C.O.W.L. is the story of a superhero union in mid-century Chicago. That logline heaps on the atmosphere, from the period setting to the particular climate of organized labor in Chicago, giving writers Kyle Higgins and Alec Siegel a ton of space to explore. With issue 6, they offer a bit of a sideways approach to that world-building, giving us an in-universe comic book with an obvious in-universe political agenda. Parsing that agenda uncovers layers of meaning, telling us a great deal about Geoffrey Warner, even if the story isn’t entirely true. Patrick sat down with Kyle and Alec and went through the issue page by page, so get your copy handy and join us on the Commentary Track.
Retcon Punch: Let’s just start right from the cover: we’ve got a wildly different approach, right from the get-go.
Kyle Higgins: This cover is illustrated by Joe Bennett and it’s inked by Marcelo Mueller and colored by Rod Reis. Joe and Marcelo were originally supposed to do the entire issue when we were putting together the idea for the one-shot. Alec and I love the idea of world-building, and the opportunity to have this comic be something that’s of the world, we realized we were killing a couple birds with one stone, you know? If you look at issue one — and even the first trade — we just drop you into the world. It’s about the death of the first superhero labor union, not the birth of it. We don’t spend a lot of time doing origin stories. Frankly — and I don’t want to speak for Alec — but I’m sorta sick of origin stories. So if we could do this as part of an of-the-world piece — possibly a propaganda piece, and maybe not all of its true — is really appealing.
RP: Oh, it definitely reads like in-world propaganda. But the relationship that it has to an actual comic from the 1960s is also interesting.
Alec Siegel: That was another big thing. We talked about what it’d be like if there were real superheroes, you know, 10 years before the Silver Age had actually begun, that — within this world — must have had an effect on the comics. It’s not replacing what we know of as Silver Age comics, but it certainly makes its mark.
KH: When would the Silver Age technically have started? Like ’55? The common perception is that the Silver Age is tied to the beginning of the classic Marvel, early 60s books – like Fantastic Four in 61 and Spider-Man in 62, etc.
RP: But the reinvention of Flash and Green Lantern happened a few years before that.
KH: Yes, exactly! Back to Joe Bennett a second: when we were putting this together — in our minds — we wanted this thing to have a Jack Kirby feel. If you’re talking 60s, you’re talking Jack Kirby. So it was like “who do we know that has a Kirby style?” We talked about a few different possibilities, a bunch of artists that I’m a fan of: Darwyn Cooke, Mike Bullock, Eric White. But then Rod pointed out “you know, Joe Bennett does a Kirby.” And I said “really?” Because I know Joe really well, obviously, from our Deathstroke run. So I reached out to him and asked if he’d want to do this. Unfortunately, for scheduling reasons, he was only available to do the cover. But as you can see…
RP: It’s a fine looking cover.
KH: It’s a fine looking Jack Kirby cover.
RP: So was that the mandate for the interiors as well?
KH: Here’s the thing with the interiors: this is Elsa Charretier’s first full US comic. She actually came on-board very late in the game. Like I said, Joe wasn’t able to do the interiors, but that came out pretty late in the process, so it became a question of who can produce something of that era, and who’s going to fast and reliable. I’ve known Elsa just over the internet for a couple years now and I’ve been following her progress, and watching her grow as an artist. In the last four or five months, she just took like a huge leap in my opinion. She started to find her own style, but there’s a lot of Kirby influence in her stuff, but there’s also a lot of Bruce Timm.
RP: And you can see that on the page — it feels more Timm-y to me than Kirby-y.
KH: So it was the best of all worlds because she jumped at the opportunity, even under a tight deadline and the style — especially with Rod’s half-tone coloring and the lettering — it feels passable. It feels like it could kinda be of that era.
RP: But it still takes a few modern comics storytelling liberties. Like we start with this big splash page. That wouldn’t be that common for comics of the era.
