Today, Spencer and Drew are discussing C.O.W.L. 11, originally released July 22nd, 2015.
Spencer: One of my favorite expressions is “would I do it all again?” Usually it’s only uttered after a long string of consequences (“So I ended up breaking both legs…but would I do it all again?”), and it’s never an actual question — if you’re asking “would I do it all again,” you’re basically admitting that yes, you would. No matter what consequences you faced, it was worth it. This phrase has an opposite as well — “Was it worth it?” Just like “would I do it all again,” “was it worth it” is rarely a question — it’s almost always an admission that no, whatever you did was not worth the consequences. It’s a phrase uttered by Geoffrey Warner in the final moments of Kyle Higgins, Alec Siegel, and Rod Reis’ C.O.W.L., leaving the readers with the impression that even Warner knows that the actions he took to keep C.O.W.L. in business aren’t justified. No matter what C.O.W.L. goes on to accomplish in the future, Warner’s actions will forever be hanging over the organization like a dark cloud.
What makes this particularly ironic is that, in the end, Warner got everything he wanted. After the death of several policemen at the hands of a new super-criminal, the Mayor finally approves C.O.W.L.’s new contract. The public never finds out that Warner enlisted Camden Stone to create new super-criminals for C.O.W.L. to fight. Even the fact that the supers who killed those policemen likely weren’t Stone’s proves that there’s still a need for C.O.W.L., which Warner’s been preaching since the series’ beginning.
That last fact may be the key to unlocking this entire issue. If Warner hadn’t turned to Stone, it’s likely that he could have still gotten the new contract based on the cop-killers alone — deciding that he needed to create his own super-criminals was, in a way, betraying the entire foundation of C.O.W.L. as an organization. If Warner wasn’t acting to uphold the values of C.O.W.L, then what was he doing?
Arclight’s got the right idea here. Later in the issue, when giving a speech to Chicago, Warner opens by mentioning how he, Sparrow, and Blaze founded C.O.W.L; earlier in the series, Warner admits that he’s turning to Stone because he’s afraid that C.O.W.L. shutting down would reflect badly on himself. Warner isn’t all that invested in using C.O.W.L. to protect Chicago anymore — C.O.W.L. matters to him because it’s an extension of himself, a way to further the great reputation he began as the Grey Raven. Unfortunately, it isn’t until much later that Warner realizes that himself.
I love the fifth and sixth panels here, where Warner just lingers on his Grey Raven uniform. Arclight’s words are clearly still ringing in his head. Warner knows he’s lying to Blaze — none of what he’s done since C.O.W.L. 1 has been to serve and protect, it’s been to keep the Grey Raven’s good name intact. Blaze himself has done some rather unethical things — from firing Grant Marlow just to motivate Eclipse to being a complicit partner in Warner and Stone’s scheme — but at least he can truly claim that he was doing it with some sort of greater good in mind. Warner can make no such claim, and this final page here is where we see the weight of that decision fully hit him (even if he may possibly be trying to convince himself otherwise with that final line of dialogue). Has everything he’s done been worth it? Only Warner can say for sure, but the fact that he has to ask at all means it isn’t likely.
Higgins and Siegel don’t shy away from showing the consequences of Warner’s actions either. Maybe there was no cataclysmic reveal of Warner and Stone’s alliance — or even of Arclight’s motive for murdering John Pierce — but C.O.W.L. still faces blows. Not only has the organization’s head betrayed everything it’s always stood for, but it’s lost four key members in the form of Radia, Eclipse, Arclight, and Grant Marlow. It is literally no longer the same organization it once was, and the grim tone of those final few pages implies that they’re not changes for the better. Considering that Warner helped create super-criminals and eventually murdered Stone in cold blood, he clearly deserves a harsher punishment, but there’s something almost poetic about seeing Warner get exactly what he wanted but realize that it wasn’t worth it. Geoffrey Warner will be haunted by his actions for the rest of his days, and for now, that will have to be punishment enough.
I have to admit, when I saw that C.O.W.L. was coming to an end with issue 11, not only was I disappointed, but I was a bit nervous that it wouldn’t be enough space for Higgins and Siegel to bring the series to a graceful close. I should have had more faith in this creative team — C.O.W.L. 11 resolves almost all of the series’ ongoing plot threads in a satisfying manner, but still finds room for the kind of character development and art that have made this series so great from the start. Reis doesn’t have quite as many chances to get creative with his art as usual, but when he does the result is stunning. Early in the issue, Warner and Blaze are walking through the office talking, so caught up in their own little world that the rest of the room fades into black and white — but what’s even more striking is how that effect is reversed when Warner finds the Mayor in his office.
The Mayor is sitting at Warner’s desk — he’s literally a foreign element that doesn’t belong in this office, and his being rendered in black and white illustrates that perfectly. I don’t know of any artist other than Reis putting out this kind of work, and I’m certainly going to miss seeing his take on 1960’s Chicago every month.
