye of someone completely clean and I honestly think if I were a brand-new reader to the series (thinking back to how I was going in to the first NEXT MEN tpb), I think I would have the reader equivalent of "blah blah blah *Charlie brown teacher voice* by halfway through the seemingly endless recap of stories).

And just because that's how "almost everything is" these days has not and never will be good enough for me in terms of basic storytelling. When I buy a book, I expect a complete story...even if it is part of a larger series of books. When I watch an episode of a TV show, I expect a complete story...even if it is part of a larger series. And when I read a comic book, it needs to both stand on its own as a complete story AND be able to advance a larger story arc. If you can't write a story within the format of a periodical then you damn well shouldn't be writing a periodical. Go write your story as a long-form original graphic novel series. Dammit.

Myself? I'll probably wait for the trade on this so I can get a complete story. I really dislike the current manner of writing in which individual issues do not contain complete stories (even as part of a larger arc).

BOTTLEIMP: I’ve got to disagree with you on this point. In the serialized format of a comic book story arc, it’s unreasonable to expect that every issue will have a sense of completeness in and of itself. The job of each issue in this case should first and foremost be the advancement of the plot, and keeping the reader interested in said plot while doing so. Yes, there should be a certain level of character development and ideally the reader should finish each issue with a mixture of satisfaction and desire to see what comes next, but the comic’s main goal is to advance the larger story.

PROF.: Watch TV shows like GALACTICA, WALKING DEAD, LOST, etc. for how you can tell an actual story with a beginning, middle, and end while serving a larger arc. You would think that someone like John Byrne would also remember how to do that.

SUPERHERO: Again, TV vs. comic books. THE WALKING DEAD show didn’t follow the comics beat for beat because it probably wouldn’t have been very interesting.

PROF.: That's a difference without distinction. They are both long-form storytelling in an episodic format. You don't follow beat for beat in how to tell the story, but you do follow certain strictures of basic storytelling...and that means...a complete plot per episode regardless of whether that episode is a TV show or a periodical comic book. And Byrne cut his teeth on the soap opera style of Marvel in the 70s and 80s. Unless he doesn't give a shit this time, he knows how to plot and structure a story in episodes.

SUPERHERO: You're correct about this but I think you're making the assumption that this sort of thing is not what's coming based on a flashback issue...which you don't think would have been the way to go. I agree that it wasn't the best use of a comic but I don't think the whole series will be like this one issue and I'm not bothered by the re-cap all that much. Plus I think there's enough in the end of the book to say that it will lead somewhere interesting.

PROF.: You're missing my point a little bit here. I only have this one issue of the new series to make my assumptions from. :) I'm not criticizing at all what's going to follow this issue. In fact, I hope he does something new and interesting with it. What I'm criticizing is this issue alone. A first issue has to do more than just set up, it needs to set up but more importantly it needs to deliver. If not, with the volume of titles and high prices of comics fans are quite frankly a bit more stingy with their dollars than they used to be. A first issue these days needs to be more than a recap. Save that for the website, a one-shot giveaway promo, that sort of thing. You know, FABLES has mastered the ability to set up a complicated world and huge cast so that a new reader can step in at anytime and have all they need. Then they will likely get inspired to start grabbing the earlier trades to enhance the background. IDW already reprinted the entire NEXT MEN just this year. Anyone who wanted a lengthy recap can get it there quite affordably.

I think in the 2010-2011 market, the decision to structure the first issue like this was a serious misstep that will cause a number of curiosity-seekers to avoid picking up the next issue to see if an interesting story can be told by this guy "John Byrne."

This is not a way to sell your comic in the current climate. :/

BOTTLEIMP: I get your point, but here’s my counter to that. I sometimes pick up a #1 issue of a series out of curiosity, just to see if it’s anything worthwhile that I would be interested in reading every month. If I bought NEXT MEN #1 without prior knowledge of the previous series and Byrne had chosen NOT to include all those past plot details, there is no way in hell that I would have been able to follow what was going on. I said it before and I’ll say it again: there’s just too much back-story to ignore.

