Page 45 Review by Stephen
"Trust. The foundation of any long-lasting relationship."
Just remember as you read this that Geoffrey Warner said that.
Every time I think I'm done with superheroes along comes something genuinely fresh and thrilling like JUPITER'S LEGACY and, yes, I rank this right alongside Mark Millar.
Usually it has to involve politics for me, like Brian K. Vaughan & Tony Harris' EX MACHINA but whereas that's as contemporary as it's possible to be, this, set in the 1960s, has a deliciously period feel complete with wallpaper designs, carpets, dining-room decor and those Eero Aarnio-designed Ball Chairs. Even the lipsticks are pale.
In C.O.W.L. VOL 1 I made much of the Bill Sienkiewizc-inspired art with its pale palette. I love the way Rod Reis uses circles to denote points of pain like a sprained or broken ankle but here he does something I've never seen done before except as a brief break-the-fourth-wall gag.
There's a nasty, contemptuous masked man called Doppler whose preternatural ability is to manipulate sound: to divert, rework and amplify it. This is represented on the page as the curve of someone's scream being redirected so that the sound effect clobbers someone upside the head. Or, on another page, when a hostage shouts "Oh thank GOD!" Doppler grabs the giant 'D' out of the speech balloon and whacks his assailant across the face with it. Purely representational because it's actually the sonic boom that's done that, but it's all the cleverer for it.
As to the politics, they're city-hall, Mayor-level and if you want a comparison point it's very much TV's 'The Wire'. In fact, if you're bored with the corporate-superhero machinations of Marvel and DC, well, this is about the machinations of a superhero corporation called C.O.W.L.. Only it's not a publisher; it's a private, professional, for-profit law enforcement agency run by a master manipulator Geoffrey Warner whose unpowered detectives and powered patrolmen and women don't even own their code names. They're very much employees just as C.O.W.L. itself is employed by the city of Chicago.
Or rather, it was. As the second volume opens, C.O.W.L.'s contact is up for renewal but the Mayor's playing hardball because there are no more super-powered villains to protect Chicago from: by one means or another C.O.W.L. has contained them all, effectively succeeding itself out of a job.
As the negotiations stall C.O.W.L. goes on strike. But the problem with striking is that the public has got to miss you. People have to notice that their lives are worse off without you. For Geoffrey Warner losing that contract is not an option. So he's gone and done the unthinkable.
This wouldn't work if the C.O.W.L. employees weren't individuals first and foremost, some with families, all with different perspectives on what's right and wrong. Some are more complicit than others. Unpowered detective John Pierce of its Investigations Division has already been murdered leaving a wife behind, and a behind-the-scenes cover-up and misdirection is already in full swing. Some are prepared to break the picket line in order do the job they're on the verge of losing which only weakens Warner's hand and so potentially work themselves even further out of a job.
It's so well observed, Higgins and Siegel having paid very close attention to when teachers and particularly firemen go on strike.It is riddled with complex manoeuvres and just when you think Geoffrey Warner's run out of options, oh but he's a devious, quick-witted devil.
Whether or not there's more on the way you can consider these two volumes, taken together, as a complete and singularly satisfying story with a beginning, a tense and unpredictable middle, and an end.