Drew, were you as satisfied with this ending as I was? Either way, there’s still a lot of elements of this issue I’ve barely touched upon — such as the fates of Radia, Eclipse, Arclight, and Grant Marlow, Warner’s murder of Stone, and the reappearance of Sparrow, among others — that I’d love to hear your take on.
Drew: There’s a ton to talk about, but first, I want to dig into some of the points you raised. I’m particularly interested in that final page exchange between Warner and Blaze, and how Arclight’s words weigh on Warner’s mind throughout that scene. Your reading is compelling, but I had a slightly different take.
The biggest difference for me is that I don’t think Arclight is right about Warner’s motivations. I can’t deny that there’s a lot of ego in what Warner does and doesn’t do, but to suggest that he’s unwilling to “do the dirty work” betrays some of Arclight’s own ego. Or maybe just ignorance. There’s no work more dirty in this issue than killing Camden Stone in cold blood, but Warner does that himself. Maybe its because he simply wants to bury his partnership with Stone without telling anyone else, but the end of the issue makes it clear that Blaze knows exactly what happened. So, why take the risk of doing it himself if he’s concerned about the Grey Raven’s image being tarnished. Why not send another loyal patsy (or even Blaze) to do the dirty work?
There are a lot of viable reasons, and they honestly might all contribute. Part of it might be a reaction to Arclight’s assertion that Warner refuses to get his own hands dirty. I think the biggest piece, though, is that Warner wanted to do this himself. He never liked that he had to come to Stone, and their agreement got worse every time they interacted. It’s reasonable to think that he would personally relish dishing out cold justice to Stone, even if that “justice” doesn’t align with the ideals of C.O.W.L. I mean, whether Warner was protecting himself or C.O.W.L. is immaterial — if Stone had ever told anyone, both would be utterly destroyed.
Which brings us back to Warner’s thoughts in those final moments of the issue. Again, I like your reading, Spencer, but I think that pregnant pause has less to do with Warner confronting the horrors of what he’s done, and more about reconciling the ideals he was trying to protect and the means he used to protect them. The Grey Raven uniform, as a hermetically sealed symbol of a bygone, simpler era, represents those ideals, while the grim reality is that C.O.W.L. now exists outside of the law in order to perpetuate its own mission. That is, it needs to violate what it stands for in order to exist. In that way, the difference between Warner and Blaze in that scene isn’t that Warner stopped acting in the best interests of C.O.W.L., but that Warner sees how hypocritical that logic is.
I mean, is Blaze really any more innocent? I get that it was Warner who reached out to Stone in the first place, it was Warner that kinda sorta asked Arclight to kill John, and that it was Warner who ultimately killed Stone, but Blaze is the one ultimately rationalizing those acts as necessary evil. In Blaze’s mind, the plan worked, and something like it can be used again in the future. Warner isn’t so sure, and fears he may have sacrificed his own morals in order to save C.O.W.L. That’s where Arclight’s words cut the deepest — “what the fuck is ‘the Grey Raven’ even worth?” is basically “what the fuck are YOU even worth?” That is, what do you stand for, you big hypocrite? Warner doesn’t know anymore, but Blaze doesn’t seem to worry that any lines were crossed. This was all worth it to him, which sets him up to be the next Geoffrey Warner.
I, too, was pleased with the way this creative team managed to wrap everything up here. The issue winds down with a The Wire-esque montage sequence that catches us up briefly with what all of our characters are up to now. It’s a clever way of demonstrating that the story will continue long after we stop reading, with some of our characters in new places, some in the old ones, and others stepping in to make sure the cycle keeps on turning. It’s a beautiful ending to a beautiful series, I just hope we get more of it somewhere down the line.
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” It’s a beautiful ending to a beautiful series, I just hope we get more of it somewhere down the line.” – As this was a comic that I really liked, stopped for an issue or two, then picked back up last week to get caught up on it, I feel like I should add at least something here considering that it ended and I didn’t even know it was ending.
We almost always know when a story is over. I was caught completely unawares by this. Rats! This is another comic (and I hate saying this) that I think will work really, really well as a trade. I didn’t think this way when I started collecting way back when, and I didn’t think this way when I restarted collecting a few years ago. I do wonder if future trade potential (two paperbacks and a deluxe hardcover with all the covers and some design pages for only $35!) is a stylistic intent these days. I’m not meaning explicitly here, but I’m aware now of how some of these comics that I’m used to seeing as monthly stories are structurally more sound as blocks of story.
My last post was about being better as a trade, also, but for a different reason (scheduling difficulties by the creators). This coincides with me reading The Walking Dead 1-72 via trade paperback (and a couple hardcovers) from the library and looking at reading Hellblazer the same way. TWD is obviously set up into six issue arcs for trades. So is Saga.
It just makes me wonder.