Review by Ian Keogh
Spoilers in review
To all intents and purposes the two 2011 collections of Next Men concluded matters, completing a story begun in 1992 and put on hold by creator John Byrne two years later. Volume two related a desperate, but successful plan to fix the tampering with time, and gave the Next Men some peace. Jazz, however, stayed in the future, so why’s she now in an insanely dangerous world of perpetual daylight? There’s also the small matter of Beth’s duplicate, also there.
Aftermath is an epilogue, not really necessary to the Next Men’s story, but as it’s been fun so far, so why wouldn’t your curiosity be aroused by one last visit with friends? As he did with volume one of the 21st century revival, Byrne spreads confusion. We see dinosaurs, Roman soldiers, US Civil War soldiers, aliens, and more, all of them occupying a strange wasteland. A pattern might be recognised, and it’s left to Gil and the team from the future to work it out. That list notes about half the different genres Byrne drops into play. He so enjoys rolling out a 1970s action TV show pastiche it occupies almost an entire chapter, but that’s part of the storytelling technique used in Next Men. Multiple situations are introduced and Byrne will linger on one to the frustration of readers wanting to see how something else plays out. Depending on your perception and personal taste, that will either be good writing or annoying.
Go with good writing. As with all Next Men, Aftermath is an ambitious undertaking, more complex when revealed than usual, but locked tightly together with an explanation for everything. Before publication Byrne announced online that he was going to have to rework his ending to Next Men as he’d watched a Matt Smith Doctor Who episode that employed many of the same devices, and to use them would open him to accusations of plagiarism. So, Aftermath consists of the elements stripped out of the original finale and worked into a separate story. As with other cases, a writer being forced to rethink their plans resulted in a better series conclusion, and this is the point where spoilers are unavoidable. The ending here depends on a character with near infinite power to shape reality. It ties into the series, but whenever such a type is used there’s an element of cop-out to the revelation, and that’s the case, no matter how skilfully Byrne has employed his logic as to who is where and why.
On a more ordinary level, of the five, or actually six, genetically altered teenagers who began the series, some have been reduced to bit players, and that follows through to Aftermath. Jazz and Gil dominate, Beth and Nathan have interesting parts to play, and Danny and Jack only have cameo roles. We see more of another character’s grandparents than them, and that’s unsatisfying. It seems Byrne said all he had to about those characters over the first half of Next Men, and didn’t need them afterwards. Opinion on that will vary according to the individual priority placed on the balance between character and plot. And forget about the occasional word balloon pointing at the wrong person.
Aftermath is a very readable piece, and offers some final, tragic happiness, but won’t be to all tastes.