NEXT MEN: AFTERMATH #44 - "THE END?!" [cover title] aka "CRAZY QUILT" [interior title]
Okay, so this is the last issue, for now at least. And the final secret is ... it was all a dream! Sort of. All the mystery time-scrambling nonsense of the last few issues was indeed all created by super-psychic Sandy, who wakes up and explains what's been going on. So there's no need to come up with any kind of clever time-travel explanation, since it was all just Sandy all along. I guess that's better than an inconvincing attempt at making logical sense.
The one issue that took place in the 1970s still seems to have been "real." Upon waking up from her dream, Sandy sends herself, CrazyBeth (now made sane by super-psychic power), and Jasmine back to that time (or actually twenty years after that for some reason), where they are reunited with Nathan and his secret NotNextMen organization. But Jazz chooses to live in a coma, so that in her dreams she can go back to living in the Greenery, the imaginary paradise that the Next Men all were raised in for the first part of their lives before they were awakened way back in the original first issue. It kinda makes sense, since throughout the whole series Jazz has had a hard time accepting the real world, and she has constantly been subjected to a variety of false, illusory versions of reality both by friends and foes. So going back to the unreal world that is most familiar to her is the happiest ending she can hope for. Byrne has a pretty cynical take on his whole series, apparently. Or perhaps I should call him simply unsentimental, although that's not quite right either.
A few matters are left ambiguous, maybe as fodder for later spin-offs of the series, more likely just because Byrne didn't think they were important. It seems that in this final version of the timeline, Lincoln was still rescued from assassination and lived to old age, but that didn't cause many other changes in history, except that a black superhero named Vanguard was the star of a comic book in 1972.
The future people that Jazz has been hanging out with are apparently sent back to their own time at the end, but we don't learn whether that time still exists or what it is like. We do learn that Gil has lost his power to jump from body to body, since he dies in this issue, a bit pointlessly, but oh well. All the Next Men have lost their powers, except for Sandy, who is the magic exception to every rule.
There were things I did like about this issue. Byrne draws a bunch of cool stuff that he seems to enjoy. I liked the sequence where Sandy starts figuring out who is real and who is imaginary, and the world gets emptier and emptier, lacking even panel borders. And overall, the ending does achieve a kind of bittersweet satisfaction. Byrne was successful in not giving me the reader what I wanted, but maybe that's for the best after all.
And one more thing:
I just realized another clue that the CrazyBeth and Jazz out in the wasteland are Sandy's projections. They narrate their present-tense actions in captions, unlike any normal character in the book outside of flashbacks. But just like Sandy's projection comic book characters did.
I was wrong about this. CrazyBeth was real, but the Jazz out in the wasteland was a projection. Byrne wasn't making any kind of point with the narrative captions after all.