After the riot at the C.O.W.L. picket-line, Geoffrey Warner’s feud with Mayor Daley takes a grim turn in C.O.W.L. #5. The strike falls apart as supporting unions flee Warner’s sinking ship, and with no one else in the chief’s corner, desperate times call for desperate measures. This issue will likely be a polarizing one for readers of this compelling reimagining of cape book fare, as these heroes are forced to cross lines that no amount of genre convention can sweep under the rug. Writers Higgins and Siegel promised to take this series in an intriguing new direction, and while some of the twists were foreseeable, they’ve certainly lived up to their word.
As the fallout of the riot at City Hall reverberates across Chicago, Warner is working every angle he can to maintain power in his political play against Daley. The police, teachers, and other labor unions pull their support and leave Warner alone in the fight. Meanwhile, Pierce reaches out to Hadyn, tapped to be the face of C.O.W.L. in an effort to win back public favor. Pierce plans to turn all his findings on the weapons leak to the CPD and bring Warner down, and Hadyn finds himself caught between the opposing plans of the chief and the detective.
One of the strengths of this issue, and the series in general, is the complexity of the characters. In only five issues we haven’t had much time with this cast, but Hggins and Siegel have managed to make an interesting antagonist of Warner. Despite his corruption, he seems to operate from a world-weary sense of good and evil, one that is perpetuated by the corrupt power systems at work around him. This makes for a fascinating confrontation between Warner and Hadyn, as Warner reaches out to Hadyn’s sense of duty, however diluted it may be by excess and self-preservation. Hadyn’s motivations are unfortunately a bit hazy at this point, which raises some irksome questions as the issue draws to a close.
In the end, however, just as Pierce is about to break the entire scandal, Hadyn’s allegiances to Warner win out. He murders Pierce in an alleyway and takes the evidence file, closing the door on Pierce’s case but opening another as the ramifications of Pierce’s death loom. In the closing pages, Warner meets with Camden and proposes a deal with the mob to put costumed aggressors back on the streets of Chicago. With villains to fight, the heroes must return, and C.O.W.L. will live on. The cycle of good and evil will sustain itself once more, just as Warner needs it to.
While the scripting from Higgins and Siegel is excellent, artist Reis brings the gritty world of C.O.W.L. to the page with impeccable line work and smart design decisions. Moody color palettes and soft, gestural painting add subtle variance and emotional weight to these sequences, which are distinctively color-coded as the story progresses. The blues and indigos of the post-riot street scene give way to the clean grays and lighting effects of Warren’s following meeting. These scenes, as well as the consistently gloomier ones that follow, are broken up by the bright yellow hues and halftone textures of Pierce’s conversation with Hadyn. This makes for a diverse but overall cohesive reading experience, memorable from the first page to the last.