In the aftermath of Alderman Hayes’ kidnapping, C.O.W.L. turns its sights to wrapping up its lingering plot lines. Even as the web draws tight, Kyle Higgins and Alex Siegel are still introducing new twists.

Part of what makes this issue so enthralling is the degree to which civility is dying. The heat is on and our heroes(?) have had enough hiding behind pretense. War hasn’t broken out but everyone is being tested and it’s a rewarding read. The most obvious beneficiary is Radia, but she’s hardly the only one. The question of which world Geoffrey Warner belongs to is coming to the fore and the hammer hangs over Evelyn Thompson. Perhaps most interesting is Blaze, who steps into a new and uncomfortable role this month. Particularly for a character who has only broken through to the front lines of the series’ attention a few times, it’s very interesting to see Blaze acting this way, especially with so little time left.

A large part of what makes C.O.W.L. so gripping is the degree to which each character has a story and affects the people around them. I don’t know that there’s a character who gets attention in this issue that I don’t want to know more about and, as ever, the writers’ choice to eschew inner monologue turns that desire into a powerful hook.

Admittedly the more you read this issue the more you realize that it feels a little short. Twenty pages comes to a rather abrupt stop when you have five pages before the title card. The various scenes are definitely decompressed, though I wouldn’t trade that. C.O.W.L. does a great job of making you sit with these characters and their wants, needs, and idiosyncrasies. The expressions that the characters use are pretty great and their voices are crisp and clear, however, you’ll only get so much of them this month.

I also love that even as the end draws near, there are still wild ideas being thrown into the mix. What I can only presume to be Camden Stone’s latest enforcer is a wonderful tip of the hat to the film school background that made this series possible and is just so weird and fun that you’re willing to overlook any silliness in the concept.

Rod Reis’ artwork is uneven this week. There are definitely some panels that received less attention than they should have and a couple that likely weren’t worth the time that was spent on them. One early panel of Radia notably falls short of the rage Reis was aiming for and Geoffrey Warner’s neck is more than a little odd during one particular negotiation. It also looks like Reis is trying something a little different during Blaze and Eclipse’s scene and, while there’s nothing truly wrong with it, it’s a bit stiffer, more plastic, than his usual fare.

Of course, Reis’ art, flawed as it is this go around, still makes for the most beautiful book on the shelves this week. The opening scene, complete with ominous lettering and intense lighting, is breathtaking. Honestly, if this series has to end, why isn’t Reis already set to draw something for Batman? The script calls upon Reis for some truly cinematic effects and he absolutely nails them, communicating pace and movement like a pro. You also can’t overlook how specific the faces in this issue are. Particularly in a comic that allows such ambiguity, it’s so important that the art convey what the characters are feeling.

While the linework is not as [even] as usual, Reis’ true triumph this month is as a color artist. C.O.W.L. has always featured brilliant colors but the cold light of Radia’s room or the earthy tones of Stone’s vest feel positively real. These colors would make beautiful art even if you were nearsighted, but they’re excellently matched to the story and add a huge amount to the narrative. Honestly, I can’t remember the last time I, or anyone, said this, but, regarding Geoffrey’s emergence from the hospital: dayum, that fill light tho! It’s a simple lighting choice, so simple that it strikes you almost immediately, but it works that well.

Grade

A-

Conclusion

After a short delay C.O.W.L. returns in fine form. Rod Reis’ linework has some hit and miss moments, but his sense of scene is strong as ever and what works is gorgeous. His colors are also especially breathtaking. Meanwhile, Higgins and Siegel deliver some great interactions and a growing sense of things coming to a head. It’s downright cruel that the creative team announced the cancelation of this book just before this issue because it reminds me why this is one of my favorite books month after month.