The Next #1


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The Next #1


  • Words: Tad Williams
  • Art: Dietrich Smith
  • Inks: Walden Wong
  • Colors: Chris Chuckry
  • Story Title: Just Killing Time Part 1: A Three-Hour Tour
  • Publisher: DC Comics
  • Price: $2.99
  • Release Date: Jul 12, 2006

Award-winning fantasy author Tad Williams (Otherland, Shadowmarch) at last makes his mainstream comic-book debut, and holy cow is it a doozy!

Five beings from a space and time just perpendicular to California, while rebelling from their other-dimensional society’s archaic, controlling and stagnant "Iron Ring" (a sort of tribal parliament), accidentally wound an Earth girl named Monikka Wong. Out of an earnest desire to act as disparate as possible from those interdimensional Archons they so dislike, the quintet descend upon our three-dimensional plane and quickly form a symbiotic bond with Monikka, thereby assuring her life – though only as long as they remain attached! Stuck with five eminently alien beings (called "The Next," as they’re what humanity evolves into in a far-flung, possible future, which, of course, exists concurrently alongside our own time…oy…), five beings who can hardly find a form to compliment our sphere of backwater existence wherein (as they say) "stuff…clots together," Monikka is in for a very strange rest of her life, indeed.

The Next is a speculative fiction extravaganza the likes of which Harlan Ellison might have brainstormed, though written with an intelligent, grandfatherly wit that’s all Tad Williams’ own. For those who have read his recent War of the Flowers novel, similar sensibilities towards the fantastical and their sudden existence within the very mundane US of A are employed to both comedic and spectacular heights. With Monikka as the reader’s grounding – a young independent California girl living with a deadbeat mother and her on-parole, sleazy boyfriend – the metaphysical brain-twisters as inherent in The Next’s very existence are brought up alongside the west-coast tellurian and hereby shown as emphatically uncanny, and perhaps just a little bit ridiculous, especially for there being a meeting between two such extremes.

As with anything by Williams, the reader is treated to a very dense read – especially for a comic – which is a refreshing change of pace to the usual novelist-cum-comic-book-scripter who treats their books like minimalist exercises in storytelling (though such a disparity will be no surprise to Williams’ long-time readers; he’s rather infamous for being interminable and thick in execution). The book’s prose, dialogue, and art are all jammed shoulder-to-shoulder within the book’s pages – get ready for the biggest damn caption boxes you’ve ever seen, and word balloons that vie for supremacy within every panel! Dietrich Smith proves to be a godsend when paired to Williams’ writing; his art squiggles and squirms its way into every available nook and cranny and gives the reader’s eye a maximum amount of visual detail amongst all the blah-blah-blah. Occasionally, Smith overcompensates on pages that ultimately wind up being word-lite: his assumption that the script is going to require a colossal amount of empty space results in – you guessed it – a colossal amount of empty space! And this then leaves the reader wondering why the proper attention wasn’t given to these particular, seemingly random pages (though this, at least, is my theory to explain it).

Minus such intermittent and minor glitches, the creative team has produced an astoundingly distinct, absorbing epic. The Next, when they adopt their human guises and expound upon their respective powers and origins, prove to be marvelously original super-powered designates, and the multilayered storyline – which bridges incredibly conceptual paradigms of time and space with the very hard science of three-dimensional physics – offers up a veritable feast for the brain, with wild ideas beached in a classic visitor-from-another-planet overall schematic. Think Grant Morrison if the writer gave half a damn that readers could easily engage in his outlandish, pseudo-science innovations, and you’ve got Williams’ The Next.

There’s a brief appearance by Superman and Metron, which is a fun little riff, though perhaps the weakest part of the entire issue. It’s good to know that other characters take notice of something as supposedly profound as the arrival of The Next (it only makes sense), but sadly it’s during this particular sequence that the plot threads become muddled and difficult to swallow: for example, we get Superman spouting lines such as: "Some kind of…unbreakable time field…!" Wha-huh? An invisible imprisonment can be tactilely determined as explicitly a time field how? Plus the weird science of this segment begins to border the Chthonic, which is intriguing but also a little (for now, at least) seemingly out of left field.

Regardless, we’re off to a great start, and the love and effort both Williams and Smith have poured into this series is blatant to the extreme. There’s a richer plot, more thoroughly-crafted characters, and even a greater level of inventiveness inside this single chapter of The Next than most series achieve throughout their entire published lifetime. The potential for this comic to live far beyond its inaugural series is a strong one, and anyone who takes a gander at its offerings should be appropriately laid flat by the overwhelming creativity found within. It’s already been rumored that Williams has a second series in mind for DC called The Factory, and I for one dearly hope he continues to at least dabble in the funny book field. It suits him, and he it; at least as long as he produces gemstones like The Next.

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