Today, Spencer and Drew are discussing C.O.W.L. 7, originally released December 24th, 2014.
Spencer: Crime is a constant, which is why we need forces in place to combat it on a full-time basis. Superheroes are trickier, though — they need a continuous supply of larger-than-life, world-threatening opponents to battle, or else there’s no point in them even existing. With the last of the Chicago Six captured that’s exactly the situation Geoffrey Warner finds himself facing, leading to his drastic decision to enlist superpowered mobsters so that C.O.W.L. has somebody to fight. Is this only a short-term stop-gap? Has C.O.W.L. truly outlived its usefulness? Only time will tell, but chances are, Geoffrey’s actions aren’t doing it any favors.
Kyle Higgins, Alec Siegel and Rod Reis’ C.O.W.L. 7 tackles Geoffrey’s decision head-on, opening with one of Camden Stone’s superpowered goons robbing a gas station with his sound manipulation powers. Reis finds a particularly clever way to bring the ability to life, visualizing sound manipulation as the literal manipulation and weaponizing of sound effects.
It’s one of the most inventive scenes of the series, and it’s proof of how much a great artist (such as Reis) can elevate even a simple scene like this basic robbery. Anyway, the robbery goes off without a hitch, except for the fact that the thug forgets to put on his “supervillain” mask, leading to a tense meeting between Geoffrey and Stone where they discuss the need for the goons to cultivate “supervillain personas” like the Chicago Six once had. The conversation turns even more tense as the two clash over how long, exactly, their deal is supposed to last.
Geoffrey hopes that his deal with Stone will be short — that soon some new threat will rise up for C.O.W.L. to fight — but Stone doesn’t buy it; he thinks this will be an indefinite contract because he, much like the mayor, doesn’t believe that C.O.W.L. has much of a purpose anymore.
He may have a point. Since C.O.W.L. began we’ve actually seen very little of the organization fighting crime, and most of their major conflicts seem to arise from either within the organization or from their interactions with Chicago’s government. The actual threats seem to be drying up, and as I brought out at the outset of this article, without threats to fight, superheroes have little reason to exist.
As readers, though, I think we often take that fact for granted. From the constant opponents of Dragon Ball Z, each exponentially more powerful than the last, to the cataclysms that pop up in Gotham City on a nearly daily basis, there’s never a lack of bad guys for our action heroes to battle. Not so in C.O.W.L.‘s Chicago; call me cynical, but with the question of C.O.W.L.’s relevance being thrown around so often I’m starting to suspect that Higgins and Siegel may be actively rooting against their titular organization, or at least trying to get us to. In any other title I’d suggest that C.O.W.L. should try to evolve, change their purpose a bit to stay relevant, but between the stubborn Geoffrey and the fact that they have to cooperate with the whims of local government, I don’t know if that’s an option in this situation.
C.O.W.L. has more problems to face, though, particularly Arclight’s murder of John Pierce. Despite being motivated at least in part by wanting to protect Geoffrey and follow his advice, this doesn’t sit too well with him. Considering what Geoffrey has done himself, his moral outrage at Tom is more than a little hypocritical, but it’s interesting to consider whether Geoffrey is more upset by the actual death or by how that death will reflect on C.O.W.L.; if nothing else, he’s certainly throwing Tom under the bus. No matter how you look at it, though, he doesn’t take too kindly to Tom’s actions.
Again, this is another bravura sequence from Reis; the choreography and sense of movement is impeccable, but I’m most impressed by how intimidating Geoffrey comes across here. He’s getting older, he has no powers, but he handles Arclight with minimal hassle anyway. The fact that he can so effortlessly take down a super makes him all the more imposing, but also shows the audience why he is someone not to be crossed. If anyone in C.O.W.L. has any objection to Geoffrey’s actions, they’d better tread lightly.
Speaking of the rest of C.O.W.L., they’re all out in full force: Blaze wrestles John’s case away from the Chicago police while Grant Marlow is finally released from the hospital. Besides Eclipse and Radia, who are getting along better than ever, Marlow is one of the only bits of optimism in this issue; together, these four may just represent a brighter future for C.O.W.L. if it manages to survive its current troubles.
As the first issue of a new arc, C.O.W.L. 7 spends a lot of time reintroducing characters and setting up themes for upcoming issues to explore, and while that means that not every idea or character gets their full due, all the set-up is essential, especially since — as Higgins points out in the letter column — this issue may be the first for any readers who picked up the trade of the first arc or last month’s stand-alone story.
Still, the juciest hook comes on the last page when we discover that our dear, departed John Pierce was once one of the Chicago Six! As wowed as I am by this reveal, it seems too early to speculate on it, but I’ll ask anyway: Drew, any theories there? Do you think C.O.W.L. is past its prime, or will it find a way to stay relevant and survive? Do you think Geoffrey’s wife wears those pearls 24/7?
Drew: You know, if this were a lesser series, I might consider those pearls a hint that Geoffrey has been corrupt longer than this most recent contract negotiation, but I truly believe that Geoffrey wouldn’t go for run-of-the-mill embezzlement or bribes. We may not be able to trust everything in last month’s issue, but I think we know enough about Geoffrey to peg him as an ideologue now turning to crime only as a means to stay alive. Heck, that scene between him and Stone makes it crystal clear that he’s itching to be out of this deal as soon as possible. No, I think the pearls represent nothing other that Geoffrey’s picturesque life, with a patient, manicured wife, always ready for a photo op.
As for theories about John being one of the Chicago Six, I’m actually not sure this was quite a secret. Looking back at his personnel file from issue 5‘s backmatter, I’m struck by the line “But when the OSS was splintered into pieces and became the Central Intelligence Agency, Pierce was sent to Chicago to infiltrate [redacted]…”, which seems like a strong indication that he was simply undercover. Then again, Detective Thompson suggests that John’s involvement with the Chicago Six was a secret even from C.O.W.L., and I have a hard time believing that C.O.W.L. would have a personnel file that even they couldn’t read, so maybe that’s referring to something else.
In any case, it’s hard for me to swallow that John was ever a truly bad guy — right from the first issue, he seemed doggedly devoted to doing what is right. Of course, this new information puts an interesting spin on John’s detective work in that first issue — he wrote off his uncanny knowledge of Skylancer’s safehouse as a “hunch”, but maybe he had inside information? That theory gets a little thin when you game it out — wouldn’t he have then known about the link to C.O.W.L. weapons? — but it’s certainly interesting to note that all of the business with Skylancer in the first issue, from C.O.W.L. interrupting his meetup with Alderman Lowe to the discovery of his safehouse, was driven by John.
Whatever John’s story, I’m excited to hear more about it, both because I’m still intrigued by him as a character AND because we’ll get to spend more time with Detective Thompson, who very quickly became one of my favorite characters. Higgins and Siegel don’t give us a ton of time with her, but Reis draws her exactly like Hellen Mirren out of Prime Suspect, which goes a long way towards endearing her to me.
You can bet I want to hear what else she has to say.
As for the future of C.O.W.L., I’m honestly not sure how this is going to shake out for Geoffrey. That this decision to enlist criminals seems sure to bite him in the ass, but I trust this creative team to make it a bit more complicated than just having him make this one bad deal. I mean, they’ve got so many interesting plates spinning, this story was never really just about Geoffrey, anyway. That scope keeps getting bigger, and is one of the big reasons why I love this series so much. We may not know the shape of the narrative just yet, but we’ve got a bird’s eye view of the thing when it finally snaps into focus.
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?