Review: C.O.W.L. Vol. 1 – Principles of Power, by Kyle Higgins

C.O.W.L. Volume 1: Principles of PowerC.O.W.L. Volume 1: Principles of Power by Kyle Higgins
My rating: 2 of 5 stars

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This is it, the first Stinker from my Image Humble Bundle…1 star seems a bit harsh, so 1.5, which means 2 on GR.

COWL is a piece of derivative work. It’s ripping off Watchmen, and every other book written about a team/group of heroes where things aren’t what they seem, and the relationships between everyone are actually pretty shitty.

On top of that, the art looks like a bad copy of Bill Sienkiewicz (from the Elektra Assassin book by Frank Miller in the 80s). Rod Reis, is he related to Ivan Reis? Ivan has done some pretty decent work (Papa Johns’ Aquaman for one), but Rod here? Not so much. In the same page, he’ll draw the same character’s face twice, and the guy will look 30 in one panel, and 55 in the next. There’s no continuity, and with the dull colour palette used, they become quite mirky, and hard to distinguish, and at some point I stopped really trying.

I know the art is meant to evoke some sort of seedy stuff, but this felt like a Frank Miller book, and that’s NOT a compliment in this case.

It’s too dark, but feels like a poseur. The subject matter just isn’t enough to wow or really grab me…I’m beginning to think that reading all this IMAGE COMICS stuff is great, because when it’s not up to snuff, it really stands out, but if I were reading stuff that were ho-hum, then the turds wouldn’t stink as much…if that makes sense.

As for the story, COWL is the Chicago Superhero Union. (Organized Worker League) Yup, after WWII, Chicago was run rampant with organized crime, so the returning vets/supes in Chi-town decided to set up this Superhero Union so they could all get dental and 2 weeks paid holiday. At the time there was a bunch of badguys, “The Six”…but this was late 40s-into the 50s.
However, it’s now 1962, and the last link to the Six is taken down by COWL heroes…so with the contract negotiations in place, it lets the Mayor of Chicago tweak his proposal, because they don’t need COWL as much as they did when the first contract was set up.

I shit you not, there’s more than 1 page devoted to the back and forth contract negotiations, and it’s dry as fuck. I mean I get it, I understand, and it’s a mildly interesting “What If?” but not to sustain a whole series…

Of course it also doesn’t help that the main heroes of COWL we meet are a mixture of burnouts, assholes, bullies, and an objectified woman. The closest thing to a ‘good guy’ are the 2 guys without powers; one has a son who thinks he’s a loser because of it, and the other is a former spy who thinks that something fishy is going on within COWL…

Of course, there is, and it’s not too hard to figure it out, and it’s not a spoiler to reveal…(someone inside COWL is trying to prop up the remaining villains so that COWL will still be relevant and can have a better negotiating position with the city…ya.) WOW that’s a blast of exciting reading yes?)

At one point, COWL even goes on Strike…so superheroes are walking the picket line. Those that aren’t are going on vendetta missions against the remaining organized crime figures, which is OK, because they secretly have some powered individuals working for them, one of whom kicked the shit out of the COWL dude with the son…

So it’s all murky, everyone is degrees of grey, and everyone turns on everyone when you think they are actually working together. There’s too many clichés here, including the Uncle Tom #2 in command Black guy who the White boss treats like his lackey.

It was a mildly interesting proposition, but when your intro pages include a map of all the city locations and districts (why?) and the roster of main characters, it just feels like extra info thrown at you so you’ll know/care more? I mean if it’s good, won’t you be able to figure it out on your own? The writer even knew it was hard to follow who’s who at the start, so that’s why you got the handy dandy guide…

This was a misfire that started to circle the drain when it got into union contracts and negotiation techniques…it feels like a fairly boring 80s TV episode from Magnum PI or Murder She Wrote, about a union boss trying to prop up his union and having it all fall apart and be unraveled.

I’d miss this one, because it’s not really all that pleasant, or good. I tried, I really did, but it’s not half as interesting as the premise or cover made it look. I did want to know about some characters, but there were too many of them, and things spread out too much, so we didn’t get enough background or info on any of them (there is a dossier file on each at the end of the volume, if you care to know any more, and that info would have been more interesting to put into the book than strikes and labour unions…).

At the end of the day, it’s not original enough, nor is the art good enough or memorable enough to make it relevant. I don’t need happy sunshine, but I’d rather if it’s going to be dark/grim that it at least be GOOD and well written. These just feel like a bunch of stereotypes thrown together and ruined by some bad decisions. I won’t be following the rest of this series (which has only produced 4 more issues since Sept 2014).


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About Gavin

I'm a lover of pop-culture, from movies to music to books to TV shows to well...comics, and just about everything in between. I'm also a history buff, and spent 4 yrs getting a fancy BA in it. When I was at said University, I got my learn on AND spent all my money on CDs and VHS (yup, I'm THAT old.) However, I'm happy to discuss any topic really, as I love a good debate or just to be proven right. I'm Canadian, so I wear shorts and flip flops 9 months of the year, but no, I am NOT fanatical about hockey (I actually prefer baseball, thank my American father for that!). I love the outdoors, but don't get out enough... I've got a sick twisted sense of humour (hence why I'm friends with these Shallow folks) and believe that laughter is the best medicine...except penicillin...cause laughter won't cure the clap.

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