I was very sad to hear that this eleventh issue would be the last of C.O.W.L.’s run. Ever since its launch, C.O.W.L. has been one of ‘my’ books, those books that you mention whenever someone asks what comics you like. To see it go is both sad and surprising, it was considered successful enough to warrant a jazz soundtrack, after all. So with the last issue crossing over its climax but leaving the series on an upward trajectory, I was uncertain of how natural an ending this would be for the series.
I can’t say that it’s all tied up with a bow, some elements are hastily introduced just in time for the series to end, while others feel like they’re only open ended because they have to be, but, overall, I was impressed with how tidily Siegel and Higgins wrapped up the comic installment of their long simmering grad school opus.
I don’t know the reasons why C.O.W.L. ended and the issue doesn’t shed a lot of light on that, other than by being a fairly sensible place to pause. Whether it was a graceful cancellation or a harried decision by the creative team, the sense the issue gives is that of a superb emergency landing. Things are definitely a bit rushed, the issue opening with a consciously abrupt conclusion to one of the series’ biggest questions while the other is shelved, despite the characters themselves stating that such an outcome seemed unlikely. Nonetheless, the writers ensure that things flow naturally and that all lingering concerns left at issue’s end feel more like ambiguous conclusions.
The character work is top-notch as usual. Though I’ve said it many times before, you’ll forgive me if I mention how nice it is to read a book where the writing and art are both up to the challenge of conveying subtext without giving clear answers, after all, this is my last chance to do so. That’s a huge part of what makes this final installment both mysterious and satisfying. Even at this late stage we’re still learning huge things about characters like Blaze, Camden Stone, and Geoffrey Warner. Reginald, in particular, gets a long overdue turn in the spotlight, playing a very different role than I expected. His contrasts with Geoffrey are fascinating and his actions are far deeper and more interesting thanks to the insight that issue #4 granted us. It’s easy to be entranced by these vibrant, realistic characters and the narrative’s reluctance to provide easy answers to readers and characters alike feels earned. The writing lacks the focus displayed in the series’ best issues, but, with so much ground to cover and such a controlled and enjoyable showing, it’s very hard to hold that against it. Really the greatest problem with Siegel and Higgins’ work this month is that there’s no guarantee that we’ll get the answers to the questions it leaves us with.
Rod Reis remains an absolute superstar. Up to the very last moment, his artwork is thoughtful, beautiful, and fearless. Reis’ traditional labeling as a colorist clearly influences his work here, with gorgeous lighting effects and carefully constructed color palettes for each scene. The opening sequence, in particular benefits from Reis’ honed color sense, as he carefully removes all but the most essential color, providing a laser focus and a fine sense of Warner’s feelings towards Mayor Daly. Reis also utilizes some excellent textural tricks, giving the book a coarser grain as the air fills with cigarette smoke.
And of course, that’s only the new tricks that he’s brought with him. The standard stunning linework and incredible composition are very much in play this month. C.O.W.L.’s look has a lovely realism about it, but it’s easy to forget just how stylized it is. From the scratchiness of the lines, to the simple shapes the build these complex faces, Reis is very much an active participant in the reading experience. His use of sound effects and onomatopoeia is impressively natural, but the distinctive fonts and interactions with the story that he employs help convey the story’s attitude.
I will say that Eclipse’s build and weight seem to fluctuate from panel to panel, making him look a bit heavier than usual in a number of appearances, an uncharacteristic misstep for Reis. There’s also one panel near the end of the book where it appears that someone didn’t notice the silhouette of a character at the bottom of the panel and sent their balloon’s tail off panel.
Still, the overall effect of the art is breathtaking. Reis is clearly one of the most impressive talents working in comics today and I suspect that the reasons that he hasn’t been launched into stardom are the same reasons that C.O.W.L. is coming to an end.
Though it is a little too scattered to match the best installments of the series, C.O.W.L. #11 proves a remarkably even finale to one of my favorite series. The mindblowing art and beautiful character-work remain right to the end as this spotlight on an alternate, but all too real, Chicago powers down, leaving an intelligent film noir ambiguity in the resulting darkness. Though its sad to see it go, C.O.W.L. sticks its landing, closing out an eleven issue run that I’ll not soon forget.I strongly recommend grabbing both trades once the second one comes out and keep your eyes open for Hadrian’s Wall, a neo-Cold War space sci-fi from the same creative team, in the coming months.