"John Byrne's Next Men" was an early 1990s super hero story by John Byrne, published by Dark Horse Comics. It ran for thirty issues before cancellation, and was followed by a sequel story almost 20 years later.
John Byrne, as both an artist and a writer, had been one of the most successful creators of the 1980s for both of the big companies, helping make The X-Men Marvel's most popular title before working on both Superman and The Fantastic Four, as well as other projects. Although seen as an innovative and creative talent, Byrne's art and writing also fell within the scope of mainstream standards.
The Next Men, published in 1992, and labelled as being for mature readers, was a somewhat experimental super hero comic. It revolves around a government project to create supersoldiers, by raising children inside of a virtual reality. The Next Men are these five soldiers, three men and two women. Their powers are standard super hero powers: strength, speed, perception, invulnerability and agility. And the idea of government created supersoldiers was not a new idea: Captain America and Wolverine were created with the same idea. The story is much more explicit in its level of cynicism, with the government project being controlled by a truly amoral senator. The story also contains more sex and violence than would be permitted in other comics at the time, which were still under the rule of the Comics Code Authority.
A reader who might know something about the history of the 1990s might think "cynical and more realistic...is this grim and gritty"? While it could be characterized as such, I feel that Byrne used cynicism and realism to tell a story, not just to get shock value. And strangely enough, many of the grim and gritty comics of the era were so stylized that they were not, in fact, grim or gritty. This series doesn't have the slickness or macho attitude that many of the eras comics does.
It also, more importantly, has stakes. Allowing Byrne to create his own characters and story that didn't fit into a larger universe means the story follows its own arc, in a world where there are no obvious other forms of paranormal phenomena. The story feels more real, and more important, because we know that they can't be saved by a Spider-Man cameo or given new powers or personalities to boost sales. The story succeeds in seeming like a story about the real world, with elements added from comic books, not as a comic book story.
I started reading this book with some skepticism based on its era, but I quickly was won over by Byrne's story telling and artistic ability, and the fact that he was pushing the boundaries of the time for the purpose of telling a story, not for the purpose of being edgy.