John Smith, Jim Baikie, Sean Phillips and Duncan Fegredo
Review by Luke Williams
New Statesmen was the ignored second child to the attention seeking first born Third World War in Fleetway’s late eighties / early nineties punt into “mature comics” Crisis.
Brain behind Tyranny Rex, Indigo Prime and various Future Shocks, writer John Smith was paired up with veteran artist Jim Baikie to create a retro futuristic political thriller cum Watchmen pastiche. Set in a future where genetics had advanced sufficiently for the USA to have won the superhuman arms race, where the EEC is a superpower, Britain had become the 51st state of a debauched and super powered celebrity obsessed USA
The US government had created the Optimen, gifted with “hard” (physical strength) and or soft (psychic) talents. Once their existence was revealed to the world, these Optimen were each assigned as the representative of each of the 51 states of the USA.
Five of those statesmen are known as the “Halcyons” “Ice queen” Meridian, the tortured and troubled Burgess, sleaze ball Vegas, stoic Cleve and party boy Dalton. The Halcyons are tasked with dirty undercover jobs for the government, which nevertheless still manage to attract significant attention. Their latest target is the Statesmen Phoenix of Nevada, an evangelist running for President, but on a wave of corruption and blackmail. He was too popular, he has to go; either by fair means, or more likely, foul.
As a strip New Statesmen is a bold attempt at rising the wave of “mature” comics. In his introduction to the collected edition, Smith describes it as a mystery story, but pare away the occasionally confusing story telling techniques and you are left with a fairly straightforward if under developed plot, swamped with ideas.
The late Jim Baikie’s art is beautiful, bold colours and dynamic page compositions adn underappreciated master of comics. The appearance of Sean Phillips on fill ins appears to attemptto copy Baikie’s style, but only achieves to break up the flow. It’s only toward the end of this collection that Phillips as we know and love him appears. The final visual is a young Duncan Fegredo, freewheeling, light and almost impressionistic, lovely stuff.
Baikie and Smith don’t shy away from violence, there’s plenty of claret spilled on these pages interspersing the dialogue heavy scenes and Smith’s often cryptic script. The jump cuts between scenes hide some uneven pacing and Smith gets side tracked quite easily. The plot builds slowly, before seemingly sprinting to the denouement. It feels that Smith wanted to clear the decks of the strip so that he could Smith could start developing the weird body horror and genetic experimentation themes that had been bubbling away in the background, sadly not realised.
An odd partner to Mills and Ezquerra polemical Third World War in the early issues of Crisis, its violence, political and science fiction trappings were an incongruous fit in the woke, before there was a woke, sister comic to 2000AD.For all its pacing flaws and the fact that reading it episodically made it occasionally incomprehensible, it has fully realised, believable characters, great dialogue, and beautiful art, but it’s not an easy read. The edition reviewed is the sole collection of the series, althought it was also reproduced in 5 US comic sized issues in a failed attempt to crack the American market. Out of print for many years, a digital edition wouldn’t go amiss – how about it Rebellion?
Further reading : Turn and Face The Strange : Script Droid John Smith