Story By: Kyle Higgins & Alec Siegel
Art By: Rod Reis
Published By: Image Comics
C.O.W.L. #2 follows up its debut issue with an installment that is less overt in its 60s influence, but still packed to the brim with equal parts style and substance.
In a city dominated by the shadow of its superheroes, it is inevitable that any hero lacking a flashy costume or powers is perceived as being lesser than those of his peers who are. For Grant Marlow, an unpowered sharpshooter with C.O.W.L., this fact is made even more acute for him when it’s thrown at him in the form of his sulky, frustrated young son.
Meanwhile, over at C.O.W.L. headquarters, head honcho Geoffrey Warren – aka the Grey Raven – reviews a retrospective news article detailing the origins of the superhero union, and the mob-dominated landscape of Chicago that led to its formation to begin with. Grey Raven objects to the mention of his former sidekick, the clearly Robin-inspired Sparrow, in a scene that implies tension from different angles but doesn’t do much else.
The underlying theme in this issue, and this series so far, seems to be the question of C.O.W.L.’s continuing relevance. It’s a dilemma that faces John Pierce, another unpowered investigator at the union whose wife would rather see him work for the police (“”Maybe it’s finally time to move on from the superheroes.”). More so when he finds evidence of potential corruption within C.O.W.L. His colleague Arclight points out that there are still gangs and mobs in the city to reckon with, leaving John to grapple with the evidence by himself, but neither realise just how true his words are — not when Grant ends up bleeding out in an alley, having foolishly chased after a dangerous criminal without backup, all on the whim of insecurities raised up by the cutting words of his young son.
This last thread is easily the most suspenseful and emotive from a script which otherwise feels fragmented and lacking in a clear direction. The art, however, meets top marks on all counts in composition, colouring and mood. The “flashback” relating the history of C.O.W.L. has to be one of the most beautiful sequences I’ve seen in a while, but it has stiff competition from the deep painted reds depicting John and Arclight’s conversation in a seedy strip club — and from the stark whites of the scene where Grant is beaten to a pulp, with the occasional splatter of reds that are frighteningly effective in portraying the bloody brutality of the scene.
Overall, there is obviously an overarching plot in the works, given the story threads they seem to be laying down, but right now it feels more like a surplus of characters and ideas than a coherent narrative. Don’t get me wrong – the world-building is certainly very excellent and detailed, and I’m intrigued enough to want to continue, but I do hope the creative team manage to give us some solid story-telling sooner rather than later, or this novel, unusual idea is going to be as passé as superheroes seem to be in the strange world of C.O.W.L.
Rating – 7 out of 10