Review: C.O.W.L. Vol. 1 (TP)

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Publisher: Image Comics
Writer: Kyle Higgins, Alec Siegel
Art: Rod Reis, Stéphane Perger
Colours: Ron Riley
Lettering: Troy Peteri
Cover: Trevor McCarthy

It’s 1962 in Chicago. A group of superheroes is fighting against Skylancer, a former KGB agent – who starts using unsporting tactics, causing a good deal of mayhem and several victims. C.O.W.L. (stands for Chicago Organized Workers League), a superhero organisation, something like a trade union but with far more leverage and that has virtually replaced the Police, takes all the merit for the operation, but not everybody seems exactly happy about this. And there are some tensions inside C.O.W.L., too. Personal and not. And those that are not personal are very serious stuff. Maybe there even is someone working for the enemy.

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This Principles of Power trade paperback, that collects the first five issues of C.O.W.L., throws us right in the middle of the story – or, rather, near what could seem its end. It is a superhero comic, sure, in the “great powers, great responsibilities” style (that means that there’s more talk than action); it also is a brilliant crime story, a political drama and an allegoric representation of those years in the USA, when trade unions started becoming powerful through managing tensions with the various levels of government, more or less local.

The story, written initially by Kyle Higgins and then seamlessly taken over by Alec Siegel, is fully captivating. The authors have clearly researched thoroughly every detail of political and social life at the time, giving us a very interesting overview of how things looked and, somehow, felt back then. Each character seems extremely realistic, each with his or her flaws and positive sides. Even the most admired superheroes, in their private life, don’t look much like the superhumans they indeed are.

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The art varies a lot from issue to issue, even from page to page occasionally. But it has been created almost completely by the same person, Rod Reis, while Stéphane Perger is credited only in issue #4 for his “additional art”. In some moments it is perfectly realistic, while in others the shapes of the characters seem to be blurred, giving a brilliant idea of their movement. When the action takes place in darkness, the shapes of the things seem confused, shadows over other shadows. In certain passages, those in which the characters are engaged in more mundane activities, everything could very well belong in an early 1960s comic strip.

C.O.W.L. is an extremely interesting series, and this first story arc (that finishes leaving innumerable possibilities open) is perfect to get into its complex, elaborate world. Sure, a reader will close the book with lots of questions unanswered, but this will probably push him or her to keep reading the series. The art is extremely peculiar, very original, but it’s not a simple display of skills: it fits perfectly with the flow of the story.

Definitely a very interesting series, and this Principles of Power is the perfect way to get into it.

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