In 2007 Kyle Higgins, a Film Production major at Chapman University, wrote and directed a short film called The League with his friend Alec Siegel as his senior thesis. The plot involved a threat to the long established Super Hero Union in Chicago taking place in the 1960s. The film screened at some festivals and caught the attention of executives at Marvel Comics, who told Higgins & Siegel to start pitching. Eventually, they wrote a very good installment of the one-shot series called Captain America: Theater of War, one-off stories showing Steve Rogers on various battlefronts.
On the strength of that, Higgins was invited to write for DC, where he wound up writing the (very good) Batman: Gates of Gotham miniseries (based off of a plot by current Bat-wunderkind Scott Snyder) and, with the New 52, becoming the writer on Nightwing as well as Batman Beyond 2.0, the latest comic book continuation of the well-regarded DCAU series.
Now, with the identity of Nightwing revealed and the title subsequently ended, Higgins–while still writing Batman Beyond 2.0, has come full circle, reuniting with Siegel and turning to Image to create C.O.W.L., an extension of the concept and world of The League and it’s simply stunning, the great sort of first issue that hooks you in and doesn’t let up.
Funnily enough, the first issue of C.O.W.L. opens with a hero wearing a Nightwing-esque costume, Blaze, and other members of C.O.W.L. (which stands for Chicago Organized Workers League) hunting down Skylancer, a Russian supervillain explained as the “last of the Chicago Six,” a gang of baddies who, with others, have been plaguing the League since its formation in the 1940s (the series starts in 1962). But the league’s chairman, the Grey Raven, a retired superhero, isn’t exactly pushing the concept of the League going away anytime soon. Especially as C.O.W.L. detective John Pierce and others encounter a fanatic supporter of Skylancer the next day…
The number one name associated with the 50s-60s aesthetic in modern comics is Darwyn Cooke and while artist Rod Reis doesn’t approach Cooke’s mastery, he manages a unique blend of Cooke’s and Ben Templesmith’s style, a particularly interesting blend that is pretty dang great and breathtaking in some places. The way he uses panels to his advantage is just genius, resulting in a superhero book that looks like nothing else.
Higgins and Siegel write with one clear, united voice and it’s refreshing to see. No moment feels out of place, and even some that would be easily handled with poor taste elsewhere–like an extended sequence where one C.O.W.L. agent urinates on a peeping Tom–plays here as darkly funny.
Bottom line: here’s a superhero story not only rooted in history and intrigue, but here’s one that doesn’t require any backstory, just makes all its characters easy to get and understand. Do yourself a favor and check this book; I know I’ll be adding it to my monthly pull list.