RP: Yeah, I feel like splashes in general are just more prominent in comics in the last 30 years.
KH: Actually, a lot early 60s stuff — again Fantastic Four and Spider-Man — open with a splash. But they’re done in a different style than you would get now. Typically, now, when you open with a splash, it’s an action shot — which this is — but in the 60s that would have been largely text-driven. There were a lot of caption boxes, and call outs and Stan Lee overwriting notes to the reader and giving nicknames to the writers. The first splash of Amazing Fantasy 15 is Peter walking away with the shadow of Spider-Man on the wall and he looks kinda down-trodden. And all the popular kids at school, that look like they’re from an Archie comic, are hanging out in the foreground, having a good time, while Peter’s ostracized.
KH: That’s the first image of the very first Spider-Man story. I don’t know that you’d see that much storytelling in a modern splash.
RP: Well and this almost serves as an interior cover. You’ve got your phony writing credits [Randall Winters], your phony art credits [Adelaide Mazet] and the like. Are those in-world characters?
AS: They are. Randal is the character we saw in issue two. And in issue five. He’s the one reading the news story back to Geoffrey in issue two.
KH: Right, and Geoffrey’s asking him to augment certain facts, and whitewash certain things. That was actually something that we struggled with for a while: how do we credit the book, and also put all the legal text in… so what do we do? Do we do an interior front cover of the era? Do we play it straight? We weren’t sure, and ultimately we did kind of a combination. The other thing is that we had some amazing people working on this with us — Elsa, Rod, Troy [Peteri], Andy [Schmidt], Rich [Bloom] and Jen [Aprahamian] — we definitely needed to credit them in the book. Whether the issue is of-the-world or not, it would just be really shitty not to credit these people.
RP: And it needs to say C.O.W.L. 6 on the front cover — there’s no way around that.
AS: You can’t say it’s a new number 1.
RP: Nobody would know to pick it up!
KH: Or maybe they will? I don’t know. We talked about this too: do we call it Tales of C.O.W.L. number one? That’s a whole other conversation about shops and retailers and fans…
AS: But I think where the story proper is between issues five and seven, this is a perfect kind of in-between. Like you said, it certainly does read like a propaganda piece, and we know that Geoffrey isn’t really this noble, and we juxtapose that against what’s really happening in the story. So it really should be read between five and seven.
RP: I assume that we’ll see more of this kind of thing going forward? Maybe that’s just wishful thinking on my part.
KH: No, no, no. In a perfect world, we’d love to do one of these one-shots after each arc, kind of as an interstitial.
RP: Like Gerry Duggan and Brian Posehn’s current run on Deadpool. I don’t know if you guys are reading Deadpool, but between story arcs, they do these amazing inventory issues. And they’re from whatever era they want — they had a cosmic Kirby-y issue, they recently did a MEGA-90s issue. It always feeds into the next arc of the story. They’re really neat.
KH: Yeah, I’ll check ‘em out. The scariest thing about a creator-owned book is not being on the stands. You look at something like Saga, where the publishing model dictates that they take a month or two months off between arcs.
RP: It’s like four months off now. The break between 6 and 7 was two months, but all the subsequent breaks have been longer.
KH: Sure — so if you’re selling Saga numbers, you can totally do that. But if you’re launching your first creator-owned book and you’re not named Brian K. Vaughan and Fiona Staples, you can’t do that. Stores will stop ordering your book. At least, that’s what I’m terrified of. And for Rod, this is his first comic as a sequential artist. There’s a learning curve there for him, and he has gotten much faster as we’ve gone through the first arc, but we’re still always cutting it really close on the last couple issues. There needs to be some kind of buffer there. I mean, you can count on two hands the number of artists in comics that can truly do a monthly book. So the schedule needed to let us stay on the stands while also giving Rod a breather, but not feel like we’re bringing in fill-in artists. That’s why we like doing these interstitials, that can also serve as propaganda piece, that can also serve as an origin story. Now that’s three birds with one stone. Eventually, we’d love to have enough of these one-shots that we could collect them as their own trade. We’ll see if we go for that long.
