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. Continue reading
Today, Drew and Spencer are discussing C.O.W.L. 9, originally released March 18th, 2015.
Drew: I once saw a Q&A session with The Wire creator Dan Simon where he had to defend a moment that one audience member saw as a crack in the realism of the show. I don’t remember Simon’s exact words, but his answer boiled down to the fact that the show isn’t real — sometimes, the creators would knowingly break from absolute fidelity in order to elicit the appropriate emotional response from us. Everything we saw on that show, just like any number of less realistic narratives, was there for our benefit, not because it’s 100% true to life. What’s funny to me is that the fan’s complaint wasn’t with the credulity-straining Hamsterdam or serial killer plotlines, but with the body language of an uncredited, unnamed character. I suspect the reason those bigger pieces of fiction get a pass is because we want them to happen. The Wire does such a good job of detailing how the system is broken, we can’t help but cheer when a character attempts to buck it. It’s cathartic, so we overlook that it’s also kind of batshit. I found myself thinking the same thing about Radia’s catharsis in C.O.W.L. 9, which is so necessary, it really doesn’t matter how unlikely it is. Continue reading
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. Continue reading
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? Continue reading
Spencer: Comparing any comic on the stands today to a book from the Golden or Silver Age is like comparing night and day. Besides the drastic differences in art, pacing, and dialogue, comics today simply operate with more subtlety, complexity, and shades of grey than the books of the 60’s. That isn’t always a plus — I miss a time where Superman could simply be inspirational — but for the most part, modern comics to a better job of reflecting the complexity of life itself. Kyle Higgins, Alex Siegel, and Elsa Charratier’s C.O.W.L. 6 is a Silver Age throwback, and the simple morality tale it weaves is a far cry from the version of Chicago presented in its first five issues. This contrast is the perfect way to display how far Geoffrey Warner has fallen. Continue reading
Drew: Organization is a fundamental element of life. Our genes organize to create cells, our cells organize to create organs, and our organs organize to create living, breathing people. Because the unit we care about is “people”, we don’t really think about any of those smaller units as sacrifice anything in order to contribute to a whole, but when we zoom our scope out to societies and organizations, suddenly existing within them requires profound sacrifices from the individuals. Social insects, like bees and ants, seem particularly alien to us, as the vast majority of the hive will never procreate, and couldn’t do so even if they had the inclination to go rogue. It seems like a loss of free will, but is it really any different from the role a random blood cell plays in our body? So long as the unit we care about survives — the hive for the bees, or the body for the blood cell — the “sacrifice” was worth it. But what if the blood cell does have free will? Or, as is the case in C.O.W.L. 5, what if the organization is made up of humans with free will? How much we’re willing to sacrifice depends a great deal on how much we value those organizations. Continue reading
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.
Today, Patrick and Drew are discussing C.O.W.L. 1, originally released May 28th, 2014.
Patrick: Chicago’s a great town — I lived there for four years, and grew up in its shadow. It’s a city that wears its heritage on its sleeve, somehow proud of both the blue collar guys that broke their backs working for the man, and the corrupt politicians, union bosses and career criminals that constitute “the man”. The city is simultaneously anti-authoritarian but pro-institution, like it’s scared of change but quick to complain anyway. Kyle Higgins, Alec Siegel and Rod Reis’ new series — the title of which is one of the most evocative acronym I’ve seen in recent memory — plays to the idea of institutional inertia, and how it is destabilized by the chaos brewing just below the surface. Only, y’know, with superheroes. Continue reading