From the Haymarket riots to the Summerdale Scandals, or from the Chicago Seven to the coining of the term “Chicago-style politics” during the ’08 presidential election, the city has a richer political history than any other in the country, though it’s one arguably fraught with corruption, danger, and violence. The Pulitizer-winning columnist Mike Royko once remarked that Chicago’s motto, Urbs in Horto (or “City in a Garden”), ought to be changed to Ubi est mea (“Where’s Mine?”).
In C.O.W.L., published this week by Image Comics, writers Kyle Higgins (Nightwing, Deathstroke) and Alec Siegel (Marvel Origins: Vision) are joined by artist Rod Reis to mine Chicago’s history as both a political powder keg and stronghold for organized labor. Enter the Chicago Organized Workers” League, or, well, you can figure out the acronym, ostensibly a labor union for superhumans.
The issue opens with the defeat of Skylancer, presumed to be the last active superhuman criminal operating in Chicago, which leads the citizens of the city to question the continued need for the organization. By the end of the first issue, the stage is set for the members of C.O.W.L. to justify their own existence, and given the behavior displayed by some of the city’s so-called heroes, it may be difficult to imagine their next move as particularly altruistic. Exploring Chicago’s tumultuous history under the guise of superheroics is a stroke of genius, and the historical flourishes are welcome additions (that the story takes place in 1962, the year the Chicago Federation of Labor finally fell under the umbrella of the AFL-CIO, cannot be a coincidence) to what is already a compelling story.
The book is an easy sell even without the excellent art by Rod Reis. Reis, known primarily as a colorist, lends the book a stylized appearance appropriate for its setting. His work is reminiscent of Kent Williams or Phil Noto, and he gives the book a Mad Men-like authenticity.
Mad Men is a good basis for comparison, actually: we can’t really root for these heroes. We can only watch and hope the damage they do to themselves and to the people around them — and in this case, to their city — is minimal. Recommended.
Eric Palicki loves Chicago and hates to see it torn apart, even in a funnybook. The first three issues of his own graphic novel, ORPHANS, are available on comiXology or at DriveThru Comics. Read his work for and about comics on his website. Follow him on Twitter.
Eric previously reviewed Amala’s Blade and found that to be pretty terrific, too.