Tuesday, May 27, 2014

Review - C.O.W.L. #1

"Are you worried you haven't heard from the Mayor yet?"

Unions typically elicit one of two responses. Either you think they're great for workers, reinforcing their rights that are often sacrificed at the expense of profits for larger companies. Or you think they're inefficient, slowing down work and increasing associated costs. Regardless of where you fall in terms of opinion, there are unions for all manner of employment. If the world had superheroes, it's likely some of them would face similar opinions about unions, opinions on full display in C.O.W.L. #1 from Image Comics. The issue is written by Kyle Higgins and Alec Siegel, with art by Rod Reis and letters by Troy Peteri.

Geoffrey Warner goes by the name The Grey Raven, a man who essentially unionized superheroes in Chicago to create the Chicago Organized Workers League. The group spent time fighting villains and saving the day, all the while acting as hope against the negative. Like all good things though, the C.O.W.L. is very efficient at its job, which means that they're fighting a public relations battle as to their relevance in society. Warner's task becomes even more difficult in convincing a public that's been protected for so long that it still needs that protection.

C.O.W.L. #1 features a story that's a little true to life in some ways, primarily all related to the somewhat tumultuous history of unions in Chicago. It's likely not a coincidence that the story takes place in 1962, which is the same year the Chicago Federation of Labor joined the AFL-CIO. This adds a certain reality to the proceedings that helps to supplant the suspension of reality in the fact that superheroes are unionized. Among those heroes, their powers range from natural to technologically assisted, but regardless there's enough firepower to get the job done. The public relations battle seems to be the larger one for C.O.W.L.--with seemingly higher stakes--and Higgins and Siegel do a great job framing that battle.

Helping the book feel more era appropriate are strong illustrations by Reis. Reis relies on a painted style that doesn't get bogged down by detail, which is perfectly fine in C.O.W.L. #1. Characters are illustrated with little focus on detail, but what detail is there affords the reader plenty of opportunity to understand what they're going through. There's also an interesting range of colors throughout the book that reflect the tone of the story at the time; it's almost operatic in a sense that certain characters carry certain color tones with them. Peteri also does a wonderful job on the lettering, offering a range of styles that further help individualize each character.

C.O.W.L. #1 has some pretty strong parallels to the Civil War storyline in Marvel and The Incredibles. Both tackled the issue of when do heroes stop being "useful" to society and are they bound by the same laws and order the seek to regulate in society. Higgins and Siegel present the tale from that perspective and they deftly weigh their relevance against the demands of society. Reis' art is simple, yet effective at promoting the underlying theme of the book, which is the relevance of unions when the job is done. C.O.W.L. #1 is a very interesting book that could investigate some intriguing concepts down the line.

C.O.W.L. #1 is in stores May 28.


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