31 May, 2014

I'd Hate to See The Union Busters

I'll be brief: You should read COWL #1.


As though engineered to anger my father, COWL tells the story of the world's first unionized superhero team.

Rather than using that idea as a set-up for some kind of reflexive, high-concept nonsense that floods the pages of Previews every month ("Hey, what if Batman was actually a vampire!?" and "Hey, what if Superman retired and got into cock fighting!?" they all said, choking on their own sick), COWL actually uses its concept to tell a story which, again, looking at the pages of Previews, actually is a kind of high concept in and of itself. . .

In short order, we're thrown into a familiar (but not too familiar) 1960's Chicago where we see a team of heroes closing out a case against a supervillain. It's a high concept deployed correctly and it's a story that feels new and different instead of playing off of a story we've seen a hundred times before (but with, I don't know, more drugs and uses of the c-word). If it's playing off anything, it's Mad Men and even that's only in the comic's set dressing.

It's the comic book that I didn't know I wanted. It's also mature in the proper sense of the word. Yeah, it has the murder and death, but so does Law and Order. By sprinkling in some sexism or brutality, writers Kyle Higgins and Alex Siegel are informing the world and the narrative, not just thumbing their nose at the Big Two's editorial policies. They aren't pushing buttons, they're creating a world.

Besides the sex and violence (and one delightful bit of public urination), it's also a book with a sense of humor. It also deals with complex relationships between people and it does so all in a very short amount of time. It's a fun book that smartly plays between the kind of "realism" we're used to seeing in superhero comic books post-1985 and the kind of fun that made us pick up comics in the first place.

And the art. . . Oh man, the art. You ever have that moment where you see an indie book that looks interesting and you pick it up to see what it's like inside and it looks like somebody who couldn't get work at DC? This isn't that.

As strong as the cover is, the interior is even better. Rod Reis' work looks like a comfortable mix between Bill Sienkiewctz and Phil Noto. It's a look that almost any book would be lucky to have and in this case, with this story, it feels a bit magical. Something special is going on in this first issue and I'm really excited for what the future might bring.

Go support good comics. Go support weird and new ones. Go read COWL.

Oh, and here's a free blurb: "COWL is Watchmen and The Wire meets FIST."

There. That blurby enough for ya?

FURTHERMORE:

There's a character called Arclight. And he flies. And I should have thought of it. But I didn't. And I hate it.

James Kislingbury writes comics and records podcasts. You can follow him on Twitter @kislingtwits.