John Byrne's Next Men (also known as Next Men or JBNM) is a comic book series written and drawn by John Byrne. It ran 31 issues plus a standalone prequel 2112. The series was published between 1991 and 1995 by Dark Horse Comics.
In 1955, an explosion in Antarctica draws the attention of a group of scientists. There they discover dozens of charred bodies and one live one in a mechanical exoskeleton. The survivor, Sathanas, kills all but one scientist, whom he uses to meet Senator Aldus Hilltop. Together, with Sathanas' existence kept secret, the three construct Project Next Men, which creates batches of superhumans who are raised in a virtual reality.
Five of these Next Men manage to escape from confinement, but once free they find that their powers are very different than they were in their virtual world.
The Next Men are:
- Nathan, whose mutated eyes are large and black and allow him to see a wide spectrum of light.
- Jasmine, a young super-acrobat.
- Jack, who is super-strong but cannot control his strength.
- Bethany, who is invulnerable to harm, but who loses physical sensation and whose skin bleaches white.
- Danny, who can run at superhuman speeds.
The Next Men are eventually rescued by a man called Control and his secret government organization, even as Hilltop rises to the Vice Presidency and then the Presidency. The Next Men explore the ramifications of their existence even as they turn out to be cogs in Sathanas' decades-long master plan involving time travel, eugenics, and doppelgängers.
The series ended with a cliffhanger in #30. Byrne had intended to conclude the story in a second series, but the collapse of the American comic book industry in the mid-1990s made it financially unfeasible for him to do so at the time, and he returned to working for hire at DC Comics and Marvel Comics. He recently restarted the series at IDW Publishing, however.
The series contains examples of:
- Big Bad - Aldus Hiltop appears to be this, but the true Big Bad is Sathanas.
- Crossover: One of the earliest appearances of Hellboy was in this series. Also featured in the series are guest appearances by Concrete, Monkeyman and O'Brien, and characters from Elf Quest.
- Deus Sex Machina - When the Next Men have sex outside of their team, it becomes a catalyst which bestows super-power mutations on normal humans, leading to the world seen in 2112.
- Does Not Know His Own Strength - Jack cannot control his super-strength and has to be guided places so he does not break objects by accidentally brushing up against them.
- Feel No Pain - Bethany is Nigh Invulnerable but the side-effect of this is that she can't feel any physical sensation, including pain.
- Five-Man Band
- Four Lines, All Waiting - About halfway through the original series, the plots began to take on this format.
- Left Hanging
- Loads and Loads of Characters - The series started off just focusing on the Five-Man Band, Nathan, Bethany, Jazz, Jack and Danny. By the end of the series, the villains, time traveling cops, human supporting characters, amnesiac robots and other mutated characters were beginning to share the spotlight.
- Mating Dance - The Next Men call Sex "dancing" this leads to some interesting conversations and misunderstandings when they escape into the real world.
- Nigh Invulnerability - Bethany is the Made of Diamond type.
- Razor Floss - Bethany's hair (being as indestructible as the rest of her) worked like this. She could use a single strand of her hair to saw through an iron bar (and if you tried to grab her hair, you'd lose your fingers).
- Secret Project Refugee Family
- Stable Time Loop - Sathanas and Thomas Kirkland are both traveling to the past, though Sathanas is attempting to make sure history happens as he remembers it, while Kirkland has been taught that history is immutable, he still attempts to alter history.
- Token Minority: Intentionally averted. The Next Men were the result of a white supremacist project, so they're all caucasian. One of the reasons Byrne did this, he admits, was to avoid dealing with various controversial race issues that might have interferred with the story.
- True Companions - The Next Men start off like this, but then the two couples that make up four fifths of the group grow further apart once they are in the real world, and the group begins to operate less like a family and more like a unit of soldiers.
- What Happened to the Mouse? - With so many plots being juggled near the end of the original series, it's unclear what will be picked up in the new series and what will become a case of this.
- Writing Around Trademarks - Byrne intended to have a character named Dreadface appear in the Next Men as an exaggeration of the type of name Marvel Comics gave characters. A few months before the character was due to make his first appearance, an issue of Fantastic Four came out featuring a character called Dreadface. The Next Men character was hurriedly renamed, becoming Lord Trogg.