RP: There’s also something cool about broadening the artist tent without bringing in someone — as you say — to be a fill-in. And it’s a way to reach out to a new audience too.
KH: Yeah, it was really cool to see the pages come in from Elsa with the Grey Raven in them. It’s like discovering our own character. Like he’s influenced by other characters in comics, but he’s still ours.
AS: Part of it is sorta hard. Like the dialogue and the thought bubbles and the captions are so antithetical to the way you write now. The characters don’t normally say what they mean and everything is subtle, and this is so on-the-nose.
KH: It took a little while to get into that mindset. But once we did, it was a lot of fun and it was much easier. Like, I was able to let off the gas pedal a little bit. I’m an incredibly OCD writer — I micromanage and nitpick comas, hyphens, ellipsis, silent panels — but this was a lot easier to just let go and be more on-the-nose with things.
RP: There’s also an irony to the sincerity, because you’re able to put the piece forth as a sincere expression of something that might have its own agenda.
KH: The other thing that’s really cool about it… and I haven’t told you [Alec] about this yet, but I was at a coffee shop this week and I saw a six-year old kid with his mom sitting across from me, and he had a Batman umbrella. He was a big Batman fan. So I started talking to them, and the kid was talking about how much he liked superheroes. Then I realized, C.O.W.L. 6 can totally be read by all-ages. So I gave him a copy and he loved it. Hopefully that’s a future reader for us. I mean, I’ve worked in comics for three or four years now, and there are so few things that I’ve done that can claim to be an all-ages read.
AS: We’ve done a couple signings where parents come in with pretty young kids holding issue one or issue two. And you sign it and all, but it’s like “there’s some adult stuff in there!” But this one’s nice because you can just give it to anybody, and they can enjoy it.
KH: Doing this issue gave me a fresh appreciation of ’60s comics. I mean, going back and reading early Spider-Man stuff…
AS: It was fun.
KH: It was — it was fun. I found myself reading that stuff again, but less through a lens of cynicism now. For a long time, I could only look at old comics as artifacts, like a historian would.
RP: “Look how far we’ve come!”
KH: Yeah. Well, and maybe it’s a product of just how shitty the world is right now — or feels, anyway. I know every generation says “this is the worst it’s ever been.” But this is all I know, and all I’ve lived through and it feels pretty shitty. And looking back at those early issues, they’re not focused on that, they’re just fun. There’s a real sense of escapism.
RP: There’s definitely a sense of optimism that comes through in this issue. Moving on the actual content of the issue. I love that where were start: in 1917. So it’s a comic published in 2014, pretending to be published in 1960-whatever, showing us 1917.
KH: We had debates about that.
AS: And it stops in like the mid-30s, but it was meant to go through a longer stretch of time, trying to hit every decade own the line.
RP: That’s an interesting kind of story that you end up seeing in one-shot issues a lot these days, where it’s like: this is this character’s whole life. We saw a lot of those during DC’s villain month. This issue does that, but it manages to have a thematic unity to it that you don’t normally see.
KH: And we designed this issue with that in mind. The theme is something that we are very conscious of. First of all, one-shots are very hard to write, and most times, there’s another publishing objective behind putting them out. So the needs for those issues — like in Villains Month — are different from something like C.O.W.L. — C.O.W.L.’s ours. We can write a thematically focused one-shot and put it out.
AS: That’s a fun part of the world-building. Most of the story takes place in the ’60s, but then you can refer back to when he was going to be a cop, or a boxer or a private detective. Then he fought in World War War II, then C.O.W.L. started. There’s all this backstory that we’ve alluded to in these tiny ways. And that just gets your imagination going about all the adventures that could have been going on during that time.