In any case, I get the feeling that Byrne is perhaps presenting this re-introduction to his universe with tongue planted firmly in cheek. The whole opening sequence with Jasmine waking up yet again to yet another new reality? Did anyone else inwardly groan, "Not again!" Aside from giving a reason for lengthy exposition, the fake-out smacks to me of Byrne winking at the audience in a "Just kidding!" kind of way.

PROF.: No groan here for me. I thought the whole idea of the final arc of the original NEXT MEN was supposed to leave us with a feeling of insecurity about what is reality in terms of the stories.

BAYTOR: I hope he's kidding. Byrne isn't the most subtle when it comes to fore-shadowing. The Sathanas reveal was one of the first instances of me twigging to a coming reveal long in advance because of an oddly worded exposition dump. My fear is that the opening sequence is a harbinger of things to come because Jasmine comments on the nature of reality. It would really suck if they all wake up on a mission to Mars and Harvey Kietel is the father.

PROF.: I don't mind the idea that they wake up and it was all a mission to Mars and Harvey Keitel is the father. To me, that conclusion worked within its own context to serve a greater story about a son working out his relationship with his father while in his dreams. Likewise, if Byrne wanted to throw in some level of spiritual mumbo-jumbo dealing with the nature of reality...I'm cool with that. However, like you said, Byrne wouldn't understand subtle if it clubbed him over the head, so I suspect he's just playing with narrative here.

SUPERHERO: I’ve gotta tell you, I’m a bit jazzed about this (no pun intended) after reading this issue. It seems like Byrne is doing something with time travel/alternate history and I know that he can do some crazy stuff when he goes in that direction. Ever read his old OMAC book? I LOVED that book and it looks like Byrne may be going in a different direction than he was when he started NEXT MEN but it’s a place that I’m interested in seeing. If he’s going to a place where I think he is then it’s the John Byrne that I remember loving when I was younger and I’m hoping he can do some stuff here that will impress me all these years later.

PROF.: Byrne has done nothing but disappoint me with his work over the last 10 years, so I have exceptionally low expectations here. I remember him mentioning (again maybe in that online column he had for awhile?) that he stopped reading any fiction at all many years ago and now only reads history books and other non-fiction. Personally, I think I've seen that impact his writing and, and it contributes to why I don't think he understands anymore how to structure his fiction to impact the reader emotionally. History books are written for intellectual stimulation. Entertainment can tickle the intellect, but it must above all be able to impact the reader emotionally and forge a relationship between characters and readers.

I got no sense of a connection with any of the characters in this new first issue. I felt like I got a history report on the NEXT MEN illustrated with pretty pictures.

BAYTOR: I think it's a bit of a shame that Byrne has so much scorn toward "jumping on" issues and the British writers who cut their teeth on the serialized shorts of 2000AD and other British anthologies. The best writers of today are the ones Byrne often criticizes and most of them are incredibly skilled at recapping necessary information quickly, efficiently, and often in an entertaining manner. Byrne cut his teeth on the Marvel method, which isn't exactly the most skillful method of recapping and usually lacks emotional impact. It gets the job done and I'm sure lots of people have a nostalgic attraction to it, but it works best in short bursts.

Obviously, NEXT MEN doesn't have a really simple premise like "he's an alien who travels through space and time having adventures" that can be effectively short-handed, but one needs only look to the horrifying failed “Doctor Who” relaunch in the 90s to see what happens when someone decides to front-load an introduction by explaining who the Time Lords are, where they come from, that they can regenerate, how many regenerations they have, where they draw their Time Traveling power from, why the Doctor is obsessed with Earth, and a myriad of other things that could easily have been slotted into place if and when they became important later on. But I think the principle still holds. This is designed to be the introduction to the characters and you don't need to have a thorough understanding of all their previous adventures to know who they and continue their story.

