Art by: Rod Reis
Published by: Image Comics $3.50
I wasn’t sold on C.O.W.L. after its debut last month. It was an it’s-not-you-it’s-me kind of thing. I wasn’t ready to give up on the series, but I wasn’t really sure where it was trying to go and whether I wanted to hitch along for the ride. This second issue absolved many of my concerns. Writers Kyle Higgins and Alec Siegel are just getting started, but they are beginning to build a world which is unique among the current comic landscape. The art of Rod Reis is unlike anything else from the very first panel through. His unique approach to character design and his articulation of the early ‘60s era is phenomenal. “C.O.W.L. #2” is able to continue the laborious process of not just creating the world but introducing us to the many characters at play. I still question the wisdom of Higgins and Siegel throwing us into the fray, but each successive issue will further cement each character in the mind of the reader.
For creator-owned books that eventually plan to have a large cast of familiar characters (that is to say, ones without the benefit of you knowing the cast of characters prior to reading) it’s usually easier to take things slow. A few characters at a time—not the whole cast—allows readers like me, who read a ton of comics each month (not to mention novels, watching TV and movies, and playing video games) to place each character before the narrative takes off. Asking me to remember a bunch of brand new characters for 30 days isn’t a way to win my readership. But “C.O.W.L. #2” has given me a reason to remember at least a few characters thanks to a well-executed, if obvious, violent encounter. There is more to this series, though, than the dirty reality of bleeding out in a rainy gutter after a back-alley scrap with a powered up criminal: namely, the focus on the fact that the supers of this fictional Chicago are unionized. This adds an interesting element to the series; a group of organized superheroes creates a new way for Higgins and Siegel to deliver everyone’s favourite funny book tropes and clichés. Contract negotiations are going to provide a new framework for conflict among the powered community. The (some would say disproportionate) power of unions will change the way that we see the heroes of C.O.W.L.’s world.
Picking up from threads of the debut issue is the continuation of characters being worried about the elimination of The Six, undoubtedly a play on the Sinister Six from Spider-Man and how the lack of threats will leave heroes with nothing to do. It’s a truly compelling premise and one we don’t see often enough. What if when Batman defeated his rogues gallery they didn’t escape every five minutes for forever thereafter? Would he simply give up the game? Would he create new villains to make himself relevant? Or trick people into thinking he was? Perhaps most interesting possibility of all is whether he would simply be complicit in the cycle to keep himself employed. C.O.W.L. is conjuring up a number of interesting possibilities which makes me want to hang around and see what happens next.
The main reason I’m hanging around though is Rod Reis. Image is flush with books that have an artistic identity all their own; we can now add C.O.W.L. to that list as well. Reis manages to leave some details abstract and vague while simultaneously delivering an impressive level of expression when it comes to characters.
Each scene has a clearly designed colour scheme that changes whether the story is inside, outside or in the past, a subtle way of story-telling that goes a long way. This noticeable shift is a stroke of genius. Reis lets loose with a knock-down-drag-out brawl between a member of C.O.W.L. and a street criminal that serves to elevate the already great book to a new level. Each violent strike looks kinetic and drags the reader into the experience like no other sequence in the issue. The splash page which concludes this scene is hauntingly beautiful and the primary reason this “C.O.W.L. #2” hooked me.
The setting is pivotal to the story. While many readers, like myself, didn’t actually live through 1962, we’ve seen movies and read enough about the era to know what to expect. Reis delivers what seems like a faithfully reconstructed ‘60s Chicago. It’s clear that special attention was paid to the vehicles and buildings to really enforce the point that this comic takes place over 50 years ago. You gotta love vintage.
Verdict: While the writers still need to improve their characterization, they’re well on their way to creating at least two empathiccharacters. A villain or villainous motivation should be right around the corner as well because right now all we have are empty leads and rumours. When this first-arc finishes up it should be pretty clear what to expect from this series and I’m betting you’re going to want to be around. And the art demands your attention in such a way that I imagine seeing this book in the store and not picking it up is going to be very difficult. 7.5/10