Previously, “Issue #2“.
This issue of C.O.W.L. continues the labor negotiations between C.O.W.L. (the organization) and the city of Chicago, highlights the series’ lead female character, and also manages to include one of the bedrock pieces to the Chicago puzzle–baseball (albeit a visit to Comiskey Park, as opposed the friendly confines of Wrigley Field… but I’ll take it… for now).
The series’ first two issues were so mindblowingly fresh and unique with the fantastic art of Rod Reis that the plot of C.O.W.L. was nearly lost behind a veneer of watercolor explosions. That’s not the case here; while there is one standout moment for Reis’ artwork when the character of Radia decides to unleash her pent up frustration on a group of criminals, this issue’s art takes a bit of a backseat to a plot that continues to stretch its political intrigue legs, while also exploring the private lives of public superheroes.
It’s no secret that Chicago politics are, and always have been, an animal wholly unto themselves, and this issue delves ever-so-much deeper into that hornet’s nest; with C.O.W.L. on the verge of making a difficult decision that could make things between them and the city of Chicago worse, I can only imagine how much more immersed in this melting pot of cronyism and machine politics we will find ourselves. I’ll be interested to see if C.O.W.L. decides to tackle the idea of “political mentorship”, which is what we’ll call it (there’s a more derogatory term for this in Chicago, but I’ll let you google that yourself). Again, Chicago is a political island where certain things just work their own way, so I’d expect we’ll see Kyle Higgins and Alec Siegel put every bit of it to good use for their story, especially with the series being safely set in the 1960s, and I cannot wait to see it unfold.
Beyond the literal politics and labor negotiations, this issue also takes on a more contemporary sociopolitical problem, with the main plot of issue focusing heavily on Radia, the organization’s top female member and the series’ lead female character. While there’s a brief moment where we’re shown what life in the public eye is like for these superheroes who do not hide their identities–a running theme of the series–the true value in observing the effect this has on Radia is that we’re given a bit of a meta observation on the treatment of female characters in comics, through a prism of how women were treated in the 1960s. It’s a subtle criticism of the clear issues the comics industry still struggles with, veiled in an overt criticism of historic gender equality problems. Both criticisms are justified, as they highlight a struggle for respect that simply should not be so difficult.
As I mentioned, the artwork from Rod Reis, which has been phenomenal for the first two issues, doesn’t get a chance to truly shine in issue #3. That’s no fault of the artist or the writers, though; sometimes the plot just doesn’t call for sensational splash panels, but instead, asks simply for an intense labor meeting. When the plot does asks for that labor meeting, though, you better believe Reis delivers the fuck out of it.
Something else included in this issue, along with the usual Union Dues letter section, is a fantastic article by labor reporter Sarah Jaffe. She lends her expertise to even further illuminate the potentially complicated themes of both this issue and the entire series; this helps greatly to just get everyone on the same page about what the C.O.W.L. union is undertaking in their negotiations with the city of Chicago.
Overall, this issue continues the series’ purposeful march into comics history as a fully realized fictional world where superheroes are civil servants, collectively bargaining for their rightful compensation and protection in a very real-world manner; I mean, they can’t even afford good seats to a White Sox game at Comiskey Park. Oh, that reminds me: if we don’t get some Cubs action, soon, my opinion of this series is going to decrease exponentially. You hear me, Higgins and Siegel? You can’t take sides, unless you’re on the same side as I am! That’s the Chicago way, dammit!