Take the supporting character Tony. How much information did we really need to know about her to make this issue work? Did we need to know she was psychologically tortured and got better with no lasting effects? Does that tell you anything about her that makes the final page reveal any more effective? The whole thing smacks of poor self-editing. We don't even see the real Danny in the story, yet we know he got picked up by a Good Samaritan in the first story, ran off and found his real mother, had sex with a girl who worked at a comic company, and so on. Perhaps knowledge of these events is essential to the story to come, but somehow I doubt it. Recaps are something I think should be done as quickly and painlessly as possible, not something that gets in the way of the story. Byrne essentially takes a 20 page time-out from his saga, which short-changes readers of new material.

SUPERHERO: I’ll agree, it’s a bit clunky but with the “Doctor Who” comparison you’re talking about two different media: TV vs. comic books. Also, if I remember correctly the 90’s “Docotr Who” re-vamp was a TV movie vs. the current re-vamp which is a TV series. There’s a lot of time to be had on a TV show vs. the two hours you get with a TV movie.

BOTTLEIMP: Okay, let's not get off-track with a “Doctor Who” tangent... lord knows that might open up a talkback thread all its own.

SUPERHERO: Regardless, I think it’d be tough to recap all of the Next Men stuff in detail the way you describe it. Plus, I think a lot of the writers/comic projects you’re talking about may not have had a fifteen year gap between issues. Maybe I’m wrong. I’m not saying this was the perfect way to do it but I am saying that I’m fine with the way he did it. You’ve got to think, he’s probably not only doing the recap this way for new readers…he’s doing it this way for old readers as well. I think a lot of the recap may be for old readers who maybe didn’t bother to pick up the COMPLEAT collections or the hard covers. Maybe they haven’t looked at NEXT MEN in years and this re-cap is sort of serving as the light bulb to make old fans go, “Oh, yeaaaaahhhh…I remember that! That was cool!” Not all of Byrne’s old fans are picking up everything he does these days but I’m pretty sure if you were a Byrne fan in the 90’s you’re going to remember NEXT MEN and you may need that giant recap to remind you what you read back in the day was a very cool book indeed.

BAYTOR: The recap does seem to be skewed more toward returning readers, but I think there could still be a whole lot less of it and achieve the same goal.

As for the “Doctor Who” movie... it was a pilot for a proposed on-going series. Had it been successful, they would have had plenty of time to introduce those elements. The problem was they were just a little too wrapped up in the mythos. Instead of stripping it down to its basics to get the new viewers on board, It was an over-engineered mess of continuity exposition. It's really a shiny example of how you can take a really simple concept and make it over-complicated if you approach it wrong. The “Firefly” movie is a much closer analogy to NEXT MEN, because the plots sprung from a very back-story heavy premise. The movie has its flaws, many of them springing from this central problem (such as certain characters being overly simplified), but it made damn sure that everything it told the viewer was essential to the plot at hand and made sure the most heavy-handed bits of expositions were attached to new plot threads.

BOTTLEIMP: We keep on circling the same points regarding the recap, but what it seems to boil down to is that Byrne chose to use this first issue mainly as a way to re-introduce the NEXT MEN universe to the comic reading public, and advancing the plot threads left dangling 15 years ago is still (mostly) to come. I wonder, would we still be debating this point as heavily if this new series had begun with issue #0, rather than issue #1? If it had been treated more as a prologue rather than the beginning?

In any case, I'm going to say that I enjoyed this issue. I still maintain that Byrne's artwork is best when inked by other hands (a point that I mentioned when I reviewed the original series in AICN's RAIDERS OF THE LONG BOX column), and there are a couple of wonky body proportions going on in a few panels, but Byrne is and always has been a solid visual storyteller. That quality shines through in both the flashback pages and the new material, and I'm looking forward to seeing an issue next month filled with (hopefully!) all new, plot-advancing story.

BAYTOR: Only think I can think to add about the recap is that Byrne presented a far more elegant framing sequence on the final page of the book when a young man asked an older Jack about his days with the Next Men. Even if he didn't cut any of the recap, he could have started the story there, and given us more meat on this story. The big problem with this as a first issue is that it only advances the story four pages and given the price of comics today, that's a hard sell. Those four pages are pretty good, so I have hopes the second issue is much more successful at getting the story going; but this one got needlessly bogged down in a framing sequence that doesn't go anywhere.

