Today, Drew and Shelby are discussing C.O.W.L. 2, originally released June 25th, 2014.
Drew: When we first started this site, I don’t think I had ever considered how serialization changes the philosophy of a work of fiction. Movies, plays, and short stories have vastly less storytelling space than comics, television shows, even novels, which leaves them with less room for exploring truly complex themes. When I was more familiar with those shorter forms, I came to the conclusion that all stories are about those simple, easy-to-relate to themes that make the best movies so compelling — things like love, loss, fear, loyalty, or ambition. Obviously, there are short form stories that tackle more complex themes, but you really need five seasons to truly understand the systemic failures of “the system” in The Wire, or 25+ seasons to intimately know all of the denizens of Springfield on The Simpsons. Part of that is that individual episodes or chapters can focus on those more straightforward themes, which can be stacked to build to something much more complex. Of course, that means that the work will ultimately be quite varied over the course of its telling, shifting its themes, moods, and focus. That’s exactly what’s at work in C.O.W.L. 2, as things get both more political and more personal.
The issue opens to find Grant and Karl dropping off Grant’s son at school, only the kid is supremely embarrassed that his dad doesn’t even have powers. Karl writes it off as typical childish assholery, but Grant seems to take the criticism to his core, feeling utterly inadequate. That leads him to take an unnecessary risk when trying to apprehend a superpowered goon, leaving Grant beaten to within an inch of his life.
It would be easy for such a clear emotional arc to dominate the issue, but Kyle Higgins and Alec Siegel are careful to remind us that this isn’t just Grant’s story. Indeed, its the scope of the other threads that have me wondering exactly how many themes this series aims to feature.
On the one hand, we have The Grey Raven, flexing political muscle to revise some of C.O.W.L.’s history, even as it seems that the death of Skylancer has torpedoed C.O.W.L.’s political capital — just as contract negotiations are set to begin with the city. Sure enough, those concerns seem to dog John, whose wife is encouraging him to jump ship while he can and take a detective position with the police.
And there we have a much bigger theme. I don’t know much about Higgins’ or Siegel’s career paths, but it’s not hard to imagine that they’ve gotten this suggestion before. When are they going to give up this superhero nonsense? Under the circumstances, it might not be the worst advice, but that “finally” sticks in John’s pride, only fanning the flames of his desire to close this case.
Oh right! The case. Well, John brings the possibly stolen, possibly leaked file to Arclight, who seems just a little too defensive for comfort. Arclight’s guilt remains to be seen, but the thought that John might be the only member of C.O.W.L. willing to work this case is more than enough to to keep him on. Especially if their negotiations might go south — who could hope to bring Arclight in if there’s no more C.O.W.L.? This case needs to be worked by John, and it needs to be worked now. Again, it’s easy to see some parallels with our writers here. This is a story they started working on years ago, but finally found the moment bring it to reality.
But enough about the writers; I continue to be floored by Rod Reis’ work on this series. His linework seems to vary from tight to lose depending on the mood of the scene, and his colors are almost crushing in their emotional transparency. Grant’s moody son is rendered in cold, almost distant blues, while John’s confrontation with Arclight is awash in aggressive, almost suffocating reds.
It’s gorgeous stuff, and I’m sure Shelby can speak more eloquently about it than I can. Shelby! I want to hear your thoughts about everything from the art to the early ’60s Chicago setting, but I want to prompt you with an idea brought up by a commenter in our write-up of issue 1, which suggested that this series feels more like TV than it does a comic. This issue found me kind of feeling the same way, though I absolutely couldn’t explain why. Have you noticed this at all, and if so, can you articulate what makes it more TV-like?
Shelby: You know, I hadn’t thought of it, but it does have a little bit of a well-written, police procedural feel to it. There’s just something about the flow and pace of the story that reminds me of quality, TV drama. And as to setting the story in ’60s Chicago, I think Higgins and Siegal have been really smart about it. It’s a sort of short-hand for what’s happening in the story; when I think of Chicago and unions, regardless the time period, I immediately think corruption. The writers don’t have to take the time to explain to us the work environment of C.O.W.L. or it’s relationship to the city, we just assume instantly it’s corrupted. That way, when John begins talking about how a villain could get C.O.W.L. tech, I instantly assume that the higher-ups at the crime fighting group have been creating villains in order to justify their own existence.
Oh man, Reis’ art. It’s so incredibly beautiful, and gritty, and expressive. I was most impressed with his fight scene between Grant and the super.
I love the gray wash, with colors only to accent the injuries. His lines are so kinetic, there’s so much motion captured on the page. The best little detail, though, is all those clean panel edges, except for that one blood splatter in the upper right corner, and the “BLAM!” of Grand blowing that dude’s little dudes away. It’s like those impacts where so massive, they had to break the fourth wall a bit and exist in the gutter. It’s a super eloquent depiction of the horrifying violence happening in the scene.
For me, the standout theme of this issue was masculinity. Grant feels like less of a man in the eyes of his son, so he picks a fight with a man much bigger in order to prove himself. A fight, I might add, which ends with a complete loss of manhood. Then we’ve got Arclight, who’s this hyper-masculine figure in the strip club. We’ve got a traditional, male power fantasy up against a man frustrated by his own impotence. And don’t forget about Radia; even though we didn’t see her this issue, this team has a woman who’s sole purpose seems to be “to be the woman on the team.” She’s the sexy one for the fans to lust over, the eye candy. the “booth babe,” if you will. Even though we’ve got this conspiracy-laden, political, police drama on our hands, there’s this undercurrent of what it is to be masculine and how one is supposed to fit into that mold. It creates this beautifully layered story, which perfectly captures the feel of this city in this time period. That’s what I love so much about this title; the whole team has very efficiently captured the mood of Chicago in the ’60s, and is already beginning to tell a complex story with some really compelling characters. I can’t wait to see what the next
episode issue brings.
For a complete list of what we’re reading, head on over to our Pull List page. Whenever possible, buy your comics from your local mom and pop comic bookstore. If you want to rock digital copies, head on over to Comixology and download issues there. There’s no need to pirate, right?