KH: We want to do a World War II mini-series so bad. So, so bad. And not as a ’60s comic, we wanna do it straight. And Rod wants to do it too. God… It’d be so much fun. Hopefully the sales support us long enough that we could go and do something like that.
AS: Yeah. Is it a little early to be a flapper? The war’s not even over.
RP: Oh, the timeline sorta works out, but: that’s what she’s wearing to make breakfast?
KH: I didn’t even catch that, honestly. We were pretty under the gun with these. Andy Schmidt, who edited this issue, worked with Elsa on different layout notes and things like that. I was actually out of the country when these drawings were coming in.
RP: I don’t think it’s actually a criticism of the piece though. “She wouldn’t look like that!” Who cares? From my perspective, it’s like “this is what you think of when you think of a woman from the twenties.” Bam, there she is: there’s your archetypical mother.
KH: Well, even the breakfast she’s serving is quintessentianlly American.
RP: It’s part of a balanced breakfast!
AS: We should have slapped a General Mills logo in the corner.
KH: Our script for this was written Marvel style, wanting to be as true to that era as we could. So it’s not like we told Elsa to draw a quintessentially American breakfast, but we did say that the first scene was supposed to be as wholesome and all-American as you can get. This is Geoffrey with a shine of innocence. And she found a way to visual depict that, through a perfect breakfast…
RP: …or tussling a head of blonde hair.
RP: You’ve got them all! Then we move quickly into the first page of phony ads.
KH: Those are all Jen. She, Alec and I had been talking about them in a “wouldn’t be it cool” kind of way, but the undertaking was going to be a lot. Then Jen really stepped up, and asked to build them from scratch. And it’s good because, I’ve been on her more and more about doing it every day and putting her stuff out there for the world to see. I was so excited that she was up for doing it. We were out of the country — in Australia — we got to become very good friends with John Layman, because we were there for two weeks together. I had never really read Chew before, but then hanging out with John at the show I saw how funny he is and how smart he is. When people would bring issues of Chew for him to sign, he’d be like “Oh, Kyle, check this out” and he’d show me some cool, clever thing they did in the issue. I’m still laughing about Robert Kirkman’s head on the bodies of hunky firemen. Do you know about this?
RP: I don’t.
KH: There’s a character in Chew who’s a teenage girl, and Rob Gilroy draws these posters in the background of her bedroom. So John finds a picture of Kirkman — you know, doing that half-lip smile — and photoshops his face on to these hunky firemen. And it’s just in the background. I say all this because, Jen had mentioned to John that she wanted to do one of these ads for Poyo, as kind of a meta ad for Chew. John was all for it, so it’s the first one, next to ads for books from friends of mine — Scott Snyder and Jock [Wytches] and Josh Williamson [Nailbiter].
RP: It’s interesting that Poyo in a reference to in-world Chew stuff, but Wytches and Nailbiter are real. It’s another level of disconnect from the reality of C.O.W.L.
KH: Well, if you look at the inside cover to issue 1, it says Geoffrey Warner licensed his life story and likeness to Image Comics. So we’re basically saying Image has been around for 30 years before it started. Even the Image logo on the front cover is a different version.
KH: The funny thing about that is that logo was designed by Drew Gill and I saw it on a t-shirt or something at New York Comic Con, and I thought “oh, my god, that’s so cool — we have to use that when we do C.O.W.L. I remember asking [Image Comics Publisher] Eric Stephenson about it and he said no, we weren’t allowed to alter the logo in any way. But it was like… they already made it, right? And then at Image Expo last year, we’re going on stage and announcing everything, and that’s the logo they’re using! And I’m feeling really good — people are excited about the book, and Eric’s given me this great opportunity — so I don’t want to be an asshole and be like “Hey, so this logo… the heck!?” right? But there was a moment when we were talking and I pointed out that they were using it all over the show. “We still can’t use that?” “Oh, this? Oh yeah, you can totally use that.” He thought we wanted to build an Image logo from scratch. This is all when we’re launching the book, and Eric didn’t want us to use the logo unless the cover was also going to appear to be of that era.
