Previously, “Issue #7”
This issue of C.O.W.L. sees the Image series bring out its knight, after several moves that could be considered the positioning of pawns. Multiple storylines have now kicked off, with issue #8; chief among them is Geoffrey Warner’s deal with the devil, Camden Stone, now seeing real-world consequence. This shit is getting good.
This issue’s cold open deftly juxtaposes two seminal moments in the new world C.O.W.L. has spent months building: One of Camden Stone’s powered criminals kidnapping an alderman and Arclight being questioned by two police officers about his murder of John Pierce. On the surface, these two moments seem disconnected, but I’d imagine they are both going to be used as equal leverage in the political Chess match Geoffrey Warner is having with City Hall. On one hand, Warner believes the danger being posed by Stone’s criminals will force the city to relent to C.O.W.L.’s demands; on the other hand, I’m thinking the city will see what Arclight did to John Pierce as something they can use as an argument against C.O.W.L.’s stability and value. I don’t know, since I’m not writing it, but this seems like the way the story should go.
And remember, everyone thinks Pierce was murdered because he crossed the picket lines; that’s why his death at the hands of Arclight, a powered individual, is valuable for the city’s negotiations with C.O.W.L. If they knew the real reason Arclight killed Pierce, that would open an entirely different can of worms… which is why Arclight killed him.
Why, yes, I am still talking about the cold open. Because I love it. Not only does the captivating plot from Kyle Higgins and Alec Siegel do well to juxtapose these two scenes, this setup gives us an opportunity to very clearly see just how magnificent Rod Reis’ artwork is for this series. In the top panel, you see a moment from the aforementioned kidnapping of an alderman; in the lower panel, you find a scene from the questioning of Arclight. The kidnapping is a horror show; a jumbled mess of chaos and fear. In comparison, the interrogation could not be more serene; Arclight can even be observed twiddling his thumbs. While the kidnapping is cast in black-white-grey and a stark contrast that makes it leap off the page, the interrogation is shaded in calm blues, with everything threatening to blend together in harmony.
Rod Reis has taken his opportunity to illustrate this series and completely blown away any semblance of expectation anyone may have had. He is simply phenomenal on C.O.W.L., and this short sequence is a showcase for it.
This issue also pays its respect at John Pierce’s funeral. I mainly wanted to mention this because just look at how beautiful this panel is (and this is only half of it). I know I keep saying it, but Rod Reis is routinely hitting home runs at this point. Beyond the artwork, this funeral scene does contain a few pivotal things, not the least of which is the ever-looming presence of Detective Evelyn Thompson, she who had been Pierce’s contact. They are doing a terrific job of doing just enough with her to make her presence intriguing.
In fact, now that we are eight issues into C.O.W.L., I can firmly say Higgins, Siegel, and Reis have built a fantastic foundation for every character in the series. I feel like I understand them all: their motivations, their concerns, their loyalties; this series is filled with legitimately three-dimensional characters. Admittedly, for the first few issues, I was having a problem remembering names; that’s not unusual with a new series, but that doesn’t make it any less frustrating. Thankfully, the characters have been constructed from the ground up and in such a way as to organically have them become their own entities. In the beginning, it was easy to just see everyone as fitting underneath the umbrella name “C.O.W.L.” Like, “Justice League” or “Avengers”, “C.O.W.L.” felt like who they all were, but subsequent issues have revealed massive differences.
Along those lines, John Pierce had been my favorite character; since his death, I’d say Eclipse (pictured: right) has worked his way into that position. It’s definitely between him and Radia, so I guess my fondness for the both of them is tied to their simultaneous involvement in the storyline that’s seen them surreptitiously taking on Camden Stone. If I had to guess, I’d say what edges Eclipse over Radia is the fear and reluctance he expresses in this issue, because of how that ties to John Pierce’s death and what the reader knows to be true about why Pierce was murdered.
Something else which has helped define each character are the often-redacted dossiers each issue has featured; each issue up to this one, that is. Instead of the usual confidential file on one of the good guys, this issue includes a written assessment of Camden Stone; very similar to the dossiers, including biographical text, but just stylized differently. Along with that and the monthly Union Dues letter section, issue #8 also includes a very interesting writeup by John Siuntres, wherein he manages to convincingly compare the fictional organization of C.O.W.L. to real-life Chicago icon Bozo the Clown. Believe me; I didn’t know where it was going, either, but he totally pulls it off.
Lastly, I would be absolutely remiss if I didn’t comment here on this issue’s introduction of villains; there’s a very Juggernaut-esque dude, a Riddler-type, and the aforementioned kidnapper (whom I think was actually the same baddie who neglected to wear his mask in the previous issue; that matters, because his mask is fucking awesome). All three of these villains is well-designed, but I think it is very clear which one is the best: Doppler, the kidnapper. His powers are neat, the manipulation of sound waves, but what makes him terrific is his outstanding look. The black mask that becomes the skin on his face, the nightmarish way his eyes seem to glow; and, of course, the sound wave put in place of his mouth. This is an iconic villain, and I hope so much that he is built up to be one. As I looked at the below panel, I couldn’t help but be reminded of another Cheshire-grinned villain holding a camera; we’ll see if Doppler can live up to this resemblance.