KYLE HIGGINS TALKS C.O.W.L. AND THE COLLAPSE OF THE FIRST SUPERHERO LABOR UNION
By Andy Khouri
Available for pre-order now from finer comics shops, COWL is a forthcoming series from Image Comics which stylishly depicts an alternate history Chicago of the pre-”swinging” 1960s, when the (in)famously political city experienced all manner of socioeconomic upheaval — including the dissolution of the Chicago Organized Workers League. Also known as COWL, it’s a union for costumed superheroes, and its days are numbered.
The first issue of COWL avoids some traps into which most non-Marvel and non-DC cape comics fall. Most obviously, COWL is not a Marvel or DC superhero book in disguise. Its characters aren’t similar-to-but-legally-distinct versions of heroes we might know from the Avengers or the Justice League, but distinct, original creations of writers Kyle Higgins & Alec Siegal and artist Rod Reis. Similarly, despite its “real-world” premise and period setting, COWL is not a Watchmen cover version, offering a decidedly less dour tone and honest-to-god superhero adventure blended deftly with its dramatic take on city politics. Sometimes it’s even really funny. Finally, COWL bucks the origin fetish of the superhero genre by introducing us to its intriguing cast not at the start of their sagas, but at what might be the end.
ComicsAlliance: The first thing that struck me about COWL #1 was that unlike a lot of non-DC, non-Marvel cape comics, this was not a Marvel or DC superhero comic disguised as something else. It’s its own thing, arguably a thing that couldn’t exist in those superhero universes.
Kyle Higgins: That’s actually something we’ve been very conscious of, not just because there are superheroes involved, but because it’s our first creator-owned series and we want to world build in different, unique ways. If you look at the structure of the first issue, the points of view are all reflective of the different divisions of COWL. The organization, how it works, its ranks, and its relation to the city and other unions are all things that Alec and I have spent a lot of time figuring out.
Alec and I have always thought about this series — and described it– as being a character drama that happens to have costumes. If you were to think about it in, say, TV terms, it has more in common with Mad Men or The Wire than anything with superheroes. These characters, for us, are what the book is about. Their lives outside the costumes, their places in society, their interactions with each other… we like stories about people who change and evolve.