RP: Do you know why that logo exists in the first place?
KH: The way Eric explained it to me, he made a joke in a meeting about having a vintage-looking version of the logo, I think he even made a reference to a specific band [Ed. I think he’s referring to the Ramones] — as if they were doing the image logo. Then one day Drew shows up to a meeting with this circular Image logo. So we had wanted to use it for issue #1, but as Trevor [McCarthy] started working on these Saul Bass-inspired covers, the question became whether we wanted to make the covers seem like they were published in the early ’60s? Because that’s how it would look with the logo. Or is this a book about an era, but not of the era? That’s more what we wanted.
RP: I remember you describing the book to me as Mad Men with superheroes, and Mad Men doesn’t look like it’s a product of the ’60s. And it doesn’t have that perspective either, which is true of C.O.W.L. Jumping forward to some father-worship kind of stuff. You establish pretty early that dad’s his hero, hitting that strong and then moving on: skipping ahead a decade. Any comments about the pacing of the story?
KH: It comes out of us trying to cover a lot of ground in not a lot of time. That’s the cool thing about a lot of stories from that time period — they’ll do like three scenes on one page. It just moves from panel to panel, and use voice over, third-person voice over or thought bubbles to transition you, and you think nothing of it. You can pack a ton of story into not a lot of space.
RP: You also have these little inserts of photographs or, later, a newspaper, that kind of overlays the main panels. Is that something you were asking for?
AS: That was totally Elsa’s idea. I don’t even think the photograph was something we noted in the script. We see the photographer taking the photo and she just said “it’d be cool to see it.” I think the same was true of the newspaper — that was all her.
RP: Yeah, it adds one more layer of physicality. You’re holding a thing that is made up of multiple things.
KH: Yeah, totally.
RP: I have a coloring question on the next page: Rod is so strict with the dotting coloring and then this is the first instance where we see solid matte colors.
KH: There is dot pattern elsewhere on the page, but it’s not on the foreground image in panels three and four of Geoffrey. The reason why is because half tone pattern is not created when you’re only using one color of the four. I don’t actually know if this is the case with old printing or if this is just how Photoshop emulates it, but basically that color of Geoffrey is 100% cyan, so there’s no magenta, there’s no yellow, and there’s no black. There’s nothing to create this off-set half-tone pattern.
RP: It’s interesting that that would coincide with these pools of 100% yellow as well in the same panels. I could be wrong about this, but I think the only other time we see that is with the red on James’ mask.
KH: Yeah, actually, Brian Buccellato built this color palette for us. Brian used to color comics — he still colors the stuff that he and Francis [Manapul] do [Detective Comics], but other than that, he’s really focused on writing. He came up coloring before computer coloring, so he was able to build this palette that was based on percentages of the four colors that would have been available in 1962. So that’s what Rod colored from. We overlaid this kind of sepia tone layer over everything, so that effects the colors too, but the underyling palette is all Brian’s. If you took the sepia off, it’d look like a Marvel Masterworks reprint.
RP: Here’s an example of me being wrong — there’s more of that yellow on the very next page. So you establish right away that his dad’s crooked, but in a mild kind of way — even an understandable way. When I read the end of issue 5, I spend some time wrestling with my own opinions of how reasonable he’s being. Is he a downright villain in aligning with the bad guys by having them put their muscle out on the street in costumes or is that not so bad? It’s neat to see that tracking here — here is his dad being more reasonably corrupt.
AS: Well again, it’s a question of how much of this is true? We wanted to get across this idea of what inspired him to become the Grey Raven, but to only go so far, and that his father was only so bad.
