The city is Chicago and the year is 1962. C.O.W.L starts with a fight. It’s a dynamic and engaging way to start a comic. Aided only by the character sheet on page 7 and a district map of Chicago, the reader is thrown into the action, searching for answers amid the action. It’s a frantic feeling that doesn’t let up once the fight ends and the politics begin.
C.O.W.L, or Chicago Organised Workers League, is a superheroes union. Formed to combat the well organised super-powered villains of the ‘40s, the story opens as C.O.W.L takes down one of their few remaining costumed foes. With a budget review on the table, the question is asked: does Chicago really need a tax payer funded super hero force?
The story’s influences are clear: the classic graphic novel Watchmen, hit television show Mad Men, and even Marvel’s S.H.I.E.L.D organisation all inform the narrative’s concept. It’s not a novel conceit but it doesn’t need to be, the premise is engaging and not overdone; there’s still plenty of room for Kyle Higgins and Alec Siegel to move. And they will move. Slowly. Socio political narrative threads aside, C.O.W.L is still a superhero story.
Underpinning, complementing and shifting the narrative is the artwork of Rod Reis. Reis’ work is done in light pencil, giving each panel a delicate yet gritty sensibility. The colour tones emphasise the era, creating an aesthetic that’s close to noir at times and futurism at others. Reis uses strong lines around soft shading that makes for a simultaneously artistic and realistic Chicago cityscape.
As intriguing as the mystery of the story is, the writing is convoluted and a little unstable. It’s not really a style that lends itself to issue by issue reading. In a collected volume like ‘Principles of Power’ however, this slow burn works, quietly imploring the reader to turn each page with the suggestion that perhaps, soon, things will become clearer. The characters are established but not revealed. By the final page, the twist feels both surprising and inevitable. C.O.W.L’s story it, like its characters, in it for the long game.
C.O.W.L is published by Image. Principles of Power was released on the 11th of November, 2014. C.O.W.L issue 6 is due for publication on the 26th of November, 2014.