The Next Men characters made a prototypical appearance as “Freaks” in a lithography plate that was published within the History of the DC Universe Portfolio in 1986. Byrne had originally pitched the series to DC Comics, but the series never surfaced there. With some changes, Byrne changed the concept to fit in with his work on the graphic novel 2112, to become the John Byrne’s Next Men series. Two characters from the “Freaks” artwork somewhat retained their physical looks and became the lead characters of the Next Men series: heroine Jasmine and villain Aldus Hilltop.
The Next Men officially debuted in a four-part storyline in Dark Horse Presents #54-57 (later reprinted, in color, as John Byrne’s Next Men #0). The series ran until issue #30 and ended with a cliffhanger. According to Byrne, he intended the series to be science-fiction that had a “sort of smell” of being a super-hero book. In addition to exploring mature topics such as sex, abortion, and child abuse, Byrne also set aside some of the more-traditional conventions of the medium, such as “thought-bubbles” and sound-effects.
Byrne had intended to conclude the story in a second series after a six-month hiatus, but the collapse of the American comic-book industry in the mid-1990s made it financially unfeasible for him to do so, and he returned to working for hire at DC Comics and Marvel Comics.