KH: The other thing that we wanted to map on to it as writers — via the proxy of Randall Winters, I guess — is that each person who tells him “this is the way things are” tries to justify and rationalize “for the greater good.” That’s why they’re cutting corners. Geoffrey’s dad is saying “look, I can be a great cop if I look the other way on a couple things for Liam Stone, and the money that Stone gives me allows me to continue to be a good police officer, because the city doesn’t pay enough.” So, it’s justified, but it’s a slippery slope. As we saw Geoffrey in issue 5 — and as we’ll see in the second arc — he’s battling with that same justification and that same slippery slope. We’re very conscious of the decision, especially as this is the story of how Geoffrey became what he is now.
RP: I like this next page an awful lot — these four panels have a nice symmetry to them, and tells this story very quickly. I mean, we’re two pages and then we’re out.
KH: Yeah, we definitely wanted to establish some of his physical abilities and gifts so the jump to becoming a superhero a little less jarring. And I’m not saying it’s not jarring, but it’s jarring in old comics too. We wanted it to seem at least a little bit plausible.
AS: It’s also another opportunity for us to show that he’s so noble. It’s basically a victimless crime — the same way his father was being paid off. In both cases, it’s just gambling. You could argue that it doesn’t really hurt anybody. But he’s just so incorruptible; at the first sight of any underhandedness, he just walks away.
RP: Like we were saying, it’s so on-the-nose that it does seem like a moral fantasy.
AS: Right, he doesn’t even consider working within a corrupt system to change things. Just done.
RP: The next ads are also really cool. I like the choice of Velvet because it trades in the same kind of subtlety that C.O.W.L. is used to using. Did you have anything to ad about this set of ads?
KH: Yeah — I wanted to do Velvet because of the era it takes place in. I asked Ed [Brubaker] if he’d be cool with it and he totally was. And Jen wanted to do Bitch Planet for the same reason. Then the pairing also makes sense — strong female heroes.
RP: Moving into Geoffrey’s P.I. phase. Elsa gets to be a little bit looser with the camera, embrace some noir aesthetic. Again, it’s very quick storytelling. You’ve got him visited by three clients. This is also where the story we’re going to be sitting with the longest begins in earnest.
RP: What’s that?
KH: Oh, I’m just thinking about the cases he’s investigating and how we totally dropped that thread.
AS: Yeah. It just stops. When the cops say “yeah, we’re not looking into that” Geoffrey just grumbles and is like “okay.”
RP: Sure, but it’s tricky to imply a whole career as a private detective. Just throwing in three separate panels with three separate clients does manage to communicate that.
AS: Yeah, and we’re trying to synthesize all of his experiences — he went to the police academy, he had his boxing — now he’s investigating. It’s pulling in all the separate elements that will eventually make him the Grey Raven, they’re just starting to gel here.
RP: Then we shift perspective, for the first time, away from Geoffrey’s experience to get this bank heist and The Robber — and we’ll get to the design on that guy, because it’s amazing. I see this change in perspective as something of a call to action — it’s no longer Geoffrey muddling his way from one job to the next. It’s almost like a new cold open to a different issue.
AS: We wanted the way this supervillain crime starts to come out of normal crime, but with a villain putting on a mask and creating a persona. There are no heroes in the bank. It’s just a way to scare the public — or even law enforcement — from interfering.
RP: You’re taking the masked-villains-came-first approach, and the masked heroes arise to combat that. That’s sort of an anti-Batman philosophy — escalation going the other direction. And what a design on this persona!
AS: I love that in an issue that spans so much time — what era are we reading this in? what era was it published in? — this guy looks Victorian. He’s got the big top hat and he’s wearing the long coat…
RP: …but then he’s carrying a tommy gun!
AS: Right, and the tommy gun. So he’s just like a guy out of time.
RP: And then there’s the ad for The C.O.W.L. Sessions, which was super fun and cool to discover that this is a real thing that I can go listen to right now.
KH: The funny thing about that ad is that it came very late in the game. As we were putting together the issue, we had the epiphany that this thing should be in the issue. Why would we not advertise The C.O.W.L. Sessions? Even the album itself came together fairly late. It came out the end of October, and it was really an afterthought that we could insert it into issue 6. I’m really glad we were able to do it.
