Written by Kyle Higgins and Alec Siegel
Art by Rod Reis
Published by Image Comics
C.O.W.L. is a comic book that combines crimefighting with the politics of organized labor. The comic borrows characters, setting, and ideas from Kyle Higgins’ earlier comic The League. There are elements of film noir at work here, both in the shadowy art style, and the mystery that is unfolding in the comic. The book certainly has all the elements of a solid mystery: set in a city known for powerful players and corrupt politics, a dead man with dangerous information, and people with reasons to be paranoid.
In 1962, the “Chicago Organized Workers League” has a contract with the city of Chicago to fight supervillains. The issue begins with members of C.O.W.L. fighting one of their old foes, Skylancer. Though the fight goes badly and innocents are killed, Skylancer is beaten. After his defeat, John Pierce, a member of the intelligence division of C.O.W.L., discovers classified materials in one of Skylancer’s supply caches, raising questions about what final activities were based around. At the political level, C.O.W.L.’s contract is in the air with the defeat of Skylancer, setting in motion political machinations.
The premise of the comic book is a fantastic one. The early 1960s was the era in the United States when public unions were growing at a phenomenal rate, so of course it makes sense that superheroes would try and get in on a pension plan. The presence of the union throws a nice political angle into the story. The heroes of C.O.W.L. are under contract with the city, after all, and they have to directly answer for what the heroics that they perform.
Chicago is also a superb setting for the book, because The Windy City does not get enough love as a backdrop for superheroes. The Daley political machine ruled the city in 1962 and Richard M. Daley was at the summit of his political power. Chicago’s organized crime, the so-called “Chicago Outfit,” was also strong in these years. Will C.O.W.L. be running up against or cooperating with the machine politics of the Daley family? Do some of the high-ranking members of the Mafia like Sam Giancana?
The artwork for this comic works well in that it gives that shadowy noir feel to all of the characters, many of whose features are partially obscured. This is a frustrating point in the beginning when you’re first trying to figure out who is who. A lot of the men have that square-jawed, cropped-hair look, and I had a hard time keeping track of who was who. The writers are kind enough to include a character list at the very beginning, which is certainly helpful. C.O.W.L. is an interesting premise and could be setting itself up as a great comic.