PROF.: Structurally, that would have been more effective at heightening my interest.

BOTTLEIMP: Hold on there-- we don't yet know that the framing sequence goes nowhere; remember that Jasmine says that she's been having these recurring dreams. It just may turn out that the framing sequence is an essential part of what Byrne has planned. But I'll agree with you that four bucks is pretty steep for rehashed material. I'm a big John Byrne fan, so I don't have quite the same level of buyer's remorse as you, Baytor, but I will concede the point that NEXT MEN needs to get moving next month, and actually EARN that money from the readers.

PROF.: Agreed. We don't know that the framing sequence isn't going to go anywhere. However, to have an actual plot here we need more than what he gave. Had this come out as a "Zero" Issue "teaser"? I would've thought very differently and been looking forward to seeing how issue 1 picked up and told a story with a plot based on the teaser.

As it is, though, this is a first issue of a new series that is all recap and teaser and no story.

SUPERHERO: So it’s a numbering issue? If it was a “Zero Issue” you would have liked it more? That’s kind of an odd statement. Why can’t it just be accepted that it’s a first issue that’s a teaser of things to come and a re-cap for old and new fans? Why does a re-cap have to be a “Zero”teaser issue? Is this some sort of a predisposition as to what a first issue needs to be? Besides, technically, it’s not a first issue…it’s sort of a sequel. The first issue came out more than fifteen years ago.

PROF.: It absolutely is a numbering issue. A zero issue, by definition, is not a part of the series itself because publishing doesn't recognize "0" as a definable number. So, a "zero" issue is something that contributes to, but is not directly a part of, the series itself. Stating that while knowing that not everyone does it like that, but in terms of presenting the first shot at digging in to new NEXT MEN material for the first time in 15 years or so? Seems to me if you're going to make this into something that is essentially a glorified recap of 30 some-odd issues of a 20 year-old series surrounded with teases to make you curious about the series? That's fodder for a "zero" issue and a bummer for a first issue. Like I said, to me it felt like a history lesson where he then thought "Oh...wait...I gotta add some new stuff." And that just ain't gonna cut it. At this stage in his career and with the quality of the top tier writing and product that is available out there now, he needed to hit a home run in this thing to win. At best, he got a single.

For someone like him....that's not so great. It should be so much more is the problem. But that's been his pattern for quite awhile. His Spider-Man stuff should've been a career highlight. Instead, it is highly ridiculed and forgotten. His much-touted reuniting with Chris Claremont on the JLA, by all rights, should have been an historic event. Instead, it was a mildly tolerable piece of poorly structured storytelling highlighted by introducing the lamest JLA villain ever (Crucifer). His Fourth World stuff should have been a shining crown, but it just limped away. DOOM PATROL was announced as a "dream project" and everything he did with that run was such a massive misstep that DC couldn't "ignore" it fast enough. This comic had nearly 20 years of expectations behind it...and he turned it into a glorified 70s-style Marvel "filler" issue. I felt about this about the same way I did when I was a kid and bought the anniversary AVENGERS 150 expecting a huge anniversary blow-out. Instead I got a bunch of framing sequences for actual-factual reprints.

At least Byrne didn't just "reprint" those panels. He did apparently redraw the flashback sequencing.

SUPERHERO: I don't agree on the whole numbering thing. I think you're getting into semantics a bit here. Plus, while I agree that a lot of his past work wasn't the greatest stuff it seems like your expectations of the guy are so high despite your being burned (no pun again) so many times in the past by him. I guess my expectations were a bit lowered because I've been burned so many times in the past and also because I didn't quite loathe everything he's done in the past ten years as much as you did.

PROF.: If I gave the impression that I "loathe everything he's done in the past ten years", then I was maybe too harsh in my words. Being continually disappointed by the weak mediocrity pervasive in it (and borne out by the sinking sales figures that led to cancellations or removal) is not the same as loathing.

I kind of loathe everything I've ever read by Bendis. It's why I don't read Bendis comics. Byrne's work has just been a track record of squandered opportunities and I was hopefully expectant that there would be a spark of that certain indefinable "something" in this. Instead it feels calculated and, unfortunately, I think he worked the equation wrong once again. Insofar as a first issue goes at least.