We tried to place the ads in such a way that they punctuate the story, rather than interrupting it. I hate it when I’m reading a modern comic and a reveal or a dramatic page turn is destroyed by ad placement. And, you know, editors try to be good about preserving those moments, but sometimes, there’s nothing they can do about it. But we had all the control, so we just put the ads after story points, and eras of Geoffrey’s story, rather than putting it in the middle of the action.
RP: Yeah — that comes up on the site from time to time. Some of us are reading floppies and some are reading digital, and there’s no guarantee that we’ll all having the same experience. But it’s cool that you do get to dictate that here. And that the ads all appear in the digital version as well. Moving on, we’ve got that newspaper that we were talking about earlier.
KH: Yeah, that’s Alec’s eleventh hour article. When we got the art back, we realized that Elsa had allotted for a lot more of the paper to appear on the page than we originally thought. In the script, we just said “close-up on headline” but she drew the entire paper. So it became a question of what do we put there? So Troy filled it with lorem ipsom.
RP: That garbage text?
KH: Yeah, that garbage text. And it didn’t look good. Plus, I hate that. I hate seeing that in comics I’m reading.
RP: Yes. I think it’s great that there’s an actual article here. It’s so distracting to see that nonsense text on the page.
KH: Right, so Alec wrote that the night before we sent the whole thing in to image.
RP: Do you have any journalism experience?
AS: No, no. I think we just found articles about the St. Valentine’s Day Massacre and tried to emulate the way they wrote about that. I was just trying to find reference for little flourishes or just how they described stuff. Then it’s not bad — just fill the page. There’s more — I wrote a longer version that just didn’t fit on the page.
RP: Maybe someday you’ll release this whole issue of the paper.
AS: We’ll throw it in with the newspaper we had for the short film [The League]. A friend of ours from back home wrote that and we credited her in the film. So yeah, we’ll have to do a big collection of all the in-world media that’s been produced for all this stuff.
KH: Oh man, that’d be so cool.
RP: You’ve already got a lot. Between this issue and The C.O.W.L. Sessions — which better come out on vinyl, by the way.
KH: We’re working on it, actually. That’s a conversation we’re having with Bear [McCreary] and Joel Augustine, who runs the record label [Sparks & Shadows] for Bear. We all wanna do it — it’s just a cost issue. We all want to see how the digital release does before we plunge into that. But, trust me: we all want that. Rod painted that cover at full size in anticipation of a vinyl release. I’ll point out here, on the opposite page, my favorite panel in the issue: that first shot of the Grey Raven.
KH: I mean, he totally piecemeals together this costume, right? I think originally in the script, we had written that The Robber hunted down the detective at home and killed him in his own home, which was why Geoffrey decided to protect his identity. But there just wasn’t room. So, Elsa drew it where the cop gets murdered at the shoot-out. We made it work still.
RP: Well and that’s a little bit of a foregone conclusion for a superhero right? “And he needs to hide his identity.”
KH: And we’ll get to this as we get to the end here, but it’s the worst secret identity-keeping outfit: a hat that would probably fly off in the wind and goggles. That’s why his dad recognizes him immediately. In our mind, we’ve always described it as — in his early years, he always wore the goggles down, to keep his identity secret. But at this point, he only thinks he’s dealing with The Robber — he doesn’t think he’s going to keep going as a superhero. We don’t think his identity stayed secret all that long. This is back in the 30s, so you know, there’s no internet and the spread of information is slower. But there were probably reporters and people who worked for the city that figured it out pretty early on. But beyond that, maybe he was able to keep it quiet for a little while.
AS: Certainly before he served in World War II. I don’t know if we put it in his dossier in issue 1, but we always talked about how it’s his fame that he parlays into being allowed to head the Brigand’s Brigade.
