IS THE WORLD a safer place if its heroes are punching a time clock?
That’s a question at the heart of C.O.W.L. — short for Chicago Organized Workers League — a new creator-owned series from Kyle Higgins, Alec Siegel and Rod Reis and published by Image Comics.
Higgins had been playing with the idea of a unionized superhero league for years, but only when he decided that the story should be set in 1960s Chicago did the idea fully came together.
“It’s a very interesting time in the country, as well as in the comic-book industry,” Higgins said of the ’60s. “And Chicago’s political history, as well as its involvement with the unions, is very fascinating and a great backdrop for this.”
After writing the past few years for Marvel and DC (Nightwing), Higgins also felt the time was right to jump into the world of creator-owned comics.
“Image is a great fit right now,” Higgins told The Post’s Comic Riffs. “It’s the company where most of my favorite books are coming from, and being able to do something with that mature label is appealing. Something like C.O.W.L. works because the characters can change. You can push them in interesting directions that have ramifications and, sometimes, very mature corrections.”
At the center of the comic’s big-city political divide is Geoffrey Warner, last of the original superheroes and founder of C.O.W.L. It’s been five years since Warner retired from his superhero guise — the Grey Raven — and he’s in a transitional period, running C.O.W.L. from behind a desk instead of from on the streets with a mask, putting a fist to crime.
“C.O.W.L., for [Warner], represents a legacy,” Higgins said. “He fully believes in it, and believes that it’s necessary for the safety of Chicago going forward.
“That said, it’s kind of also his purpose,” Higgins continued. “It’s the thing that keeps him relevant. Like most people, he doesn’t want to be forgotten. There are conflicting interests at play for him. C.O.W.L., as it currently stands, may not be as relevant for the changing times as Geoffrey thinks it is.”
Higgins, who grew up in Chicago, said his early fascination with the Windy City’s political machine is a heavy influence on the comic. There are heroes who believe in the 9-to-5 system, and those seeking to change to the system, with head-butting unions at the center of the conflict. So, too, is Warner.
“Whereas the police department would have their chief appointed by the mayor, Geoffrey Warner is elected by members of C.O.W.L. That doesn’t exactly rub City Hall the right way,” Higgins said. “There’s a little bit of a power grab in the early issues with C.O.W.L.’s relationship with Chicago, and certain leaders wanting to have reclaimed power from the organization.”
Although the comic doesn’t feature advertising executives taking three-martini lunches, C.O.W.L. is reminiscent of AMC’s “Mad Men” because of the book’s take on the ’60s.
“You look at something like ‘Mad Men’ or Darwyn Cooke’s ‘New Frontier,’ they’re done with a modern sensibility in an era from the past, both in the late ’50s and early ’60s,” Higgins said. “For us, that’s a total draw. Being able to go back to a time period like the ’60s, with the knowledge of what the era is like, is something that is a huge advantage.”
C.O.W.L., however, “is more of a James Bond-type ’60s,” Higgins said. “People talk on wristwatch communicators. It’s a little bit of a balancing act, but it’s been a blast so far.”