Ya gotta hook the reader, man. Hook 'em. Not bore 'em.

SUPERHERO: While I agree there is a lot of competition out there I think that this could be something interesting as it develops and with what I've seen of the first issue I'm willing to check it out for the next few issues at least.

But, y'know, maybe I'm a sucker. Fool me once and all that...

PROF.: Yeah. Maybe so. If you are, then I'm a sucker too....I got suckered into things like MARVEL: THE LOST GENERATION, X-MEN: THE HIDDEN YEARS, GENERATIONS 3, DOOM PATROL, THE DEMON, etc. And not a one of them did I stick with to the bitter end. I finally decided I can give him 1 issue to "hook" me. Otherwise, not gonna waste my time.

BOTTLEIMP: It seems like a lot of the feeling about this seemingly simple #1 issue is tied up with all our feelings about the man who created it. As I said before, I’ve got a soft spot for John Byrne; his artwork on AVENGERS, X-MEN and CAPTAIN AMERICA was some of the first that really inspired to draw. So maybe I’ve got a bit of a blind spot when it comes to flaws in his work. In any case, I think that we’re going to have to wait until issue #2 of NEXT MEN comes out before we can really pass judgment on this relaunch, when all the flashbacks have (hopefully!) come and gone, and we can see just what Byrne really has up his sleeve.


 

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Readers Talkback
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  • Dec. 23, 2010, 9:49 a.m. CST

    great article

    by deelzbub

    Byrne deserves it. I agree, he has had more than a few squandered oportunities. But his hits far outweighed his misses, so I am obliged to give him the benefit of the doubt. His work on Alpha Flight, X-men, and Fantastic Four is some of the best Marvel from that era. My only complaint of his work was the way he would draw his women with the short-short upswept hair, which made them more masculine than I like my female comic characters to be. I will be picking up Next Men, at least the first couple of issues, if only to see if Byrne can recapture the lightning in the bottle of his earlier work.

  • Dec. 23, 2010, 10:02 a.m. CST

    Didn't read it then, won't read it now.

    by BrashHulk

    The reason? Because Byrne is a egomaniacal prick, and I refuse to support someone's work if I find that they're a complete asshole. And not the good kind of @$$hole, like our gentlemenly reviewers. If Byrne was creating the best comics in the universe, I'd still happily pass. I'm more than happy buying another creator's work and feeling like I'm promoting someone who deserves and appreciates it, rather than a douche who thinks the entire comics world should be constantly sucking his dick.

  • Dec. 23, 2010, 10:09 a.m. CST

    You guys went on for to long

    by MAD_MIKE

    Byrne for the most part has been out of the picture for the last 10 years. none of the work he has done has stood out or been a cornerstone of properly done comics work. I do agree that British writers have a much better time at putting entertaining info into all of their stories including recaps, working on Anthologies is great for that. However, Byrne is still one of the best artists to put pencil to paper. He is more dependable than 90% of the current slate of artists to be honest. Even if the first issue was to expository for you, you know that the following issues will not only be solid reads, but they will also come out on time. Inlike Image United as a current example. But you guys still went on to long about the one issue. The reason is because your conversation seemed to be more about all of your complaints about Byrne than about the comic itself. Yes he is a blunt bastard who will pick up his marbles and stomp home, but he still as a comic artist has delivered far more hits than misses.

  • Dec. 23, 2010, 10:17 a.m. CST

    I read Next Men back in the day..

    by thx185

    Bought them off the rack. I never got the impression that they were as edgy & violent as this article describes them. "Rampant graphic violence"? I don't think so.. it was obviously a non-comics code book, but it wasn't as dark and edgy as these guys describe.<br><br> I picked up Next Men as a fan of Byrne's 80s Fantastic Four and X-Men stuff, and also a big fan of the growing indie market. I remember being a bit bored with it. His art was even then in the early 90s, losing the magic it had in the 80s.. and the plots just never seemed to ignite.<br><br> And mad_mike, I found your missing o: "o"

  • Dec. 23, 2010, 11 a.m. CST

    Perhaps Another Dr. Who Reference Would Have Clarified THings

    by Aquatarkusman

    Or not.

