Review: C.O.W.L #1: Principles of Power

Nicholas Bennett Nicholas Bennett
June 7th, 2015

Review: C.O.W.L #1: Principles of Power

C.O.W.L's first issue makes for interesting reading.

Published by Image Comics, the Chicago Organized Workers League, hereafter referred to as C.O.W.L, is a post-World War II Cold War era political thriller set in 1962 Chicago that tells the story of a group of super-powered agents hired to protect the city. We learn that their main adversaries, a Communist group known The Chicago Six, are a shell of their former selves. This vacuum of conflict lends itself to the name of the first chapter of the Principles of Power: Motivation.

In many ways, today marks the end of an era for the Chicago Organized Worker's League.

With the last of the villainous organization The Chicago Six eliminated in the first few pages of the story, C.O.W.L must now justify a reason for its continued  existence. After all, they’re not vigilante superheroes who act on their own out of the goodness of their own hearts to defend Chicago. They were hired.

Now, with that job of eliminating the terrorists over, that reason for their existence appears to have ended. In fact, there’s even a reference to one character gaining weight, a likely nod to the fact to these characters don’t need to be in shape anymore to do their jobs. The motivation just isn’t there because, in essence, the Cold War ended at the beginning of the story. The police state has ended.

Cover of Image Comics Issue #1 C.O.W.L

It reminds me of the exchange between Gotham's Deputy Commissioner and a Congressman in The Dark Knight Rises. When the Congressman mentions that Commissioner Gordon is going to be let go the Deputy exclaims “Really? But he’s a hero!” to which the Congressman replies “A war hero. This is peacetime.”

This question of motivation and purpose pervades the whole story as our main characters continue to search for meaning in a world that has lost it’s need for them. Rather than your typical collection of heroes, the group of agents are more of put upon policemen than altruistic saviors. Talk of childcare, overtime payments, contract negotiations and public relations replace notions of saving the world and protecting loved ones. Even the name “Workers League” harkens back to a time in American history where unions were powerful entities. All the romanticism of what C.O.W.L might have been in its heyday has been replaced with press conferences and pension plans.

If this story feels familiar to you you’re not alone. A large part of the plot and themes of C.O.W.L seem to borrow elements from Alan Moore's seminal comic book Watchmen series. This is especially evident in the issue of the passage of time. Unlike superhero comics that seem to avoid that issue, C.O.W.L seems to long for a past when there actually was policing to do.

While it remains to be seen what direction things will take, these issues do serve as a categorical way of defining what C.O.W.L is and what its challenges are. As one newscaster wonders aloud, “Will C.O.W.L become irrelevant?” That remains to be seen.

Cover Art by Trevor McCarthy

Story by Kyle Higgins & Alex Siegel

Nicholas Bennett is a Contributor to ComiConverse. Follow him on Twitter: @TheTVBuddy

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