KH: And if you look at the images of him as the Grey Raven in flashbacks in prior issues, which would be around the time that he starts the organization, the goggles are up on top of the hat. He’s not protecting a secret identity anymore.
RP: Right, it’s just his brand. So then this is the most genuinely phony ad — unless you’re planning to sell some cool toys.
KH: You know what? I would love to. I’ll be talking to a place in the new year about doing some replicas and stuff like that. We’re possibly working on a deal and I’m going to ask about some of these items. I think it’d be very cool. This was something that came out of brainstorming with Jen, and asking what other kinds of ads we could do. I wanted to do something for toys — and because it’s a propaganda piece — for C.O.W.L. toys. But then I thought, if we really want to be of-the-world shitty…
RP: …then it has to be sexist as hell!
KH: …we’d have to do Grey Raven’s gun, Blaze’s gauntlet, and a hairbrush and make-up kit for Radia. It may have been Jen’s idea to do the hairbrush and make-up kit, but you know, it could have been a curling iron or something equally horrible.
RP: Well, it’s delightfully shitty.
KH: You know, I didn’t realize this until just now. I had said that this issue can be read by all-ages…
AS: Yeah, that’s probably not exactly the best…
KH: That’s the shittiest thing we could be telling a kid. Hopefully an adult reading this can tell that it’s a joke. We’re very aware of the stuff we’re writing with Radia — we don’t think that way about her. I think she’s my favorite character.
RP: And she seems like the most capable of the heroes.
KH: Totally. But if a six year old girl reads this…
AS: Right, we’re not trying to reinforce shitty gender stereotypes.
RP: On the flip side, the issue is free of the normal crass commercialism that would be selling much worse things to kids.
AS: You can’t imagine an ad for toys now that would feature a gun that looks like this. That doesn’t even look like a toy, it’s looks like a gun. “Here’s your Colt 45.” Moving on, doing it in this sixties style means that we can use one caption box to say “he’s been doing this for weeks and he’s found the villain!’
KH: “After a great new lead!”
RP: Whatever that new lead was… but then launching into the closing action sequence, we get that bright red bandana, which we know has to come off and devastate Geoffrey. How obvious did you want to make the driver’s identity? Or did that even matter at this point in the story?
KH: I don’t think you’re supposed to know, but then again, what does it matter? I will say though, there’s a happy accident on the panel where the bandana does come off. You’ll notice the shot of Geoffrey — it’s the only shot in the issue where you can see The Grey Raven’s eyes through his goggle lenses. It reminded me of the only moment in Amazing Fantasy 15 where you can see Peter’s eyes through the Spider-Man mask in the reveal of “oh, no, that face… it can’t be.” It’s when he recognizes the guy that killed Uncle Ben. I haven’t asked Elsa if she did that intentionally, but we leaned into it hard. If you look at the line that we wrote — it’s very similar. So, you know, we’re talking about this issue as though it’s of the world, and in ’62 Randall Winters would have been aware of other comics.
RP: So you’re saying — definitively — that Spider-Man comics exist within the world of C.O.W.L.?
RP: One of the other interesting things about the goggles is that one of the lenses get smashed in his fight with the Robber.
KH: We didn’t ask for that, but I do love that effect. If you look at my Nightwing run, I do that all the time — the lenses in his mask shatter. I love that.
AS: She asked us what she could do to make it look like he’d be thrown from a moving vehicle and we went with that.
RP: You don’t bloody anyone up in this issue, so this is a nice way to show damage without being crass about it. But, as you pointed out, we can see the eyes through the goggles in a moment of discovery, but then it’s immediately followed by that vision being ruined. There’s something less sterling about his whole adventure now.
KH: We built to the end in kind of a big way, by having Geoffrey making a standing and saying this is the way the world is, but it doesn’t have to be. And that’s an earnest as you can get. I will also say to readers of the series: pay close attention to issue 7 and watch as someone scoffs at how earnest issue 6 was.