John Byrne’s return to Next Men after sixteen years away was more intriguing than compelling in a first volume high on questions and low on answers. It’s dependent on this content to make sense, and when read as a complete story it works very efficiently, certainly different from every previous Next Men story, but that’s been the case for each new collection.

The 1990s incarnation of Next Men ended in Lies with five people being pulled from their surroundings, and volume one of this reboot revealed they’d been dropped back in time individually. The confident and capable African American Tony Murchison finds herself in a Southern US slave owning community in the 1800s. Jazz has been deposited in pre-history. Beth has been flung to the future, and Nathan is trapped in a Nazi concentration camp during World War II. Danny is missing in action, and we look in on Jack, now a priest, in the 2020s.

We’re dealing with time, however, and manipulation thereof always results in complications. For maximum effect it’s best to read the previous Next Men before approaching this 21st century reboot. Byrne recapped a lot in the first volume, but it was from one character’s view, so there was no place to deal with someone revealed at the midway point to be pivotal to what’s happening here, and anyone who hasn’t read the previous series may find the explanation a little too pat and convenient. It’s a shame as it’s actually neat, and neatly implemented over almost an entire chapter. Readers of the earlier graphic novels might be able to take a guess at some of what’s going on, but not all of it, as something that’s remained constant about Next Men is the ambition.

From the 1990s Byrne’s star began to fade a little, and the projects he’s involved himself with since haven’t met with the same critical acclaim as his work up until then, but Next Men maintains the high standards set by the earlier series. It’s clever, it’s thoughtful and this sequence isn’t anywhere near as dark as the earlier 21st century chapters, or the first volume. The fun has returned and considering that for well over a decade there seemed little chance of Next Men being completed, it’s exceptionally welcome and something nowhere near as good would have been acceptable. Oh, although it can be taken that way, this isn’t quite the end. Aftermath follows.