|Publication date||1988 - 1989|
|Number of issues||15|
|New Statesmen||ISBN 1-85386-217-7|
The series was published in Crisis from issue #1–14 with a reappearance in issue #28. It was also repackaged for the American market as a five-issue prestige format limited series that was released in 1989. This had been part of the business plan for Crisis from the start but only the early series, like New Statesmen, got this treatment. In 1990 the story was collected into a trade paperback.
Set in America in 2047, the series told the story of a number of genetically modified "optimen", created with superhuman 'hard' and 'soft' talents, who were essentially biological weapons. The series asked what 'superheroes' would be like if they were far more human than traditional heroes. The series depicted a dystopian future in which Britain had become the 51st state of America and the world is in the grip of fear of genetic engineering and political warmongering.
While in some ways the series could be considered "ahead of its time" (two of the leading male characters were in a gay relationship) in most respects the series was a typical product of its time, heavily derivative of the early 1980s work of Alan Moore and Frank Miller.
Although New Statesmen can be noted as derivative of said writers, in terms of subject matter, (existence of superhumans in a real world, media driven political climate), some feel it would be overly simplifying a review of the collection of these 15 episodes and unfair on its creators and fans, to write it off as mere imitation. While there is truth in the fact that it borrows themes and mechanics from Watchmen and The Dark Knight Returns, the fact remains that the story was excellent in many regards, had much original thought poured into it, and as a result garnered much well earned praise in the comics community. Despite earlier (partly founded) criticism above, New Statesmen has many original characters, events and themes. To write it off as a mere mainstream plagiarism of more significant publications does the unique efforts of John Smith (comics), Jim Baikie, Sean Philips, Duncan Fegredo and Brendan McCarthy a disservice.
The story follows the lives of a group of genetically created Superhumans or "Optimen" as they are known in the near future, who work on various black operations for the U.S. government both home and abroad. The story follows their differing relationships to each other and the public at large and paints their flaws as well as their talents with style. In this future America, each State has its own Superhuman representative. The climate is full of corporate and political intrigue and the seedier element of human and superhuman nature. An overbearingly cynical future America is a stark background to what small hope resides within the variety of Optimen. Their investigations into murder and political corruption in the dark underbelly of the American Dream frame their loves, fears, anger, doubts and jealousies. Admittedly very Watchmen, but a unique tale nonetheless with differing writing and artistic style.
At times the story feels a little disjointed,partly because of the writing style,and partly due to the changeover between artists of differing and evolving styles. The various art styles each lend the story the feeling of slight disorientation.Unintentional as this may be, it suits the tale well. No permanence is afforded the reader.
Sean Philips who was brought in to cover for Jim Baikie on issue 5 and later did the pre-epilogue,closing episodes 13 and 14 showed a great change in art style in this period.He attributes this to the fact that he was in issue 5 attempting to emulate Baikie's style to better fit the continuity,and after having admittedly failed,changed back to his more natural style in issues 13 to 14. A huge improvement.
Duncan Fegredo's fledging efforts in issues 7 and 8 illustrate a political party event in lush fashion far removed from Jim Balkie's clean lines, or Sean Philip's rich painterly textures.
Comic books are inherently derivative, and although New Statesmen was indeed a product of its times,and nodded heavily toward the widespread changes in comics at the time (late eighties), it offered a different view to superheroes than the likes of its peers, the seminal Watchmen by Alan Moore which focused upon only on one true Superhuman, "Dr Manhattan", or the genre defining The Dark Knight Returns by Frank Miller, which had the scattered remnants of an aged Justice League as its focus. New Statesmen, much like its 2000ad counterpart,"Zenith (comics)", focused instead on generations of supermen created in laboratories for corporate and political reasons, through genetic manipulation. Although some concede it does have similar themes and writing mechanics in instances to both Watchmen and Dark Knight Returns, its actual content,i.e. The Corporate Genetic Manipulation of Humanity, owes as much to Brave New World by Aldous Huxley as it does to the aforementioned publications. Also its group of characters have their own flavor and idiosyncrasies. In today's world where research into genetic engineering continues to garner results, its unique story has lost none of its relevance and merits a read for any adult oriented comics fan.
- New Statesmen (by John Smith):
- "Halcyon Days" (with Jim Baikie, in Crisis, #1, 1988)
- "Perspectives" (with Jim Baikie, in Crisis, #2, 1988)
- "Behind the light" (with Jim Baikie, in Crisis, #3, 1988)
- "Shadowdancing" (with Jim Baikie, in Crisis, #4, 1988)
- "Downtime" (with Sean Phillips, in Crisis, #5, 1988)
- "Holding the fist" (with Sean Phillips, in Crisis, #6, 1988)
- "Where the railroad meets the sea" (with Duncan Fegredo, in Crisis #7, 1988)
- "Memories on Ice" (with Duncan Fegredo, in Crisis #8, 1988)
- "All doors lead to the Minotaur" (with Jim Baikie, in Crisis, ##9, 1989)
- "Life during wartime" (with Jim Baikie, in Crisis, ##10, 1989)
- "Riding the tiger" (with Jim Baikie, in Crisis, ##11, 1989)
- "The power and the glory" (with Jim Baikie, in Crisis, ##12, 1989)
- "White Death" (with Sean Phillips, in Crisis, #13-14, 1989)
- "Epilogue" (with Jim Baikie, in Crisis, ##28, 1989)
It was collected into a trade paperback:
- New Statesmen (240 pages, Fleetway Quality, November 1990, ISBN 1-85386-217-7)