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Dalton & Richie Burgess

The Statesmen is set in a post-apocalyptic world in the year 2064. Like The Watchmen which preceded it, this series was a deconstructed examination of superheroes and it shares at least one similarity with Moore’s plot. Smith’s self-admittedly deliberate convoluted writing weaves between the story’s present and different times in many of the characters’ pasts, but primarily November 2047 when events leading to collapse were put into motion.

The world has gone to hell partly due to scientific advances from human genetics code research of the Hephaestus Program (dating back to the latter years of the 20th century), which led to the creation of the genetically selected Optimen. The US government was unable to maintain tight control of the genetics program, and soon found that research and applications were leaked to big pharma, giant agricultural businesses, and arms manufacturers. Then the Ku Klux Klan employed a terrorist to create a biological weapon which rendered African American women infertile, leading to riots, government interventions. The abundance of cheap food and inexpensive medical care with new advances had unimagined and terrible social implications. Political instability (ie: the UK becoming the 51st state followed by Mexico and Nicaragua) was and concurrent crop failures in Europe. The Optimen program, using Hephaestus research to turn humans into superheroes, had been secret during this period until 2037 when an Argentinian air force pilot spotted its training facility. The news soon spread worldwide and the US decided to spin the incident in its favor by turning a group of the Optimen into the Halcyon Squad, a peacekeeping force dispatched first to South Africa, and then England, where the consequences of an incident referred as Tariq Alley resulted in the force being remanded to the continental US and, the media renamed them the New Statesmen and helped transform them into “the American dream made flesh”. Except the American dream has morphed into a nightmarish parody caught between the opposing forces of a twisted government and a puritanical organization called the League of Light (led by former Statesmen Phoenix) and the media playing both sides for its own gratification.

This entry focuses on two of the Statesmen: Dalton (last name unknown) and Richie Burgess. A text piece in the first issue alludes to several unnamed characters being gay or lesbian, or as the text’s fictional writer puts it, “omnisexual”. Gay Statesmen Monhegan is quoted in the piece: “But we’re Statespeople. We live outside, or at least on the edge of society…I’m allowed to be me. Most ordinary people aren’t. I want to try and do something to help change that.” He appears only briefly in a short scene in a later issue.

Burgess is first seen sitting in a darkened room of a high rise hotel looking out into the night as a few other Statesmen sit discussing a mission in the next room. The memory of a past mission surfaces. An English Liberation Army fighter has been captured and Dalton uses his powers to collapse or crush parts of the dissident’s body as torture to extract information. Burgess wants nothing to do with Dalton’s inflicted suffering and literally storms out of the warehouse. A few days later they’re all rewarded with a short lakeside break. An untroubled Dalton cavorts in the water while Richie broods about the group’s past dark deeds. Simultaneous to Richie’s current reminiscing, Dalton has checked into a gay bath house. A handsome older man (Neville) unsuccessfully propositions Dalton in the steam room. A moment later a bomb explodes, killing everyone except Dalton, the intended target, who stands naked overlooking the crowd in the streets through a gaping hole in the building. A second assassination attempt minutes later, foiled by fellow Statesmen/ gal pal Meridien, enrages Dalton who unleashes his power on civilians and military who quickly rushed to the scene to stop him. Several days after the incident the group appear on a popular talk show to put a spin on the incident. Richie remains quiet and seems distant while the others attempt to rationalize their actions.

The effort clearly worked on some people as an early scene in issue #2 shows a throng of Dalton’s adoring public cheering as Dalton looks out at them from their lofty hotel suite. Dalton is excited when Meridian tells him that a popular porn director tried to bribe his way into the building to offer him an exclusive and lucrative contract making adult movies. Shortly, the Statesmen are on board a private yacht discussing a mission with Irwin Freyers, an affable, balding and rotund older man who’s their liason with the “Federal Defense Council.” Their assignment is to take down former Statesmen Phoenix who’s in complete control of the League of Light and a number of businesses, legal and covert. In a private conversation, Burgess tells Freyers he’s ambivalent about matters because “things have changed”, alluding to his place with the group.

Burgess and Dalton arrive at a nursing home facility to interview an old woman for information about the League of Light. In every previous appearance together, the men have been separated by distance, even if only a few feet. Now, together on an assignment, Dalton compliments Burgess on his looks, calling him the “perfect English gentleman” and shakes his hand, saying “this will be a classic partnership.” If Burgess weren’t so reserved he’d be visibly taken aback. The self-absorbed and indulgent Dalton and the self-effacing and brooding Burgess seem like an odd pair, but it’s striking when toward the end of the second issue Dalton moves to comfort Burgess after using his power to “re-view” a grisly and seemingly unconnected murder at the scene of the crime.

The story becomes much more complex starting in issue 3 as Smith weaves between seemingly disparate scenes and plot elements. Smith continues to bring the two men together. Burgess admonishes Dalton for a violent action while touching him. Later at a party during the annual Statesmen celebration, a drunken Burgess is confessing to a strange woman his guilt in the Tariq Alley Massacre when drunk and effusive Dalton hugs Burgess and shoos away the woman. Later a lonely Meridian walks in Dalton’s room and finds the undressed men and nearly having sex. Embarrassed, she runs down the hallway with Datlon excusing himself to Burgess to run after her. Whether or not she intended to manipulate Dalton, the two friends grow closer. Enough so that Burgess resents it when Dalton comforts Meridian on a mission to find a missing (and murdered) Statesmen in the Arizona desert and becomes short tempered with Dalton. Even their somewhat sleazy teammate Vegas notices and broaches the subject with Burgess while the core team is taking some downtime. The fact that Dalton and Meridian have a their own private time a short distance away makes a convenient excuse for Burgess to return to his brooding manner.

It wouldn’t take telepathy for Meridian to know Burgess resents her friendship with Dalton, but it exposes the depth of his feeling. Tension is already high when the pair are staking out their enemy’s tipped-off location (Smith ramps into high gear as the story reaches its conclusion) when Meridian tries to talk with Burgess and an argument ensues. What makes the situation all the more fraught is Burgess’ realization that he and Meridian were set up by the villainous Phoenix who’s finally stepped out of the shadows, and Dalton is tracking their nemesis alone. They arrive to at the scene to be surprise attacked, and the three of them are nearly killed by the villain’s merciless beating. Burgess may wish he’d died as Dalton’s true feelings about him come to light during the melee. A few days later Dalton tries to make amends with Burgess, but a happy ending is not in sight for these men.

A text piece indicates Burgess is from Optimen Batch 6 and is age 36 while Dalton is from the last group, Batch 9, and is 23. Dalton’s ability is the control of physical objects and transmutation. Burgess is a “glancer” and is able to view in full detail events of the past through touch.

Created by John Smith and Jim Baikie. Smith would later write Devlin Waugh stories serialized in several Judge Dredd comics for 2000 AD and collected in two trades.

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