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DF Interview: Kyle Higgins unmasks his new book, C.O.W.L.
By Byron Brewer
In a new Image Comics series from Kyle Higgins, Alec Siegel and Rod Reis, the oft-suggested unionization of the super-powered is mixed with a volatile political climate reminiscent of 1960s Chicago.
This is C.O.W.L., the Chicago Organized Workers League, and it is at the heart of a book by the same title that explores a reality where heroes have organized to provide services to the city full-time, and the moral implications that arise.
Dynamic Forces met writer Kyle Higgins in the Windy City beneath the Sears Tower and discussed the finer points of the book and its many sub-layers.
Dynamic Forces: Kyle, how did your new Image book C.O.W.L. come about? I understand it dates back to your college days with co-writer Alec Siegel?
Kyle Higgins: Alec and I have been friends since high school. We went to different colleges, but during my second to last year, I started planning my thesis film … about a superhero labor union in 1960s Chicago. I asked Alec if he wanted to write it with me, and that became the screenplay for our short film, The League. Alec moved out to Southern California during production, and when we finished the film, we put it online and Eric Wight, an artist who had done character designs for the film, started sending it to different people. Joe Quesada at Marvel watched and enjoyed it, and I asked if we might be able to pitch to write comics. A year later, we landed a Captain America one shot, then a Vision one shot, and then I started writing at DC. Alec and I always wanted to come back to the world of The League, but launching any sort of creator-owned superhero book is a really tricky proposition.
In the last few years, as I worked on Nightwing, Deathstroke, and Batman Beyond 2.0, Rod Reis and I started talking about doing a creator-owned book together. It was originally going to be something small, just to scratch that itch we both had, but as we got to talking in more detail … I realized how cool the world of The League would look via Rod’s brush. I pitched him what Alec and I were thinking, and that became the beginning of C.O.W.L. Then, last year at San Diego Comic Con, I showed Eric Stephenson some pages Rod did for the book, and he approved the series on the spot.
DF: At the time of this interview, the third issue of the mag has sold out and is slated for a second printing to meet customer demand. Did you foresee this type of fan – and critic! – success?
Kyle Higgins: Not really, no. You always hope that the work you do clicks and people enjoy it, but more and more I find that I’m writing for myself these days. Which is the way it should be. If I’m happy with—and proud of—the book, then whatever will be will be, and I can live with that.
DF: Tell us about C.O.W.L. – the Chicago Organized Workers League – and their mission to “defend the defenders.”
Kyle Higgins: Geoffrey Warner and Blaze, along with Sparrow, started the organization in the late 1940s, a few years after the war ended. Chicago was overrun with new types of criminals and super powers, and the old ways of operating were no longer keeping the city safe. The entire mission statement for C.O.W.L. is “better heroes for a better city,” and Geoffrey believed that was only possible if the heroes were able to BE heroes full time. Which means, doing it as a career. For a paycheck. But in addition to stopping costumed and super powered crime, C.O.W.L.—like any other societal system or institution—has had other unforeseen effects on the city, especially now that the big flashy villains are all gone. They’re involved in politics, policy making, and even though they don’t fight as many big threats anymore, they serve as a crime deterrent by way of a career path, for people with powers.
DF: For the uninitiated, tell us: Who are the Grey Raven, Blaze and Sparrow?
Kyle Higgins: The Grey Raven is Geoffrey Warner—the primary founder of C.O.W.L. He was the city’s first hero, way back in 1931, and then served in World War II along with Reginald Davis, as part of an elite commando group. During a mission, they uncovered a piece of Nazi technology that allowed for zero point energy manipulation. Reginald and several U.S. technicians fashioned the technology into a gauntlet, which Reginald used throughout the war. Because of the blue caustics that the gauntlet put off, he was nicknamed the Blue Blaze.
Now in his mid 1950s, Geoffrey has hung up the Raven costume and leads C.O.W.L. from behind a desk. His legacy and self worth is tied to the success of the organization, which is a big part of why he’s fighting so hard to keep the union around.
And I know you asked about Sparrow, but he’s someone we haven’t talked about too much yet. He was Geoffrey’s partner in the early days of C.O.W.L. … but as for what happened to him, that’s a big story we’ll be getting to down the road.
DF: We have quite a lot of “historical” villainy of the period. This may sound ridiculous, but are there super-villains in the C.O.W.L. world, and is there a union for them?
Kyle Higgins: There is no union for super villains, no. I actually don’t know how that would work? There’s not really a contract for them to collectively bargain. There was an organization called the Chicago Six, which was a loose collective of six costumed villains. They were led by a man named The Dart … who happened to be Blaze’s brother.
DF: Where as a writer do you look to for inspiration for such stories as the book has presented so far? The headlines of 1960s Chicago?
Kyle Higgins: You know, I’m not sure. I’ve been living in this world for so long that at this point, we have a lot of stories already mapped out. There are going to be real historical events coming up in the series, but first and foremost this is a story about our characters. It just so happens that they’re in a historical setting.
DF: This is your first creator-owned, correct? How does that feel as opposed to work for hire?
Kyle Higgins: It’s a completely different muscle. I love writing Batman and Nightwing, but there are only so many things you can do with those guys, right? You can’t really change them. It’s an honor and a privilege to work on characters with such history, but I have to say … I’ve really been enjoying calling my own shots and building my own world.
DF: How do you and Alec divvy up the plotting/writing tasks?
Kyle Higgins: We usually break the story in big beats, together. Often I’ll then do a page by page breakdown, and we’ll each start tackling different scenes. At a certain point, we come back together and actually work on one computer, together.
DF: What does artist Rod Reis, whom you worked with on Nightwing for DC, bring to this table?
Kyle Higgins: Well, he’s brilliant, for starters. His storytelling and character work keep getting better and better. And his palettes just ooze with mood. With this being his first book as an interior artist, the book has gotten a lot of attention because it’s such an amazing artistic debut. It’s funny to think that we waited five years to go back to the world of The League, but now I can’t think of anyone else drawing it. I’m really glad things turned out the way they did.
Dynamic Forces would like to thank Kyle Higgins for taking time out of his busy schedule to answer our questions. C.O.W.L. #5 hits stands September 24th!
Don't forget to grab your Kyle Higgins signed copy of Nightwing #0!
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