Kyle Higgins, Alec Siegel, and Rod Reis have banded together to give us a story where super-powered men fought for our freedom both abroad and on the home-front. After selflessly fighting against fascism, these men came home and cleaned up the streets of our greatest cities. Thanks to their sacrifice (and abilities to blast people apart) they stood as pinnacles of hope and justice. Of course, that's all bullshit and the real stars of this series are the regular Joes, Grant Marlow and John Pierce (and in a different way Geoffrey Warner).
Grant is just trying to live his life and do his job in a world and career where he's overshadowed by super beings. His son is quickly losing respect for him because he doesn't even “have a name”. And then he has to deal with both the likelihood and later reality of being beaten to a pulp by some thug with super-strength. He's just trying to get by, and life isn't making it easy. Then there's John, another baseline member of C.O.W.L. Who has taken it upon himself to serve as a type of watchman for the organization. When he's presented with the idea that his own agency may be a little more corrupt than previously thought, he doesn't back down from investigating. He's not deterred by the fact that the mole may be someone who could literally tear him limb from limb. He determined to get to the bottom of it. The most likely traitor, Geoffrey, is himself a normal man who has both fought with and against super-powered people for most of his life. Right of the bat we're shown he's not above massaging the truth when he tries to write his own former side-kick out of the history of C.O.W.L. He's obviously a man with a shadowed past. But is he also the kind of man who would turn his back on his morality to keep his agency going? Probably, yeah.
Higgins and Siegel are a great writer duo for street-level characters. Sure, Arclight can fly and shoot Dazzler beams, but he's still just a regular dude who'd prefer to use his powers to get women to sleep with him. Likewise, Eclipse has a pretty solid power set, but he's also kind of a dick. Grant's interactions with his son are heart-breaking as we see the effects his job has had on his personal life. Equally great are the scenes where he's just chatting with Eclipse. Both men are vastly different, but they still seem like good friends and partners. John Pierce's interactions with his wife and Arclight show that he's not the kind of man that will be discouraged by asking questions. He's always serious, but you get the impression that it's because he cares about integrity. On the other side of that coin is Geoffrey, a former cape who won't let a little thing like the truth get in the way of a good fluff piece. He's been through some shit in his past, and he obviously cares and believes in his organization, but the question quickly becomes, how far is he willing to go to ensure C.O.W.L.'s survival? Higgins and Siegel have created a cast of characters that are trying to find their own place in a world where being “the guy with the good shot” isn't enough to keep you relevant.
Reis's art is an awesome accompaniment to the story. He's definitely channeling Sienkiewicz (especially in the fight scenes) but he also adds a bit of softness and humanity to the characters. Everything feels a little washed out and the stray line streaks that appear now and again give the panels a sense that this is all a bad memory. Likewise, the scene of John at home with his wife is so warm and bright. John is still drawn with very clear sketch marks, but his wife Sarah is drawn very clean and soft. She serves as a counterpoint to what the job is doing to John. She's even more a regular person than he is as she doesn't spend her days fighting super-crime. Then there are the colors. In one great scene, Grant and Eclipse are driving in the rain and the neon from outside is reflecting in the windows but they're still washed out and gray. It's beautiful. Or at the end when Arclight is hitting on the stripper, the panels are drenched in red light save for the odd gray shadow or the bright blue folder. Reis really does his best to set the mood from panel to panel.
The Chicago of C.O.W.L. Is a place of uncertainty. Uncertainty that you're doing the right job, uncertainty that the job is doing the thing, and uncertainty that you're even right to begin with. The characters of this world aren't bright and shining ubermen and women, they're more like shadows and insecurities. This series is only two issues in but it's already set up an immensely interesting cast and world. Rather than focus on the super-powered people who inhabit the world, we're given a look at the regular folks. The people who are most affected by their simple existence. Higgins, Siegel, and Reis have created a bleak world where nothing seems to being going right unless you can fly and shoot laser beams out of some part of your body. The idea isn't brand new, there have been countless series about regular people living in the shadows of superheroes, but here the execution is done extraordinarily well.