  • Dec. 23, 2010, 12:23 p.m. CST

    Fuck John Byrne in the throat.

    by ROBRAM89

    I hate him both as a creator and as a person and always will. Fuck him to the moon.

  • Dec. 23, 2010, 2:56 p.m. CST

    Mad_Mike is right

    by Hedgehog000

    Do this after a few issues have come out and it might be interesting, but it seemed like a lot of writing to basically say the jury's out on this and Byrne's not been that good in the last 10 years.

  • Dec. 23, 2010, 3:13 p.m. CST

    Yeah...

    by Prof

    ....we comic book fans are well-known throughout the universe for our penchant for not prejudging things and our ability to wait until later to make informed judgments. Oh...yeah...and we never have opinions about the artists and writers that impact our level of enjoyment or expectations of their work.

  • Dec. 23, 2010, 6:13 p.m. CST

    Bryne's Superman ruled

    by David Cloverfield

    The first comic I've ever read was the first issue of his Man of Steel relaunch, so I'm biased as all hell, but, I've not seen such a great interpretation of Superman and his supporting cast - except maybe the Dini cartoon. Most stuff he did - Lex the badass business man, Ma and Pa Kent being alive and well, almost crazy Lois, competent Clark Kent - are some of the main reasons I like Supes. And MOS did the whole "what should I do with my powers" part a lot better than the three origin stories published since then. (First Clark's a football star, mad Pa Kent shows him the rocket, reveals his origin, he becomes a mysterious guardian, he eventually must reveal himself to save a bunch of people, creates the Superman persona and costume to deal with the fallout. Organic, but still heroic. And he has a reason to create the traidition of "Superhero Uniform" instead of "he thought it looked cool" or "it was in my rocket so why not wear it?".)

  • Dec. 23, 2010, 6:40 p.m. CST

    Fry & Laurie sketch was the end

    by teej71

    Did nobody else notice that "Control" and "Tony Murcheson" were character names stolen/borrowed from a brilliantly funny Fry & Lauire sketch that ran through their "A bit of Fry & Laurie" series? I loved that series and I enjoyed Next Men but when that little in-joke hit the bubble burst. John Byrne was taking the p!ss.

  • Dec. 24, 2010, 12:56 a.m. CST

    J B Hun?

    by RickSlamu2

    Now if the asshats at Marvel would get out of his freaking way, We might now get a good X-Book with "X-Men Hidden Years!"

  • Dec. 24, 2010, 11:34 a.m. CST

    Sweet Zombie Jesus....

    by omarthesnake

    I'm a Byrne fan from back in the Alpha Flight days, and that article became mindnumbing about a fourth of the way in. Learn how to edit yourselves. Not every pontification needs to be shared, and only go to the Doctor Who well once.

  • Dec. 24, 2010, 12:33 p.m. CST

    Where's the talkback from Wednesday?

    by Laserhead

    The Wednesday reviews aren't cached anywhere.

  • Dec. 24, 2010, 2:05 p.m. CST

    by WillTheThrill

    So.... let me get this straight... 1. Some of you thought that the first issue was a bit exposition/recap heavy and some of you thought it wasn't. 2. Some of you thought that the Firefly movie "Serenity" and/or the new Dr. Who did a better job of exposition. 3. Some of you like John Byrne's current work and some of you don't. Does that about cover it??? And it took OVER 7,000 WORDS to say THAT??? (I copied & pasted the text of the "review" into Word and let it count for me: 7,074 words to be exact.) Or, counted another way... if this had been a college paper, Times New Roman 12-point font double-spaced... it would have been TWENTY FRICKIN' PAGES LONG. Guys, you seriously need an editor.

  • Dec. 30, 2010, 7:37 p.m. CST

    teej71

    by scrote

    ...wow, I never got that. And you're right; those sketches were fuckin' awesome. At least Byrne's got a sense of humor

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