Sunday, December 7, 2014

5 x 5 Graphic "Novel": C.O.W.L.

So, while Wonder Wife was relaxing her birthday afternoon away in a Korean Spa, I had a chance to visit an actual comic book shop and get myself a few presents. This was one.

C.O.W.L. Volume 1: Principles of Power.

Kyle Higgins, Alec Siegel, Rob Reis.

Image Comics.

1. I was drawn to this book by its cover - specifically by the union logo it depicted. Here's a closeup:

With this design sensibility and a back-of-the-book blurb that reads Welcome to the Chicago Organized Workers League - the world's first superhero labor union, I was expecting a trade-unionist, maybe even socialist interpretation of the superhero trope. It's not. While C.O.W.L. is indeed a union, and much of the plot circles around contract negotiations, the ambience is much more Mad Men than it is Matewan. The members of C.O.W.L. are certainly not working class, and the personal and political agendas on display have little do with the relationship between capital and labor. That was the first disappointment.

2. The second disappointment was that this is not a graphic novel at all; it is a collection of the first five issues of an ongoing comic. I blame myself for this one - it's clearly stated on the back and I should have noticed - but after have some good experiences recently with true stand-alone GNs, that this one ended in media res was a bit jarring.

3. The story is pretty engaging and the writing is competent, although it sometimes reads like the early days of cable when formerly-banned language was first creeping into broadcasts: just keep dropping those f-bombs so we remember this is "realistic." The art is quite good; Reis reminds me a little of Bill Sienkiewicz.

4. Not for the first time, I thought that a comic was part of the who's-gonna-be-the-next-Walking Dead phenomenon: even in its best bits, I couldn't help but feel that C.O.W.L. was a pitch for a movie or television series. Some of the staging and a lot of dialogue just feels too cinematic and not at all comics-y.

5.  I am really tiring of the banality of powers. Superhero teams have become just another collection of stereotypes like any other overworked genre. Instead of the planner, the face, the tough guy, and the gadget man in an A-Team ripoff, we have the flying guy with energy bursts, the guy with the power glove, the girl with telekinesis. There's no wonder, in-story or out, that humans can do these amazing things. Listing the character names with their specialties in the front matter of the book evoked the rules set of a role-playing game more than it did the old school "roll calls" of team comic books.

Wow, that sounded more negative than I expected, but I guess that some good parts aside, I really didn't enjoy the book as whole and won't be looking for Volume 2. 

Bonus fun bit: I cannot hear or read the word cowl without thinking of this lettercol title. It debuted in World's Finest in 1964, when I was 6 or 7, and I am pretty sure it was my first understanding of the word's meaning.

I also remember wondering about the title itself, because Batman had a cape, too...

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